Today is the 26th anniversary of the biggest trade in sports history. On August 9th 1988, the Edmonton Oilers dealt Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player in the history of the National Hockey League, to the Los Angeles Kings in a deal that turned out to be more of a sale than an actual hockey trade.
We all know the specifics of the Gretzky trade, how it put California on the hockey map, and was the beginning of the end of a great dynasty in Alberta. The trade changed the entire landscape of the NHL, leading to several more expansion teams in the southern United States.
The Montreal Canadiens pulled off their own outlandish trade a few years later, sending Patrick Roy, perhaps the best goaltender in the history of the game, to the Colorado Avalanche in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
As I glanced over the Habs trade history since Gretzky was dealt 26 years ago today, I saw plenty of deals that the Canadiens found themselves on the wrong side of, but I picked out ten that the Habs were the clear winners.
I ranked their ten best trades in the past 26 years, and will start the countdown right now with their 10th best trade since the biggest trade in hockey history. Why start a Habs trade countdown with the Gretzky trade? Well, the Gretzky trade changed the entire landscape of the NHL, basically creating a new modern era by enlarging the league from 21 teams to 30 in a decade.
The day Gretzky was traded, 16 out of 21 teams made the NHL postseason each year. Things are much different in the NHL now, as you have to be a good regular season team to even make the playoffs in a 16 team Eastern Conference. One way to make your team better is by making a great trade.
November 11, 2010: Montreal Canadiens trade Ryan O’Byrne to the Colorado Avalanche for Michael Bournival
The Montreal Canadiens had a high number of NHL level defencemen in the 2010-11 season, and moved Ryan O’Byrne to the Avalanche for Michael Bournival. O’Byrne was a massive defender, and was 26 at the time of the deal. It was hoped he would turn into a physical shutdown defenceman when the Canadiens drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft.
However, O’Byrne could never shake his well earned reputation as a turnover machine, and though he used his 6’5” and 235 pound frame well physically, his huge mistakes were too much to ignore, and one of the smallest teams in the league had no choice but to get rid of their biggest player.
O’Byrne went to the Avalanche and suited up for 64 games that season. He returned in 2011-12 and played 74 games, recorded seven points and then played 34 more contests with Colorado in the 2013 season before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played 8 games with Toronto and 6 more in the postseason, but then left the NHL, unable to find a team willing to sign him to a contract.
The hulking defender played last season with Prague in the KHL, having scored 39 points in his 308 game NHL career. His size and physical game made him an enticing prospect years ago, but his defensive zone blunders and countless turnovers would not allow him to ever become more than a third pairing defenceman, and ultimately forced him out of the NHL altogether at the age of 29.
In Bournival, the Canadiens acquired a 19 year old who was playing for him hometown Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL. Bournival was in his third season with Shawinigan, and would average a point per game for three consecutive seasons with the team, before winning a Memorial Cup in 2012.
Bournival is a fantastic skater with a tireless work ethic who cracked the Canadiens lineup as a rookie this past season. He suited up for 60 games and scored 14 points, while skating primarily in a fourth line role.
Bournival was a third round pick in 2010, and is just 22 years old. He may not be an offensive force in the NHL, but did show some offensive upside in Junior. Even if he never develops his offensive game further, his defensive responsibility, tenacious play and excellent speed will make him a very valuable player in the bottom six of the Canadiens lineup for the foreseeable future.
A lot of this is based on the future potential of Bournival, and him being a solid two way player for the Canadiens for many years. Considering they only gave up two and a half seasons of a third pairing defenceman before he left the NHL, I think it is very likely that Bournival continues to make this trade look better and better for many years.