The "Great Trades" series returns! I'm gonna be honest; I could have put this up a lot earlier, however i wanted to find a trade to talk about to prove that somebody other than Fletch was capable of pulling off a deal that makes it into this series. Hopefully, you guys enjoy this one too.
It's funny how history has a way of repeating itself.
As the new season nears, we find ourself facing some situations that we've seen before, and that have popped up to the forefront once again.
The long-awaited season begins on Thursday. This is the first real look we're going to get at Brian Burke's revamped roster, and the forecast calls for a 100% chance of truculence. With that, let's go back and take a look at the acquisition of a player who personified "truculence" before we even knew what that word meant.
In 1999, the realignment of the NHL moved the Leafs away from their long-time Norris Division battles, and into the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, who had through the mid 90s been a team in decline, bottoming out in 1997 and 1998, began playing an up-tempo style under new coach Pat Quinn. The free-wheeling offensive style, and the superb goaltending by free agent signing Curtis Joseph, helped them shock the hockey world by advancing to the Conference Finals.
The team remained a team to watch in the following season, but built up front around players like Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas, Sergei Berezin and Jonas Hoglund, some questioned whether the forwards were too soft to compete with defensive stalwarts like Buffalo and New Jersey. So on February 9, 2000, Quinn, who had taken on the dual mantle of GM/Coach, swung a trade with Tampa Bay to give his team a bit more grit.
Toronto acquires: Darcy Tucker, 2000 4th round pick (MIguel Delisle)
Tampa Bay acquires: Mike Johnson, Marek Posmyk, 2000 5th round pick (Pavel Sedov), 2000 6th round pick (Aaron Gionet)
Let's just get this out of the way quickly. The four other players involved in this trade, aside from sounding like names randomly generated in NHL10, played a combined total of 19 games in the NHL (all Posmyk). So they are non-entities. The trade comes to down to Tucker vs. Johnson.
Mike Johnson was a local Toronto boy, who signed with the Leafs in 1997 after four years at Bowling Green University. While best known for being one of the fastest skaters in the league, he was actually a very solid 3rd line, complementary scorer, having racked up 47 and 44 points in 2 full seasons with the Leafs, and 25 points in 52 games prior to his trade.
He finished the season strong in Tampa Bay, accumulating another 22 points in 28 games to match his career high of 47 points. From then on, his career was something of a yo-yo. He was traded the following season to Phoenix, in the deal that brought Nikolai Khabibulin to Tampa Bay, where he exploded for 63 points, followed by an injury-shortened season. He returned after the lockout to score another incredible 54 points, then bounced around to Montreal and St. Louis and now plays in Germany.
Tucker had become known around the league as a first-class agitator, a welterweight with the courage and heart of a heavyweight. His blue-collar, rough and tumble style of play endeared him to Maple Leaf fans, even though his "Sideshow Bob" demeanor continued to get him into on-ice altercations that it would have beneficial for him, and more importantly his team, to avoid.
Still, Tucker proved to be an important cog in the Maple Leaf lineup that consistently challenged for the Cup in the years prior to the lockout. He also proved to be a capable secondary scoring option, 4 times in a Leaf uniform scoring more than 20 goals. Tucker was bought out after the 2007-08 season as part of a drastic shift in the culture of the Leaf team, as wear and tear had begun to catch up with him, and a large contract negated his usefulness to a rebuilding club.
The Milbury Scale
Check out Volume II for an explanation and an example of each level of the scale.
Darcy Tucker and Mike Johnson represent the polar opposites of what a prototypical third-liner in the NHL looks like. On the one hand, you have Johnson, a player with amazing skating skills and a strong hockey sense. He was a tenacious forechecker, and used his speed to terrorize defenceman into turnovers.
And then you have Darcy Tucker, whose average shift looked something like this.
Rule of thumb when assessing player trades; the team who gets the best player typically wins. And while Tucker wasn't nearly the player that Mats Sundin or Dave Andreychuk were, he was a very important member of some very good Maple Leaf teams, and a fan favourite.
Overall, Johnson and Tucker is probably a wash, as both were pretty steady third-liners capable of scoring 50 points a year. Johnson spent just over a year in Tampa, and while he was used to bring in a key component of Tampa's lone Stanley Cup victory, he made a very minimal contribution to the Lightning, nowhere near what Tucker would go on to do in the Blue and White.