In assembling the best Edmonton Oilers team of the last three decades, Kevin Lowe struck hard and struck fast.
Edmonton’s general manager first did so in August 2005, well before the start of the National Hockey League season.
In a span of 24 hours, Lowe acquired two-time Selke Trophy Winner Mike Peca and future hall-of-fame defenceman Chris Pronger, giving Edmonton a level of experience and skill it had been without for quite a while, and serving notice that after years of mediocrity, the Oilers intended to contend for a championship.
Months later, with 20 games to go in the regular season and the Oilers clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference, Lowe doubled-down on that vision, again making two major moves, again separated by only a day.
On March 8, 2006, the GM sent a first-round pick in 2006 and conditional 2007 third-rounder to Minnesota for former All-Star goalie Dwayne Roloson. Then on March 9, he got perennial 20-goal scorer Sergei Samsonov from the Boston Bruins in exchange for forwards Marty Reasoner and Yan Stastny, along with a 2006 second-round pick.
The moves spoke volumes: Straddling the playoff line late in the season was something Edmonton had become accustomed to; being trade deadline “buyers” was something it was not. For the first time in forever, the Oilers were going all-in on a playoff run.
Edmonton entered the playoffs seeded eighth in the West, and promptly proceeded to shock the President’s Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings 4-2 in Round 1, rally from 2-0 to knock off the San Jose Sharks in six games in Round 2, then take down the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 to win the Western Conference championship.
The Oilers made it all the way to hockey’s greatest stage, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, before ultimately coming up just short, to the Carolina Hurricanes.
On the 15th anniversary of perhaps the Oilers greatest trade deadline, here’s a look at the deals, what they meant at the time, and how they’ve played out long-term.
Roloson for Draft Picks
After months of cycling through Ty Conklin, Jussi Markkanen and Mike Morrison, with not one of the three goalies able to establish themselves as a reliable No. 1, it was painfully clear that the Oilers weren’t going far without a bonafide starter.
In Roloson, the Oilers acquired a 36-year-old veteran of eight NHL seasons, who had made the All-Star Game just two years earlier but was a pending unrestricted free agent who had become expendable in Minnesota after the Wild gave fellow netminder Manny Fernandez a contract extension.
At the time of the deal, Edmonton’s goaltenders had combined for a league-worst .878 save percentage (SV%). Roloson immediately stepped in and started 19 straight games for Edmonton, going 8-7-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average (GAA) and .905 SV% as the Oilers locked down the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
In the post-season, “Roli the Goalie” got on a roll, going 12-5 with a 2.23 GAA and .930 SV% through the first three rounds.
Disaster struck with just a few minutes remaining and the score knotted at 4-4 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. Oilers defencemen Marc-Andre Bergeron ran Hurricanes forward Andrew Ladd into Roloson, who suffered a knee injury and was lost for the playoffs.
Conklin replaced Roloson and allowed the winning goal in the dying seconds of regulation. Markkanen started Game 2 and played the rest of the series, right through to Edmonton’s 3-1 loss in Game 7 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.
Markkanen was quite good in the series. He posted a .2.16 GAA and .905 SV% and blanked Carolina in Game 6, a 4-0 win at Rexall Place that kept the Oilers alive. Yet the question has lingered: what might have been if Roloson didn’t get hurt?
In the off-season, Lowe inked Roloson to a three-year, $11M contract, thus resulting in Edmonton surrendering its 2007 third-round pick going to Minnesota, which had been contingent upon Roloson re-signing with the Oilers.
Roloson played in Edmonton for the entirety of that deal, appearing in 174 games and going 70-75-20 for the Oilers between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons. He signed as a free-agent with the New York Islanders in 2009, before finishing NHL career with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2001.
Minnesota traded both picks it acquired from Edmonton, sending the 2006 first-round pick (17th overall) to the Los Angeles Kings, who used it to select forward Trevor Lewis; and dealing the 2007 third-round pick (67th overall) to the Atlanta Thrashers, who used the pick on winger Spencer Machacek. Lewis is now in his 13th NHL season, with the Winnipeg Jets. Machacek appeared in just 25 games in the NHL and now plays in Germany.
Samsonov for Reasoner, Stastny, & Pick
Samsonov was only 27, but already a veteran of eight NHL seasons when he arrived in Edmonton. The 1998 Calder Trophy recipient, Samsonov had spent his entire career to that point with the Bruins, scoring 164 goals and notching 212 assists in 514 regular-season games.
“Any time there’s a player available with Sergei’s skill, you love it when your team grabs him up,” then-Oilers captain Jason Smith said at the time of the trade. “He’s going to score a lot of goals for us. I loved it when I heard we were able to get him, instead of another team in the chase.”
The left-winger joined the Oilers for their final 19 games of 2005-06, recording five goals and 11 assists. In the post-season, he scored four times and added 11 assists, the most memorable being a brilliant feed to Ales Hemsky for the series-winning goal against the Red Wings.
Samsonov’s Oilers tenure proved short-lived. He hit the free-agent market that summer and signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens. The Russian forward would also have stints with the Chicago Blackhawks, Hurricanes, and Florida Panthers before retiring in 2011.
And as for the other side of the Oilers trade for Samsonov?
Reasoner returned to Edmonton almost as quickly as he left, signing as a free agent on July 4, 2006. The character center spent 2006-07 and 2007-08 with the Oilers, then went on to play for the Thrashers, Panthers and New York Islanders. He hung up his skates in 2013.
Stastny, the son of Czech legend Peter and brother of current Winnipeg Jets center Paul, lasted less than a year in the Bruins organization before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. He spent more time in the AHL than the NHL and ultimately dosed his career playing several seasons in Europe.
With the rights to Edmonton’s 2006 second-round draft pick, Boston selected Milan Lucic 50th overall. He played for the Bruins from 2007-08 to 2014-15 and was instrumental in their 2011 Stanley Cup victory. After one season with the Los Angeles Kings, Lucic agreed to a massive seven-year, $42-million contract with the Oilers. He had a rather infamous stint in Edmonton, before being traded to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in 2019.
Putting it in Perspective
For everything that Oilers fans would endure in the years that followed (missing the playoffs every season from 2006-07 through 2015-16, AKA “The Decade of Darkness”), it’s hard to argue against Lowe’s audacious maneuvers at the deadline in 2006, considering how close the Oilers came to the ultimate prize and the magic that swept over their city that spring.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.