Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
With only 77 days left, we take a look at two names who wore number 77; Chris Gratton and Pierre Turgeon and the interesting coincidences surrounding their careers with the Buffalo Sabres.
Turgeon was a fan favorite in his four seasons with the Sabres, wowing fans with his amazing playmaking ability and scoring prowess while Gratton was a heavy fisted fighter and strong checker who was a solid two-way player that couldn’t live up to expectations.
Both of these ex-Sabres players have a lot more in common than just wearing the number 77, they were a part of some pretty huge trades.
Pierre Turgeon’s Career
Turgeon was drafted by Buffalo first overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He quickly went on to show why he was drafted so high when, in his rookie season, he contributed 42 points helping the Sabres reach the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
In his second season, he quickly became a fan favorite and Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret even coined the phrase “Ooh-la-la-Pierre” for Turgeon. During this season, he would greatly increase his point total by putting up 88 points.
In his third season, Turgeon would explode and become a star. He pumped out 40 goals and 66 assists for a total of 106 points that saw him become an NHL All-Star for the first time in his career. He was a flashy passer, a great goal scorer, and could really elevate any linemate that played with him.
During the 1990-91 season though, he saw his production decrease to 79 points. Not known for more than offense, Turgeon became a liability for the Sabres. Even though he was a fan favorite, Buffalo still had a problem.
After a long NHL career that saw him play for the Sabres, New York Islanders, the Montreal Canadiens, the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars, and the Colorado Avalanche, Turgeon retired on September 5th, 2007. He is the highest-scoring player in NHL history to not be in the Hockey Hall of Fame scoring 1,327 points in 1,294 games. He was selected to five All-Star games and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the 1992-93 season.
Chris Gratton’s Career
Gratton was selected third overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had a very good OHL career and his size and offensive skill led him to be highly coveted before the draft. But he could never really live up to what a third overall pick should be.
Over his first four seasons in the NHL, he gradually increased his point total until he set a career-high with 62 points during his fourth season in 1996-97. He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers and matched that career-high again the following year in 1997-98. He was then traded at the 1998-99 deadline back to the Lightning.
Gratton lasted barely a season until he was traded again to Buffalo in a multi-player deal that saw Gratton and a second-round pick in 2001 (which became Derek Roy) to the Sabres in exchange for Wayne Primeau, Cory Sarich, Brian Holzinger, and a third-round pick in 2000.
He was utilized heavily by Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff in his close checking scheme and seemed to thrive at times. He was a key two-way forward for the Sabres providing heavy hitting and a heavy fist.
Gratton knew his role and fit well on a team like the Sabres as you can see above where he is able to make it just that much more difficult for the goalie to stop Maxim Afinogenov’s shot. That was his style of play, annoying the other teams, hitting hard, and fighting when he had too.
But during the 2002-03 season, Buffalo got a trade offer they couldn’t refuse and he was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes. He bounced around many more times never truly living up to his third-overall pick status but showing that he was a competent bottom-line player in the right system.
He finally retired in 2009 after stints with the Lightning (three times), Flyers, Sabres, Coyotes, Florida Panthers, and then finishing his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He finished with 1,092 games played and 568 points.
The Trades, and Other Strange Coincidences in Their Careers
Turgeon and Gratton may have played many years apart and been very different players, but there were still some interesting facts that the two have in common. The first being their trades from the Sabres.
Gratton and Turgeon both were traded for some great Sabres players and even one who has his jersey retired and is in the Hall of Fame. Turgeon was traded for Pat LaFontaine and Gratton was traded for Danny Briere.
After four years with the Sabres, Turgeon was traded along with Benoit Hogue, Uwe Krupp, and Dave McLlwain on October 25th, 1991 for LaFontaine, Randy Wood, Randy Hiller, and future considerations. LaFontaine went on to become a Sabres legend and set multiple NHL records.
After almost four years with the Sabres, Gratton and a fourth-round pick in 2004 were traded to the Coyotes for Danny Briere and a third-round pick in 2003. Briere quickly became a star for the Sabres and led them to the playoffs twice in his four years in Buffalo before moving onto the Flyers.
Besides both Gratton and Turgeon being traded for players that would go down in Sabres history as truly great players, they also wore the same number, 77. There were more interesting occurrences during their careers, as well.
Other Interesting Facts
In both trades, Buffalo got a defenseman in return. In the Turgeon deal, they got defenseman Randy Hiller and in the Gratton deal, Buffalo got the third-round pick in the 2003 draft that turned into Andrej Sekera.
Some other facts about their careers are that both never played a full final season for the Sabres with Turgeon being traded just eight games into the 1991-92 season and Gratton being traded at the deadline of the 2002-03 deadline. Both players played for six teams before retiring. When they retired they never played a full final season and they both never won a Stanley Cup.
Turgeon and Gratton are six years apart with Turgeon being 49 and Gratton 43. Both were taken within the first five picks, both were born in Canada and hailed as great Canadian prospects. Both played in the World Junior Championships for Canada, only six years apart.
After retirement, both players went on to still be involved in hockey. Turgeon stepped away from an assistant job with the L.A. Kings in 2018 but his son Dominic was drafted by the Detriot Red Wings in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and his daughter Val is a forward for the Harvard Women’s Hockey Team. Gratton is co-owner of the Florida Blades Jr. Organization in the Empire Junior Hockey League which is a Tier-III junior hockey league.
Turgeon and Gratton
In the end, Turgeon and Gratton had very distinct and different careers. One is a high-flying, offensively-minded machine and the other is a journeyman two-way forward. But, they both wore number 77 for the Blue and Gold. Their careers intertwined in a fun and interesting way for this Countdown to Puck Drop piece.
There are now only 77 more days until we get to see the puck drop and the greatest sport is back on our televisions and we will see the race to be the next Stanley Cup champion.