Why Steve Yzerman already belongs among Detroit Red Wings’ top trade deadline deal-makers

Detroit Free Press

TAMPA, Fla. —  Scotty Bowman likes to tell about the time he traded for Larry Murphy: It was 10 minutes before the deadline, and the Detroit Red Wings wanted to strengthen their lineup for a Stanley Cup run.

“I was on the phone with Cliff Fletcher,” Bowman said Friday. “We didn’t have much time to get it done, but they wanted to get rid of the contract.

“It was a great deal for us.”

That deal in 1997 ranks among the best trade-deadline swaps in franchise history. More than two decades later, general manager Steve Yzerman — who as a player witnessed the Murphy trade — struck an on-the-clock trade that projects to strengthen the rebuild. With minutes to spare last April, Yzerman sent Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals in a deal that bolstered the Wings for the present (Jakub Vrana) and the future (a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick).

RELATED:  Yzerman, Wings have options ahead of 2022 NHL trade deadline

As he approaches his third deadline in charge of the team he once captained, Yzerman has multiple veterans in the last year of their contracts who could draw interest with the March 21 deadline approaching: defensemen Nick Leddy and Marc Staal, forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Sam Gagner and goaltender Thomas Greiss. Yzerman has moved younger players, too — Mantha last year, Andreas Athanasiou in 2020 — but the Wings are in better shape this season. Though they’ve dropped in the standings since being within six points of a wild-card spot, there’s a competitiveness that wasn’t there Yzerman’s first two seasons in charge.

“Our mindset right now is we just want to push and win as many games and try to claw our way closer to those teams that are in the seventh and eighth spots,” coach Jeff Blashill said Friday. “I’m not saying it’s easy or anything like that, but that’s our mindset.

“In the past, we’ve been way out of it and I think it’s been a bigger factor. I don’t hear much scuttlebutt about it in our locker room. We are focused on pushing upwards in the standings as much as we can.”

That effort should get a boost as Vrana is edging closer to joining the lineup after being out since training camp with a shoulder injury.

[ Red Wings’ Jakub Vrana looks good, but Blashill will not stamp a return date ]

Vrana’s addition was good for the present but the bigger repercussion of the trade projects to be Sebastian Cossa. Yzerman used the first-round pick from the Mantha trade to move up to No. 15 in the 2021 draft to select Cossa, a 6-foot-6 goaltender who he hopes emerges as the goalie of the future.

It certainly looks that trade is going to turn out to have a significant impact on the Wings. While it matures, here are the current top five trade-deadline deals in franchise history:

1997: Larry Murphy

Bowman, the former coach and director of player personnel, and Jimmy Devellano, a team vice president and former general manager, consider the March 18 trade for Murphy “the move of moves.” The Wings had been swept in the 1995 finals and bounced in the third round in 1996, and Murphy was just the sort of veteran offensive defenseman that looked good for a championship-caliber team.  Murphy, then 36, was a great fit with the Wings, helping them win Cups in 1997 and 1998 and serving as a partner for Nicklas Lidström.

1996: Kirk Maltby

When the Wings sent defenseman Dan McGillis to the Edmonton Oilers for Kirk Maltby on March 20, they already had 54 wins and had a 20-point lead on first place in the NHL. What did they want with a guy who hadn’t played in a month because of a scary injury suffered when he’d been clipped near his eyes by a teammate’s stick during practice?  Simple: The Wings wanted the guy who had delivered a bone-rattling hit the previous season on defenseman Paul Coffey.

Maltby was a supreme pest, and he became a key part of playoff runs as one-third of the Grind Line. Maltby played 908 games in a Wings uniform, won Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008, and, since retiring in October 2010, has worked as a scout for the franchise.

1999: Chris Chelios

March 23, 1999, was the trade deadline when the deals just rolled in, and the best one had the Wings acquiring Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks for Anders Eriksson and first-round picks in 1999 and 2001. The Wings also acquired goalie Bill Ranford and forwards Wendel Clark and Ulf Samuelsson, but they didn’t have much impact.

Chelios, on the other hand, was the gritty, mean, defenseman the Wings had lacked since losing Vladimir Konstantinov to a career-ending injury in June 1997. What’s remarkable is that Chelios was 37 and already had played the better part of 16 seasons in the NHL. But the Wings, then under general manager Ken Holland, knew what they were doing. Chelios played the better part of a decade in a Wings uniform, was a crucial part of the 2002 championship team, and was part of the 2008 Cup team, too.

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1995: Slava Fetisov

Here’s another example of what a difference a 30-something defenseman can make: April 4, the Wings sent a third-round pick to the New Jersey Devils for Slava Fetisov, 16 days before Fetisov’s 38th birthday. He was a legend to the three young Russians in the locker room (Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov) and brought a wealth of championship experience (gold medals at multiple Olympics and World Championships). When fellow Red Army legend Igor Larionov was added in the autumn of 1995, the Russian Five were born. Fetisov was ultra-competitive, and helped the Wings win the Cup in 1997 and 1998.

2008: Brad Stuart

There’s a trend here: Get a good defenseman, and good things happen. On February 26, the Wings were looking to make another push with an aging Lidstrom and prime Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall. Holland acquired Brad Stuart from the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round pick in 2008 and a fourth-round pick in 2009. Stuart emerged as a superb partner for Kronwall, giving the Wings a fearsome duo that had a significant role in the 2008 championship.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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