2004: Sather Deals With Every Canadian Team

At the 2004 NHL Trade Deadline, New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather was looking to remodel his franchise. New York was on pace to miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, a franchise low and fans were screaming ‘Fire Sather!’ from the rafters. With a payroll that topped $76 million and the possibility of a salary cap era on the horizon, Sather knew he had to cut the Rangers payroll substantially.

Sather executed an unusual strategy at the trade deadline by making a deal with each of the six Canadian franchises in the NHL. In one of the busiest periods for a team, Sather made nine separate transactions leading up to the deadline. He also made trades with Colorado, Florida, and Philadelphia. In those trades, he moved Matthew Barnaby, Vladimir Malakhov and Paul Healy respectively.

It was with the Canadian clubs however that Sather made the biggest deals sending; Chris Simon, Petr Nedved, Alexei Yashin, Greg de Vries, Brian Leetch and Martin Ruchinsky all north of the border. All six clubs were within reach of the playoffs, and the additions from the Rangers paid off for a few of the Canadian franchises.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, they didn’t acquire anyone that panned out for them. The majority of the players Sather acquired in the nine deals played a handful of NHL games and nothing more. Here’s a revisit to Sather and the Rangers at the 2004 Trade Deadline and how those trades affected each of the six Canadian clubs.

Calgary Flames

TO CALGARY: F Chris Simon, 2004 7th Round Pick (F Matt Schneider)

TO NY RANGERS: F Blair Betts, G Jamie McLennan, F Greg Moore

The Flames had missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons, but were battling for one of the final spots in the Western Conference. Darryl Sutter was pulling double duty as the general manager and coach of the Flames, while Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff brought the star power.

We have been interested in Chris (Simon) for some time. He’s a big strong player who will also provide us with an offensive contribution and is having a good season. Chris has been a member of a Stanley Cup team and has experience that will benefit our club.

Flames GM & Head Coach Darryl Sutter

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Simon played a third-line role with the Flames as they marched through the playoffs upsetting three Cup favorites: Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose. Simon put up five points in the final 13 games of the regular season and averaged a surprising 16:42 of ice-time. In the playoffs, he’d add another five goals and seven points in 16 games.

As much as Simon began to fade after the 2005-06 lockout, he was a key addition to the Flames’ depth chart and factored into their playoff success. The Flames used the seventh round pick on 6’7″ 212-pound center Matt Schneider. He never played in the NHL.

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Edmonton Oilers

TO EDMONTON: G Jussi Markkanen, F Petr Nedved

TO NY RANGERS: F Dwight Helminen, G Stephen Valiquette, 2004 2nd Round Pick (F Dane Byers)

Sather traded Nedved and Markkanen to the Oilers before the deadline, hoping to give them a much-needed push. Nedved was a welcome addition scoring 16 points in 15 games, finishing his Oiler run with a 0.94 points-per-game (PTS/GP). The Oilers were in the Western Conference playoff race to the end but missed by two points.

After the lockout, Nedved played with the Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers. He returned to Edmonton in 2006-07 as a waiver claim for his final NHL run.

We probably wouldn’t have done the deal without Jussi (Markkanen) involved. Petr is a proven scorer who can play centre, provide us with some added offence and help us in our drive for the playoffs. Petr is a good guy, a good player, will fit and the price was well within our ability to step out and do something, we’ve only lost three games since Feb.1 in regulation.

– Oilers GM Kevin Lowe

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It was Markkanen that left the longest impression on Oiler fans. A fifth-round draft pick in 2001, the Oilers traded Markkanen to the Rangers in June 2003 for the negotiating rights of defenseman Brian Leetch. Leetch never signed, and the Oilers lost Markkanen for nothing. They reacquired him in this deal with Sather, and it almost won them a Stanley Cup.

Two years later the Oilers made a Cinderella run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. However, they lost Dwayne Roloson for the rest of the series in the dying minutes of Game 1. After Ty Conklin’s gaffe in the closing minutes, Markkanen took the net for the remainder of the series. Markkanen and the Oilers were 3-3 in the final six games, ultimately losing a heartbreaker in Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes.

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Montreal Canadiens

TO MONTREAL: F Alexei Kovalev

TO NY RANGERS: F Jozef Balej, 2004 2nd Round Pick (F Bruce Graham)

The Canadiens were a bubble team in 2003-04, inching their way into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The deal Montreal made with Sather centered around Kovalev.  With a $6.6 million salary, there was no way the Rangers could keep him, so they dumped him for a prospect and a valuable pick.

Kovalev slept through the final 12 games of the regular season with Montreal scoring just three points but woke up come playoff time. Kovalev put up six goals and ten points in the playoffs (0.91 PTS/GP). The only player that outscored him was Habs captain Saku Koivu (11 points).

