Dim hotel corridors and backrooms are venues as important as the floodlit draft floor as National Hockey League gathers in Toronto to pick over the crop of the world's best juniors. Behind-the-scenes horse-trading is always the real drama of draft day.
Ten years ago today, the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) fashioned a future as a Stanley Cup champion with the biggest -- and most confusing -- deal in draft-day history. It was the day the franchise acquired cornerstone Peter Fosberg and the day Eric Lindros was bizarrely traded to two teams.
The saga unfolded as follows:
A downtown hotel suite in Montreal was booked. A five-star chef was hired to satisfy the rather significant appetite of Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut. The Nordiques' management team knew they were in for a hectic night and morning.
After Aubut's year-long, unsuccessful attempt to cajole an unyielding Lindros to play in Quebec City, the Nordiques agreed to deal Lindros, who had been dubbed the Next One by hockey folks expecting him to succeed Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the game's brightest star.
The confusing conclusion arrived on draft morning at the Montreal Forum. The bombastic Aubut somehow traded No. 88 to two teams, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. It would take another 10 days for league-appointed arbitrator Larry Bertuzzi to award the rights to Lindros, and the decision was black and white -- and orange, as we know.
Lindros went to the Flyers in exchange for Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Kerry Huffman, two first-round picks (one was Jocelyn Thibault, the other was used in the trade of Wendel Clark for Mats Sundin) and $15,000 (U.S.).
"Time solves a lot of problems," former Nordiques general manager Pierre Pagé said this week from Germany, where he coached the Berlin Polar Bears to the German league title this year. "Looking back, I'm glad we got it done. It was a big-time poker game."
When Pagé, Aubut and a bevy of management types and scouts set up shop in that Montreal hotel room that week, they had a big board that listed 14 clubs willing to make a deal. The night before the draft, the list was shaved down to four: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, the Rangers and the Flyers.
At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, Pagé thought it was going to be the Maple Leafs who would win the Lindros sweepstakes. They had offered three quality players, three draft picks and $15-million (U.S.). But the Blackhawks anted up a better package of five players and seven draft picks. At 10:30 a.m., Pagé thought he had a deal with Blackhawks coach and GM Mike Keenan.
The Rangers, however, one-upped Keenan at 11:50 a.m. with a handful of quality players and $20-million. The deal was done. Or was it?
On Friday evening, Aubut had tossed a piece of paper at Flyers president Jay Snider and said, "give us these players and conditions and you have got yourself Eric Lindros."
Snider told Aubut he would check with general manager Russ Farwell and the Flyers' brain trust. At noon, just after the deal with New York had been brokered, Snider came back and told the Nordiques they had a deal.
The Rangers cried foul. Bertuzzi investigated. The ruling? The piece of paper that hit Snider constituted a contract. Lindros was a Flyer.
"The Philly people were ticked off and so was Neil Smith [the Rangers' general manager]" Pagé said. "But by the time we made the deal with the Rangers, we didn't know Philadelphia had agreed to our list."
In hindsight, not many would make that trade today.
"You would have to search the league far and wide to find a general manager who would trade Peter Forsberg one for one with Lindros," an NHL executive said.
Even a decade later, Farwell doubts it was the right deal.
"It's easy to look back now and see all the bumps and conflicts between Eric and the Flyers and say that it wasn't the right move," Farwell said from Seattle, where he is the general manager of the Western Hockey League's Thunderbirds.
"The Flyers could have enjoyed a strong middle at the time with Peter Forsberg, Rod Brind'Amour and Mike Ricci. But we were under pressure back then. We had not made the playoffs in three seasons, Forsberg didn't come over to North America right away and there were plans for a new building, but no financing was available."
For his part, Lindros, the reluctant No. 1 pick overall in the 1991 entry draft, said this week he has no regrets in demanding a trade and that the club that won was Philadelphia.
It's easy to raise a hand of the Nordiques-Avalanche franchise as the winner. It has captured two Stanley Cups, in 1996 and 2001. The franchise has depth and is a perennial contender, just as Aubut predicted.
"This is going to make us a major force in the NHL," Aubut commented on Bertuzzi's decision. "This marks the first day of a brilliant future for the Quebec Nordiques."
It also marked a sound short-term future for three others. Aubut benefited three years later when he sold the Nordiques to Denver interests for $75-million.
The Rangers gained because they were going to trade a goaltender (Mike Richter or John Vanbiesbrouck) a forward (Tony Amonte or Adam Graves), Alexei Kovalev and defenceman James Patrick and $20-million for Lindros. A year later, Richter and Kovalev played key roles in the Rangers' first Stanley Cup victory in 54 years.
The furthest the Flyers advanced with Lindros was the Stanley Cup final in 1997. But in the boardroom, the Flyers profited because Lindros pushed the franchise to a huge financial windfall.
The First Union Center was built. Comcast, an all-sport television network and part of the Flyers' ownership group, became a hit in the Philadelphia area with Lindros strutting his stuff as the main programming. And No. 88 Flyers sweaters became the hottest seller in the league in the mid-1990s, second only to Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys.
According to Forbes magazine, the Flyers are second in the NHL in value, worth an estimated $250-million. The Rangers are tops at $277-million.
