TORONTO- It may be years before the Phil Kessel for two first-round draft picks (and a second rounder too) trade can be accurately analyzed, but no doubt it is a move that GM Brian Burkewill always be held accountable for. Many people in Toronto criticise Burkes bold move saying he gave up too much of the future while others applaud, saying Burke scored Toronto a proven sniper who is still only 23 years old and has years of all-star talent to offer to the organization.
Regardless of what you think about the Kessel transaction, the Toronto Maple Leafs past does have trades involving draft picks worth criticising. Toronto in fact has given up selections that have gone on to Stanley Cups, All-Star selections and Hall of Fame careers.
The draft came into effect in 1963 and has seen many changes throughout the years including the amount of rounds in a draft year and how many players can be selected. Despite the adjustments, Leafs GM’s over the years seem to give away a spot that turns into a “what could-have-been.”
Below is the top five worst trades the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has been involved in when giving up draft picks.
#5 1992 New York Islanders Trade Positions with Toronto in the Draft
Looking to move up in the draft, the New York Islanders sent their 1992 first and second round selections to Toronto in exchange for Toronto’sfirst rounder. While GM of the Leafs Cliff Fletcher went on to draft Brandon Convery with the first, he would ship the second round pick to the Washington Capitals. Taking the best player in the deal, the Islanders would select heavy hitting defenseman Darius Kasparaitis fifth overall. Convery suited up only 50 games for the Leafs, spending majority of his time with the farm club in St. Johns. Kasparaitis would go on to play 15 seasons in the NHL and represented Russia at four separate Olympics from 1992-2006. He also paved the way for defensemen to use the almighty hip-check as a tactic to stop the opposing attack and served as assistant captain for the New York Rangers from 2005-2007.
#4 1993 Ottawa Senators Trade Brad Miller to Toronto for 1993 9th Round Selection
Another move made by Fletcher, Brad Miller came to Toronto midway through the 1992/93 season and would finish the year playing 20 games for the St. Johns Maple Leafs. His time in the blue in white ended when he started the next season in Calgary with the Flames minor league team in Saint John.
The 1993 ninth rounder sent to Ottawa for Miller turned out to be sniper Pavol Demitra. From 1993 to 2010, Demitra made his way around the NHL playing in 847 games and earning 768 points. His career would include 11 20 goal seasons, three All-Star selections and in 2000 he was the recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy after recording only eight minutes in penalties.
#3 2001 Los Angeles Kings Trade Aki Berg to Toronto for Adam Mair and 2001 2nd Round Pick
A late season trade made by then GM Pat Quinn, Aki Berg was brought in to bolster the Leafs defence for the upcoming post-season. He ended up hanging around in a Leafs jersey for four full seasons however he never did live up to his potential and was a complimentary player at best. To Bergs defence, it was the Kings who drafted him third overall in 1995, but the 6’3” 215 pounder never did show a physical side to his game. In all, Berg played 606 games in the NHL but spent the last five years of his career in his homeland Finland.
Adam Mair was drafted 84th overall in 1997 and only suited up 16 games for the Leafs in 2001 before being sent to Los Angeles. He has spent the last six seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and has played 550 games in the NHL to date.
A Berg for Mair’s trade would have seemed respectable basing it on their statistics, but obviously the second round pick is what clinched this deal for the Kings. With the second round pick in 2001, L.A. took Mike Cammalleri.
A quality player to date, Cammalleri has scored at least 20 goals in four separate seasons and 30 in a season twice. If not for injury in the early part of his career, Cammalleri’s numbers would be even better but when it matters he shines. In post-season play he is a point per game player with 18 goals in 32 games.
#2 1997 New York Islanders Trade Wendel Clark, Matthieu Schneider and D.J Smith to Toronto for Kenny Jonsson, Sean Haggerty, Darby Hendrickson and 1998 1st Round Selection
At the time of the deal it seemed to be great for the Leafs. GM Fletcher shipped off Kenny Jonsson, who was a young, promising defenseman, Darby Hendrickson, Sean Haggerty and a 1998 first round pick. And in return Toronto received their once beloved, former captain, Wendel Clark, puck moving defenseman Matthieu Schenieder and D.J. Smith.
Jonsson would play nine seasons with the Islanders however he battled concussions and never became the star some thought he would. Hendrickson played a respectable 515 games in the NHL but was never more than a third-liner.
Clark and Schneider each played three seasons for Toronto before Clark signed with the Tamba Bay Lightning and an underachieving Schneider was shipped to the New York Rangers.
It’s honourable to mention Smith and Haggerty as well, however combined, they only played 60 games in the NHL.
The sealer in the deal though was the 1998 first round selection where Islanders GM picked Roberto Luongo. Another first round pick that the Leafs weren’t afraid to give up to build for the “now”, Luongo now, is highly regarded as a top goalie in the league and has been called a franchise player. He has been nominated for the Vezina trophy as top goalie in the league four times, has appeared in three All-Star games and has over 300 wins.
#1 1989 New Jersey Devils Trade Tom Kurvers to Toronto for 1991 1st Round Selection
The 1980’s were a terrible decade for hockey in Toronto and former GM Floyd Smith could have made the early 90’s just as bad if not for the fact he lasted only two seasons.
Needing goal scoring, Smith grabbed Tom Kurvers from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for their 1991 1st round draft pick. Lou Lamoriello selected Scott Niedermeyer, and as the saying goes the rest is history.
Kurvers only played a little over a season scoring 15 goals in 89 games for the Leafs while Niedermeyer played 18 seasons and won four Stanley Cup championships; three with New Jersey. He also was a seven times All-Star, two time gold medalist, winner of the Norris Trophy for top defenseman in 2003 and winner of the Conn Smyth Trophy for MVP of the play-offs in 2006.
All of these “what if” players surely would have looked good in the blue and white, but to assume they all would have been selected by the Leafs organization is absurd. Who would have guessed that Ottawa’s luck of finding Demitra in the ninth round was the same year they drafted Alexandre Daigle first overall; also the same year the Leafs used two first round picks on Jonsson and Landon Wilson.
The fact is, the draft has had as many what-ifs as it does what-could-have-bins and why’d-you-pick-hims for the Leafs. Burke can change that with his two first round selections this June in Minnesota, but just like the Kessel trade, we will have to wait to decide how valuable they truly are.