I thought I was going to do better than I did before, I was happy to come back. I wish I could have done better. New York is about big players, star players, big names. This was a great opportunity for me to play with great players. Maybe I fit better with a younger team.

Alexei Kovalev (March 2004)

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His first playoff appearance with the Canadiens wasn’t without controversy. The Habs played the Boston Bruins in the first round. In Game 5, Glen Murray scored a double-overtime winner giving Boston a 3-1 series lead. Kovalev made an errant attempt to draw a penalty which created a turnover leading to Murray’s goal. The Habs recovered winning the final three games in the series to upset the Bruins.

The Canadiens were then swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champions (Tampa Bay) in the second round. Kovalev stood right in the heart of the criticism again as the Habs’ offense only mustered five goals while being swept by the Lightning.

He re-signed with the Canadiens for four years ($4.5 million each year). In five seasons with the Habs, Kovalev put up 264 points in 314 games. He’s currently the second highest scoring Russian forward in Montreal history behind defenseman Andrei Markov (560 points).

Ottawa Senators

TO OTTAWA: D Greg de Vries

TO NY RANGERS: F Alexandre Giroux, D Karel Rachunuk

A year after a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals, the Senators were gearing up for another run at the Stanley Cup in 2004. Ottawa was in a three-team race for first place in the Northeast Division with Boston and Toronto. The Senators led by Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with 102 points. During the stretch drive, they added de Vries to their backend.

All the players we traded were going to become free agents at the end of the year. They all said they loved playing here, and if the opportunity presented itself they’d like to come back.

Rangers GM Glen Sather

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de Vries was an underrated shutdown defenseman at this stage in his career. He won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 and was looking for the first big payday of his career. He signed a one-year $4.2 million deal with the Rangers for 2003-04 but took a step back from the breakout 32-point season he posted a year earlier. The Rangers pulled the trigger on this trade to acquire some futures and unload de Vries’ salary. Being a contender and coming agonizingly close to playing in the Stanley Cup Finals a year prior, de Vries was a welcome addition to the Senators’ defensive depth.

The 31-year-old averaged 17:51 TOI in 13 regular season games but the Senators were eliminated by their provincial rivals, the Maple Leafs, in the first round. de Vries’ impact on the Senators’ future wasn’t a one and done deal. With one year remaining on his contract, the Senators traded him as part of one of the biggest trades in franchise history, the Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa trade.

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Toronto Maple Leafs

TO TORONTO: D Brian Leetch, 2004 Conditional pick (F Roman Kukumberg)

TO NY RANGERS: F Jarkko Immonen, D Maxim Kondratiev, 2004 1st Round Pick (F Kris Chucko), 2005 2nd Round Pick (D Mike Sauer)

In 2004 the Maple Leafs had a stellar cast of veterans surrounding Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour. They were gearing up for another run at the Stanley Cup having come as far as the Eastern Conference Finals twice in the last five seasons. Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Owen Nolan and Darcy Tucker led the attack while Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe manned the defense. The Leafs, as mentioned above, were in a three-team race for the Northeast Division lead and were shopping the rental market. Insert Brian Leetch.

The bottom line is we did this to improve our chances of winning the Stanley Cup this year. It puts us right there with that full group. I’m comfortable with the price we had to pay.

– Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. 

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Leetch was in the twilight of his career, and the 36-year-old was making $6.6 million. Sather saw the necessity to move his former captain who, until that point, had played his entire 17-year career with the Rangers. The move was controversial in the New York area as Leetch was still a serviceable player despite his age.

With the Rangers, Leetch scored 36 points in 57 games. The future Hall of Famer put up a point per game in 15 regular season games with the Leafs and another eight during their 13-game playoff run before being eliminated in the second round against the Flyers in six games. It would be the Leafs’ last playoff appearance until 2013.

Leetch became an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and after the lockout signed with the Boston Bruins for his final season in 2005-06. The Bruins missed the playoffs and Leetch retired with just one Stanley Cup win.

Kukumberg, the other player the Leafs acquired, played just one season for the Toronto Marlies. He recorded an uninspiring eight points in 54 games and left for Europe the following season.

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Vancouver Canucks

TO VANCOUVER: F Martin Rucinsky

TO NY RANGERS: D Martin Grenier, F RJ Umberger

A year removed from losing Game 7 in the second round against the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks were on pace to again be a Western Conference powerhouse. They acquired Rucinsky to shore up their forward depth heading into the playoffs.

After posting 42 points in 69 games with the Rangers, Rucinsky’s production became stagnant during the Canucks’ stretch drive as he put up just three points in 13 games. It was even worse come playoff time as he scored just two points in Vancouver’s first round loss to Calgary. All of this is hard to imagine when Rucinsky was playing on the second line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

He became a free agent in the summer and once the lockout ended, he again signed with the Rangers. He played three more seasons in the NHL before returning to the Czech Republic.