Blockbuster trades always add to the excitement around the NHL, especially leading up to the trade deadline. And it is even better when they result in a championship during the same season.
We have already seen a handful of superstars change teams this season, including Patrick Kane, Timo Meier, Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and Bo Horvat, with each respective general manager hoping it’ll put their club over the top.
Acquiring an All-Star player hasn’t always translated into championship success in the past, although there have been numerous instances where it has. For teams like the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils, each is banking on history repeating itself in 2023.
What constitutes a blockbuster? In this case, we are focusing on deals involving bona fide top six forwards, top pairing defensemen or elite starting goalies. Let’s explore the NHL’s rich history of when a blockbuster trade correlated with a team winning it all in the same campaign.
Blues salvage season by acquiring Ryan O’Reilly (2018)
To St. Louis: Ryan O’Reilly
To Buffalo: Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, 2019 1st-round pick (Ryan Johnson), 2021 2nd-round pick (Ben Roger)
St. Louis’ improbable Stanley Cup run in 2019 remains one of the best stories in NHL history, and understandably so, as the Blues were sitting in last place as of Jan. 3 before turning their storybook season around. But it undoubtedly wouldn’t have been possible without the Ryan O’Reilly summer blockbuster.
Following three less-than-impressive campaigns with Buffalo, the 2013-14 Lady Byng Trophy winner received a fresh start in 2018-19 and finished with a career-high 77 points. That was a precursor to his incredible postseason performance, as he led the Blues with eight goals and 23 points, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The deal, of course, also ended up working out for the Sabres as Thompson has emerged as one of the game’s top scorers, with 41 goals and 80 points through 59 games this season.
Penguins acquire Phil Kessel (2015)
To Pittsburgh: Phil Kessel, 2016 2nd-round pick (Kasper Bjorkqvist), Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon
To Toronto: Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, 2016 1st-round pick (Sam Steel), 2016 3rd-round pick (J.D. Greenway)
After reaching the top of the mountain in 2009, the Penguins were met with six straight seasons of playoff disappointment afterwards, finishing shy of their goal each time. But everything changed during the 2015 offseason, which saw them welcome Kessel to the team.
Kessel was a fresh of breath air offensively, contributing 26 goals and 59 points over his first 82 games with the franchise. The six-time 30-goal scorer proved his worth in the postseason, though, as he recorded a team-high 10 goals and 22 points, marking the beginning of consecutive Stanley Cup celebrations in Pittsburgh.
Kings acquire Marian Gaborik (2014)
To Los Angeles: Marian Gaborik
To Columbus: 2014 2nd-round pick (Dominic Turgeon), 2015 2nd-round pick (Travis Dermott), Matt Frattin
A few years after securing their first Stanley Cup, the Kings restocked for another deep playoff run by procuring Gaborik from the Blue Jackets, adding another scoring threat to the mix. It certainly paid off down the stretch.
After producing five goals and 16 points in 19 games, Gaborik was brilliant in the playoffs, racking up a league-leading 14 goals and 22 points, earning Los Angeles its second championship in three seasons.
Kings receive Mike Richards, Jeff Carter (2011-12)
To Los Angeles: Mike Richards, Rob Bordson
To Philadelphia: Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, 2012 2nd-round pick (Devin Shore)
To Los Angeles: Jeff Carter
To Columbus: Jack Johnson, 2013 1st-round pick (Marko Dano)
The Kings’ core of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty received a massive boost following the additions of Richards (June 2011) and Carter (February 2012), providing head coach Darryl Sutter with extra firepower in search of the franchise’s first championship.
Carter finished tied with Brown and Kopitar for the team lead in playoff goals (eight), with all three skaters also ranking tied for the league lead. Richards, meanwhile, brought Selke-caliber defensive play and immense leadership, and chipped in offensively with four goals and 15 points.
