The NHL made this time of year more fun in 1980 when it established a deadline for general managers to improve their teams before the playoffs. Teams near the top or bottom of the standings have it easier in deciding whether to buy or sell, but bubble teams gamble in deciding which direction to take.
The Detroit Red Wings pose as sellers as the clock ticks down to 3 p.m. Monday, their disappointing season putting them on pace to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight year. But before that — for most of the time GM Steve Yzerman was captain — the Wings enjoyed a 25–season streak of approaching the playoffs as buyers.
Yzerman spent four of those seasons, from retirement in 2006 until leaving the organization in 2010, working in the front office with then-GM Ken Holland. One of the trades made during that time frame leads off this countdown of the Wings’ top five trade deadline deals.
No. 5, Feb. 26, 2008: Shoring up for another Cup
Acquired: Brad Stuart from the Los Angeles Kings.
Gave up: Second-round pick in 2008 (Peter Delmas) and fourth-round pick in 2009 (Ben Chiarot).
Analysis: Stuart was a terrific addition, forming a hard-hitting partnership with Niklas Kronwall that contrasted fiercely with the finesse pairing of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Stuart was just what the Wings needed to help them win the Cup in 2008, and he re-upped with a four-year contract in the offseason.
No. 4, April 3, 1995: Papa Bear
Acquired: Defenseman Slava Fetisov from the New Jersey Devils.
Gave up: A third-round pick in 1995 (David Gosselin).
Analysis: Scotty Bowman was coach and shared player-personnel duties with Jimmy Devellano at the time. Fetisov was 17 days shy of his 37th birthday when this trade happened; a latecomer to the NHL after a glorious career with the Red Army. He thrived with the Wings, serving as an anchor on the Russian Five and winning Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998.
No. 3, March 20, 1996: Building The Grind Line
Acquired: Kirk Maltby from the Edmonton Oilers.
Gave up: Dan McGillis.
Analysis: The Wings were still smarting from being swept in the 1995 Finals by the Devils and saw Maltby as someone who would add toughness. He developed into a first-rate agitator, someone who thrived as games grew more intense. In 1996-97 Maltby scored three times in 66 games — and then five times in 20 games en route to the Cup. Maltby played for the Wings until 2009-10, winning four Cups.
No. 2, March 18, 1997: The move of moves
Acquired: Defenseman Larry Murphy from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gave up: Future considerations (which ended up being … nothing).
Analysis: The Wings rescued the 36-year-old from Toronto, where fans had painted Murphy as the scapegoat for a disappointing season. In Detroit, Murphy ended the season lifting the Stanley Cup and was considered the “move of moves” by Devellano, the senior vice president. Murphy proved a terrific partner for Nicklas Lidstrom and, during his stints on defense, Sergei Fedorov. Murphy helped the Wings win back-to-back Cups before retiring in 2001.
No. 1, March 23, 1999: Hitting the jackpot
Acquired: Chris Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Gave up: Defenseman Anders Ericsson and first-round picks in 1999 (Steve McCarthy) and 2001 (Adam Munro).
Analysis: No one was busier that day than Holland, who pulled off four trades, also acquiring goaltender Bill Ranford and forwards Wendel Clark and Ulf Samuelsson. But it was the trade for 37-year-old Chelios that made headlines, as the Wings picked up the veteran from his beloved hometown team;an Original Six rival. Chelios was the second attempt to ameliorate losing defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov to a career-ending limousine accident in 1997; the Uwe Krupp experiment was a disaster involving dog sledding and detectives.
The above deals were made to strengthen an already competitive team for the playoffs, and all led to a Stanley Cup title — in most cases, multiple Cups. The Wings maintained that strategy until 2015, the last year players were acquired for a playoff run, in the hopes Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall could lead the Wings to another Cup. When it became clear the team was on a downswing, the franchise leaned into the rebuild and made trades the other way — jettisoning players for picks. Two in that category stand out.
February 28, 2017: Flipping for an exciting talent
Acquired: Third-round pick in 2017, second-round pick in 2018.
Gave up: Defenseman Brendan Smith to the Rangers.
Analysis: The second-round pick netted Jonatan Berggren. Berggren has turned in a star performance in the Swedish Hockey League this season (45 points in 49 games with Skellefteå). He has consistently ranked in the top 10 in scoring. He’s an agile playmaker with a knack for making dazzling plays, and projects to help the rebuild.
February 26, 2018: Not your average Joe
Acquired: First-round pick in 2018, second-round pick in 2019, third-round pick in 2021.
Gave up: Forward Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Analysis: The first-round pick netted Joe Veleno, a fluid skater with natural offensive gifts. He’s spent this season in Malmö in the SHL, where he’s shown significant improvement in his play away from the puck — he hunts it down, and is adept at either finding a teammate or putting the puck on net himself. He projects to help the Wings as soon as next season.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.