Friday, 9 March 2012

Would the Canadiens be better off with Chris Higgins and Ron Hainsey?

We sometimes use a microscope to focus in on the minutiae of our organization's errors, and fail to understand that every other team has made the same mistakes repeatedly. Living in the Vancouver area, I can observe the average deluded Canucks fan dispassionately, as Jane Goodall observed her tribe of chimps. I can report that they have the same tales of woe of players who the team gave up on and who then blossomed elsewhere, but they also benefited greatly when they were the happy recipients of young players about to blossom into stars.

The Cam Neely-Barry Pederson trade is the classic example of a team trading away a young homegrown talent in return for a current star on the downslope of his career. Mr. Neely had been drafted by the Canucks in 1983 and showed promise, but not quickly enough for the team. They wanted a scoring 1st line center to compete with the Oiler's Wayne Gretzky, the Jets' Dale Hawerchuk among others, and thought they couldn't compete without that building block (sound familiar?). They set their sights on Barry Pederson, a Boston Bruins center and prolific scorer, as well as a Canadiens killer. Mr. Pederson was a B.C. product and had had a couple of rough seasons after a shoulder surgery to remove a tumor from his shoulder had diminished his production. The Canucks thought they'd trade for him when his value was low, and swapped Burnaby-born Cam Neely for him. Of course, the Canucks being the inept organization that they were, were convinced to sweeten the deal for the injured and unproductive Pederson by chipping in a first-round draft pick, who turned out to be Glen Wesley.

Most of you know how this story turned out. Barry Pederson, as productive as he was for a time in Boston, never regained his magic touch in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Cam Neely had a Hall of Fame career and terrorized Montreal fans to an even greater degree than Mr. Pederson. Glen Wesley developed into a mere All-Star, he was obviously a 'throw-in' in this deal. To this day, mentioning Cam Neely to a Canucks fan elicits howls of frustration.

What they don't go on and on about is the Markus Naslund for Alex Stojanov heist they pulled off with Pittsburgh. The Canucks drafted Mr. Stojanov 7th overall in 1991, and hoped he would develop into an even bigger meaner Cam Neely. His claim to fame was his fights with Eric Lindros in the OHL, and a nice scoring touch to go with that. After a couple of seasons in the minors and a shoulder surgery however, they realized that he probably would never develop as expected, and shipped him off to the Pittsburgh Penguins in return for Markus Naslund, who had been drafted 16th overall in '91 as well. Mr. Naslund had oodles of talent, but a fractious relationship with the Penguins as related to his contract negotiations and ice time. The Penguins lost patience and decided to re-trucculate™ by swapping him for Mr. Stojanov.

The rest is well-known. You never heard from Mr. Stojanov again, but Markus Naslund would go on to be the team captain, set the franchise scoring record, have his jersey retired, and to be considered as maybe the greatest Canuck. Somehow, when Markus Naslund comes up, Vancouver fans don't focus on how they fleeced the Pittsburgh fans, they just talk about how great he was and how dominant his line with Brendan Morrison and Todd Bertuzzi was.

So when we worry about dealing away the Kostistyn brothers or Matt D'Agostini, let's keep a sense of proportion. Sure it would have been nice to receive fair value for Mike Ribeiro, but deep down we are probably all glad he's gone. It would be great if the salary cap hadn't forced the departures of Sheldon Souray and Marc Streit and James Wisniewski, but that's the world we live in. The Sharks' fans are probably looking at highlights of Max Pacioretty's 30th goal and rueing the Craig Rivet for Josh Gorges and a first-rounder deal. Win some, lose some. Yin yang.

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