Bruins acquire Nathan Horton (2010)
To Boston: Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell
To Florida: Dennis Wideman, 2010 1st-round pick (Derek Forbert), 2011 3rd-round pick (Kyle Rau)
Despite being headlined by Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron up front, Horton was one of the most impactful players on the 2011 Stanley Cup champs, ranking second in goals (26) and fourth in points (53) during the regular season.
The former Panther was even more meaningful once the postseason arrived, netting eight goals and 17 points, including a trio of game-winners, one of which occurred in overtime during Game 7 versus Montreal.
Horton’s post-season, and eventually his career, was cut short as a result of a brutal hit he took from Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Ducks strike blockbuster for Chris Pronger (2006)
To Anaheim: Chris Pronger
To Edmonton: Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, 2007 1st-round pick (Nick Ross), 2008 1st-round pick (Jordan Eberle), 2008 2nd-round pick (Travis Hamonic)
In need of a suitable partner for Scott Niedermayer, Ducks general manager Brian Burke did exactly that when he acquired Pronger from the Oilers over the 2006 offseason, giving his club a legendary one-two punch on the backend. And the four-time All-Star didn’t disappoint.
Pronger posted 13 goals and 59 points across 66 regular-season games, then led Anaheim in scoring (15 points) throughout the playoffs while logging over 30 minutes per game and shutting things down on the defensive end. He also redeemed himself after losing to the Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final the previous season.
Red Wings make splash for Dominik Hasek (2001)
To Detroit: Dominik Hasek
To Buffalo: 2002 1st-round pick (Jim Slater), Vyacheslav Kozlov
At 37, Hasek aged like fine wine during the back half of his career, winning four Vezinas and two Hart Trophies following his age-30 season, including a sixth Vezina in his final season in Buffalo. But one thing he was missing was a Stanley Cup, at least that is until he was traded to Detroit on July 1, 2001.
Even with plenty of miles on his odometer, the Hall of Famer still played a key factor in the Red Wings’ championship run, recording a league-leading six shutouts with a 1.86 GAA and .920 SV% over 23 games. Hasek’s final NHL season (2007-08) wasn’t nearly as impressive, though he did walk off into the sunset with a second championship ring.
Avalanche acquire Rob Blake (2001)
To Colorado: Rob Blake, Steven Reinprecht
To Los Angeles: 2001 1st-round pick (Dave Steckel), 2003 1st-round pick (Brian Boyle), Jared Aulin, Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller
The Avalanche attempted to go all-in during the 2000 trade deadline, landing Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk, but ultimately fell short of their championship aspirations. So what did they do? The team traded for Norris Trophy winning defenseman Rob Blake one year later.
With a loaded roster, which still featured Patrick Roy between the pipes, Colorado embarked on another deep postseason run with Blake controlling the blue line. Playing alongside Bourque, Blake potted six goals and 19 points en route to his first championship — the franchise’s second in six years.
Red Wings acquire Brendan Shanahan (1996)
To Detroit: Brendan Shanahan, Brian Glynn
To Hartford: Paul Coffey, Keith Primeau, 1997 1st-round pick (Nikos Tselios)
Without a Stanley Cup victory since 1955, the Red Wings’ acquisition of Shanahan in October 1996 was a difference-maker in pursuing their eighth championship title as he led the team with 46 goals and 87 points across 79 contests in the regular season.
The three-time All-Star also served as a reliable source of offense in the playoffs, generating nine goals and 17 points, including a pair of game-winners. His scoring touch wasn’t as effective the following year, but his leadership was invaluable and helped pave the way for a second consecutive Stanley Cup title.
Avalanche trade for Sandis Ozolinsh, Patrick Roy (1995)
To Colorado: Sandis Ozolinsh
To San Jose: Owen Nolan
To Colorado: Patrick Roy, Mike Keane
To Montreal: Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky, Jocelyn Thibault
Searching for its first Stanley Cup, Colorado made a notable splash during the early stages of the 1995-96 campaign, landing Ozolinsh — who ultimately became a crucial playoff performer that season — from San Jose. Then, just two months later, they acquired one of the best goaltenders in NHL history: Patrick Roy.
