Oilers at Red Wings G14 ’10-’11

This is Garry Unger as a Detroit Red Wing. He was part of the big Frank Mahovlich-Norm Ullman deal a few months after the 1967 expansion draft. The Wings were not a well managed team during this time and sent Unger away for an aging Red Berenson just as the young center was emerging as a quality NHL player.

I think Oiler fans can learn something from Red Wing history: patience. Detroit was really fluid in terms of management people during the Unger era (they had 13 coaches in the 16 years leading up to summer 1983) and they also lost players in unusual ways.

Here are two examples:

  • Marcel Dionne’s contract expired at the end of the 1974-75 season, and he refused to re-sign with Detroit, having played out his option year. The Red Wings traded him to Los Angeles for Terry Harper and Dan Maloney (among other things). Harper at first refused to report.
  • The Dale McCourt Case: A major legal battle erupted after NHL arbitrator Ed Houston ordered that Detroit transfer McCourt’s NHL rights to Los Angeles as compensation for the signing of restricted free agent Rogie Vachon on Aug. 8, 1978. The Red Wings had been offering Jim Rutherford and Bill Lochead as compensation, but the Kings demanded McCourt, and the arbitrator sided with Los Angeles, which was offering McCourt a $3 million contract. Despite the big money, McCourt refused to go to Los Angeles, and sought legal protection. He got a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Court Judge Robert DeMascio on Sept. 18, 1978, overturning the arbitrator’s decision and allowing him to remain with the Red Wings. The judge ruled that compensation requirements on NHL free agency were an illegal restraint of trade because they limited competition. McCourt’s lawyer, Brian Smith, then sued the NHL, the NHLPA, the Red Wings and Kings in an effort to prevent McCourt from ever being sent to Los Angeles as part of any compensation package. While the cases were tied up in the courts, McCourt continued to play for Detroit, spending the entire 1978-79 season there along with Vachon. In the process, McCourt angered many fellow players, who thought his actions were undermining the NHLPA, which had agreed to the compensation requirements in its Collective Bargaining Agreement. McCourt appeared to have lost his legal battle at the end of the 1978-79 season, when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld the arbitrator’s original decision, but McCourt immediately appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. The situation was resolved, and the need for a Supreme Court ruling avoided, when Los Angeles traded McCourt’s rights back to Detroit for Andre St. Laurent, 1980 first-round pick (Larry Murphy) and the option of having Detroit’s 1980 second-round pick or 1981 first-round pick (Los Angeles chose the 1981 first-round pick — Doug Smith) on Aug. 22, 1979. This was an alternate compensation package that Los Angeles had been willing to accept in 1978, but Detroit had rejected. Los Angeles’ original request, before the McCourt request set off a legal battle, had been for Reed Larson, two No. 1 picks and $700,000 in cash. The McCourt case helped to eventually change the NHL’s rules on compensation but the experience took its toll on McCourt. He later said he lost his love for being in the NHL as a result of the legal ordeal. (source: Hockey Draft Central).

It was a time of turmoil for the NHL, but even with that the Red Wings had a bunch of trouble with players. In this way, it is not dissimilar to the difficulty the Oilers have faced in the last decade with men like Mike Comrie, Ryan Smyth and Sheldon Souray. When things aren’t right, there is evidence available to reflect it.

The funny thing is that the good times began for the Detroit organization right after they made a deal that was extremely similar to the Unger-Berenson disaster of the early 1970′s. On June 15, 1989 Detroit GM Jim Devallano traded C Adam Oates and Paul MacLean to St. Louis for Bernie Federko and Tony McGegney. Federko had 73 NHL games left in him, McGegney 122. What did St. Louis get? Well, MacLean had 115 games left and Oates was pretty much spent too. He played only 1,091 more NHL games after the trade. It was worse than the Unger trade because Oates was a better player.

That was June 15, 1989. Two days later at the NHL draft, the Red Wings list delivered a magical group of hockey players that would eventually change Hockeytown forever.

  • 11th overall: Mike Sillinger 1049 NHL games
  • 32nd overall: Bob Boughner 630 NHL games
  • 53rd overall: Nick Lidstrom 1425 NHL games and counting
  • 74th overall: Sergei Fedorov 1248 NHL games
  • 116th overall: Dallas Drake 1009 NHL games
  • 221 overall: Vladimir Konstantinov 446 NHL games

What’s the lesson here? Well, the big item is that the Magnificent Bastard’s draft list is more important than tonight’s (or any night’s) game this season. However, I think there’s also a lesson in the Oates trade that goes something like this: when you procure young talent in large quantities over a short period of time with an eye to rebuilding everything, there will be some players who slip through the cracks.

During the 4 Tambellini dynasties, Edmonton has let go of the following players who were drafted by the organization:

  1. June 27, 2009: Traded C Kyle Brodziak to Minnesota Wild.
  2. September 29, 2009: Lost C Rob Schremp to waivers (NY Islanders).
  3. March 2, 2010: Traded D Cody Wild to Boston (Matt Marquardt).
  4. June 26, 2010: Traded C Riley Nash to Carolina (Martin Marincin).
  5. June 28, 2010: Oilers decline qualifying offers to C Marc Pouliot, R Colin McDonald, C Geoff Paukovich and L Slava Trukhno.

No Adam Oates so far, and for the most part the return for these players looks solid (Roy in the Brodziak trade, Marincin, etc). None of the players Tambellini’s dealt have become something more (yet) after leaving town. Trading Brodziak (and not replacing him) and flushing Pouliot are the two items I’d mention as being questionable, and I’m sure there are many who believe Schremp will be the Adam Oates in this scenario. I’m not one of them.

Tambellini has acquired more bullets for his scouting department. I think that’s an important thing to do and he should be given credit for it. Still, we’ll watch these young men as they continue along their careers. There has been some talent sent away.

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