"The main thing is, it turned out pretty good for everyone," Pagé said. "Eric never broke the rules. I'm disappointed he never played for us. But he was well within his rights to take the stance he did.
"Eric got what he wanted. It didn't end well for him in Philly, but he has enjoyed a good career, a good career financially. The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup. That's what we were trying to do with the Nordiques, win a Stanley Cup. They had to move to Denver. But they won two Stanley Cups." L'affaire Lindros The tentacles of the Eric Lindros trade are as far reaching as the Colorado Avalanche's acquisitions of Ray Bourque and Rob Blake. Here is a look at the players the Quebec Nordiques-Avalanche franchise have acquired as the result of the Lindros trade, which was made a decade ago. The trade: On June 20, 1992, the Philadelphia Flyers acquired the rights to Eric Lindros from the Nordiques in exchange for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, a first-round pick (Jocelyn Thibault), $15,000 (U.S.) and future considerations (Chris Simon and the 1994 first-round pick). June 20, 1993: Hextall was sent to the New York Islanders for a first-round draft choice (Adam Deadmarsh). June 23, 1993: Steve Duchesne was shipped with Denis Chasse to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Garth Butcher, Ron Sutter and Bob Bassen. June 28, 1994: Sutter and a first-round pick (Brett Lindros) were traded to the Islanders for Uwe Krupp and a first-round pick (Wade Belak). June 28, 1994: Butcher, Mats Sundin, Todd Warriner and a first-round pick (later traded to the Washington Capitals) were dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a first-round pick (Jeff Kealty). Oct. 3, 1995: Clark was sent to the Islanders for Claude Lemieux. Dec. 6, 1995: Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky were traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Patrick Roy and Mike Keane. Nov. 21, 1997: Ricci was sent to the San Jose Sharks, along with a second-round pick (later traded to the Buffalo Sabres), for Shean Donovan and a first-round pick (Alex Tanguay). Feb. 28, 1999: Belak, Rene Corbet, Robyn Regehr and a second-round pick (Jarret Stoll) were dealt to the Calgary Flames for Theoren Fleury and Chris Dingman. Nov. 3, 1999: Lemieux was traded, along with a first-round pick and a second-round pick, to the New Jersey Devils for Brian Rolston and a first-round pick (later traded to the Boston Bruins). March 6, 2000: Rolston, Martin Grenier, Sami Pahlsson and first-round pick (Martin Samuelsson) were traded to the Bruins for Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk. Feb. 21, 2001: Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, a first-round pick (David Steckel) and future considerations (Jared Aulin) were shipped to the Los Angeles Kings for Rob Blake and Steve Reinprecht. The trade On June 20, 1992, the Philadelphia Flyers acquired the rights to Eric Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, a first-round pick (Jocelyn Thibault), $15,000 (U.S.) and future considerations (Chris Simon and the 1994 first-round pick). The 1994 first-round pick was used by the Nordiques in the trade of Wendel Clark for Mats Sundin with the Toronto Maple Leafs in June of 1994. Eric Lindros: He was traded by the Flyers last summer to the New York Rangers, after nine seasons in Philadelphia, for Pavel Brendl, Jan Hlavak, Kim Johnsson and a third-round pick; he just finished his first year with the Rangers. Statistics since the trade: games played, 558; goals, 327; assists, 405; and points, 732. Peter Forsberg: He finished his eighth season with the Colorado Avalanche. He has won two Stanley Cups with the Avs and led the league in playoff scoring this eyar with 27 points in 20 games. Stats since trade: GP 466, G 169, A 411, Pts 580. Steve Duchesne: After one season with Quebec, he was traded (with Denis Chasse) to the St. Louis Blues for Garth Butcher, Ron Sutter and Bob Bassen; he played on the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings this past season. Stats since trade: GP 653, G 124, A 290, Pts 414. Kerry Huffman: Less than two years after the trade, he was waived by the Nordiques and claimed by the Ottawa Senators. His final season of hockey, which was cut short by injury, was 1998-99 with Grand Rapids of the International Hockey League. Stats since trade: GP 198, G 15, A 48, Pts 63. Mike Ricci: He played five seasons with the Nords-Avs, won a Stanley Cup in 1996 and then was dealt on Nov. 21, 1997, to the San Jose Sharks (along with a second-round pick) for Shean Donovan and a first-round pick (Alex Tanguay). Stats since trade: GP 722, G 174, A 257, Pts 431 Ron Hextall: After one season in Quebec, he was traded, along with a first-round pick (Todd Bertuzzi), to the New York Islanders for Mark Fitzpatrick and a first-round pick (Adam Deadmarsh). He's now a pro scout with the Flyers. Stats since trade: games played, 251; wins, 130; losses, 89; ties, 31. Chris Simon: After four seasons with the Nords-Avs, he won a Stanley Cup in 1996. He was dealt with Curtis Leschyshyn to the Washington Capitals for Keith Jones and a first-round pick (Scott Parker). Stats since trade: GP 456, G 96, A 109, Pts 205. Jocelyn Thibault: He was traded with Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky by Colorado to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Patrick Roy and Mike Keane; he just completed his fourth season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Stats since trade: GP 460, W 196, L 182, T 59.