Roy was unceremoniously cast out by Montreal, who received a subpar return for the Hall of Fame netminder. But it wasn’t long before he had the last laugh against his former organization.
The Avalanche’s pair of midseason acquisitions provided a massive spark to their dressing room, helping them win the Pacific Division with a 47–25–10 record and 104 points. Roy finished the year with a 2.68 GAA and .909 SV% over 39 games, while Ozolinsh had 13 goals and 50 points in 66 games after arriving in Colorado.
Colorado’s superstar goaltender elevated his craft in the playoffs, earning a 2.10 GAA and a .921 SV%. And with Ozolinsh leading all defensemen in scoring with five goals and 19 points, the franchise received its first taste of championship glory.
Canadiens acquire Vincent Damphousse (1992)
To Montreal: Vincent Damphousse, 1993 4th-round pick (Adam Wiesel)
To Edmonton: Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist, Vladimir Vujtek
Following a brief stint with the Oilers, where he posted 38 goals and 89 points over 80 games, Damphousse was traded to his hometown Canadiens during the 1992 offseason, which led to immediate success for Montreal.
Damphousse exploded for 39 goals and 97 points in 84 contests, setting career-highs in both categories in 1992-93. The future Canadiens captain’s production remained elite in the playoffs, as he registered 11 goals and 23 points as Montreal captured its 24th and most recent Stanley Cup.
Penguins receive Ron Francis (1991)
To Pittsburgh: Ron Francis, Grant Jennings, Ulf Samuelsson
To Hartford: John Cullen, Jeff Parker, Zarley Zalapsk
Francis enjoyed nine-and-a-half quality seasons with the Hartford Whalers, serving as captain and setting numerous franchise records. But it wasn’t until he was traded to Pittsburgh in March 1991 that he reached the highest level in the sport.
Slotting in behind Mario Lemieux as the team’s No. 2 center, the reliable two-way forward supplied his team with seven goals — four of which were game-winners — and 17 points in 24 playoff games as the franchise won its first of back-to-back Stanley Cups. He also added two additional game-winning goals during Pittsburgh’s second championship run in 1982.
Islanders land Butch Goring (1980)
To New York: Butch Goring
To Los Angeles: Billy Harris, Dave Lewis
Goring was involved in one of the most notable deadline-day blockbusters in NHL history when he was shipped to Long Island in March 1980, giving New York another star to add to its already-stacked lineup.
Goring made an instant impact, as his seven goals and 19 points helped lead the Islanders to their first of four straight Stanley Cup titles from 1980-83. His services were even more impactful during Year 2 as he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Canadiens swing trade for Frank Mahovlich (1971)
To Montreal: Frank Mahovlich
To Detroit: Guy Charron, Bill Collins, Mickey Redmond
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years in 1970, the Montreal Canadiens made a seismic move midway through the 1970-71 season, acquiring star forward Frank Mahovlich from the Detroit Red Wings.
One of the NHL’s greatest power forwards, Mahovlich made an instant impact in Montreal, scoring 41 points in 38 games to close the regular season, and then leading the Canadiens back to Stanley Cup glory as their leading scorer with 14 goals and 27 points in 20 games. He would go on to win one more title with the Canadiens in 1972-73 before leaving the NHL for the WHA.
Maple Leafs acquire Max Bentley (1947)
To Toronto: Max Bentley, Cy Thomas
To Chicago: Gus Bodnar, Ernie Dickens, Bob Goldham, Bud Poile, Gaye Stewart
One of the biggest trades in the sport’s history happened almost a full century ago, which saw the Maple Leafs trade their “Flying Forts” line of Poile, Bodnar and Stewart. In return, however, Toronto received a two-time scoring champion in Bentley, who was critical in helping the franchise win its seventh Stanley Cup, the second in two seasons.
The two-time All-Star notched 23 goals and 48 points in 53 games post-trade, carrying his success into the playoffs, where he scored four goals and 11 points across nine contests. Bentley was also impactful the following season, leading his team to a third straight championship in 1948-49.