The worst trade in Red Wings’ history

Adam Oates scored 1,221 points after he was traded from the Detroit Red Wings.

Adam Oates scored 1,221 points after he was traded from the Detroit Red Wings.

As we celebrate trade-deadline week in the NHL, there’s a haunting image lingering from the Red Wings’ dealings of the past.

It begins with Jimmy Devellano, the Red Wings GM, who stands before a pack of reporters in the summer of 1989. Devellano thought he just orchestrated a stellar transaction that would be the lynchpin to a Stanley Cup. He promised a title within 10 years of his 1982 hiring date, yet here we were, seven seasons into his tenure – no Stanley Cup.

Devellano flashed a sick-twisted smile, oblivious to talent, age and character, completely unaware he was about to announce The Worst Trade in Red Wings History: Adam Oates and Paul MacLean to St. Louis; Tony McKegney and Bernie Federko to Detroit.

The devastating impact still resonates today.

First, let’s start with some background that shows the idiocy of this deal.

The Wings were a Campbell Conference finalist in ’87 and ’88, only to lose to Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers both years. The Wings were still a quality group in ’89 despite a first-round loss to Chicago, which ran to the conference finals.

So, when the ’89 off-season rolled around, Devellano thought Federko and McKegney would be the lynchpins to hockey’s silver chalice.

Well, here’s how his trade unfolded:

Federko played one year and retired. Yes, one measly year. His birth certificate said he was 33 at the time of the trade, but he skated like he was 73. Today, his jersey hangs in the St. Louis Arena rafters. Fitting, eh?

McKegney was an alleged menace inside the Wings’ locker room and lasted a mere 14 games. Yes, 14 stinkin’ games. He was traded during the ’89-90 season to Quebec, the NHL’s worst franchise that won 12 games and relinquished 407 goals.

MacLean? He outscored Federko in ’89-90. That felt like 20 tablespoons of salt in a five-inch gash.

And now the worst part: Oates

He teamed with Brett Hull for 10,000 goals as arguably the best set-up man/sniper duo in NHL history. Heck, they could’ve renamed the Gateway Arch “Hull and Oates.”

Anyway, Oates completely lopsided the trade. Nobody else really mattered. Not Federko’s grandpa legs, not McKegney’s alleged character issues, not MacLean. To use a teeter-totter comparison: Oates was the 700-pound man in the Guinness Book of World Records; Devellano was the 7-pound infant. Oates slammed the deal though the Earth’s inner core and shot Devellano toward Pluto.

In St. Louis, Oates immediately posted 100-point seasons. His 90 assists in 90-’91 were mostly in the direction of Hull, who scored 86 times and threatened Gretzky’s unbreakable record of 92 goals.

By the time Oates retired, he had 1,079 assists – only 145 came in Detroit.

Stop for a minute and think about this terrible trade. What if Oates played his entire career in Detroit? Can you imagine him on a power play with Steve Yzerman (gritting teeth) and Sergei Fedorov (banging head against cement floor) and Nicklas Lidstrom (pouring hemlock poison into cup)?

I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, harking back to a horrid past. I’m stuck inside St. Louis Arena, watching Oates feed Hull, the red-goal light flickering, the crowd roaring, and that dumb musical chorus of “The Saints Go Matching In” being played over and over …

13 replies on “The worst trade in Red Wings’ history

  • Mary Ann Derbin

    The Adam Oates trade was horrific but go back further. The whole Harkness era was a nightmare. The trading of Garry Unger still riles my blood.

  • Donn Sinclair

    Another Devellano gem was Adam Graves, Petr Klima and Joe Murphy to Edmonton for Jimmy Carson in 1989-90. Carson was a player Detroit should’ve had from the get. Hometown boy, big time goal scorer. The Wings had the first overall pick in ’86. Jimmy D. over ruled coach Brad Park and took Joe Murphy. Bottom line? Graves, Klima and Murphy helped the Oilers to another Cup. Detroit got the guy they should’ve had in the first place and still missed the playoffs.

  • Tom Carlson

    He enjoyed a fine rookie season in 1992–93, posting 44 points on 18 goals and 26 assists. The following season he was part of a trade that saw him shipped to the Winnipeg Jets along with goaltender Tim Cheveldae. The Red Wings received goaltender Bob Essensa and defenceman Sergei Bautin in return. The trade was generally a wash for the Wings, as Essensa appeared in only 13 games and was not a factor in the playoffs.

  • Bill Ward

    Harry Watson was traded to the Maple Leafs in 1946 (just after buying his first home in Detroit) for Billy Taylor. Taylor played one season in Detroit. Harry Watson led the Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups and eventually was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

  • Robert Graham

    Gary Unger for Red Berenson trade in 1970……Red played for RW’s for 5 seasons afterwards and had 201 points, Unger in same amount of seasons 336 points & went on to play 9 years in St. Louis. Worst TRADE EVER and took the breath out of Red Wing hockey fans.

  • George

    By far the worst trade was Red Kelly for Marc Reaume by Jack Adams in 1960. Marc Reaume played 47 games on defense. Red Kelly played for Toronto at Center for 8 years and helped them win 4 Stanley Cups. There were other deals just as bad by trader Jack. Traded Terry Sawchuk after winning 4 Stanley cups at age 25 and also traded Glenn Hall who became know and “Mr. Goalie” and played 778 more NHL games in goal.

  • Jim G.

    That’s too bad about McKegney. I hadn’t heard about his locker room problems. I remember he grew up in nearby Sarnia, Ont., so I would think he was excited to be close to home. Another interesting note about him, his trade to the Nordiques marked the third time that Quebec had acquired him.
    If I remember right, the rap on Oates was he was too small and couldn’t hack it defensively. Even if it were true, it would not have mattered with his passing skills. Devellano certainly made a lot of bad moves early on.
    Another bad one was sending Mike Foligno, Dale McCourt and Brent Peterson to the Sabres for Danny Gare, Jim Schoenfeld and Derek Smith. Gare and McCourt were pretty much a wash. As were Peterson and Smith. Schoenfeld was good but always hurt. But Foligno turned into a top line winger that you could count on to score 30 goals. Again, a trade with a lot of good names, but not good results.

  • Mike Mooney

    Worst trade of all time was Detroit trading Red Kelly to Toronto for Marc Reaume. Or maybe Frank Mahovlich to Montreal for Mickey Redmond (love Mickey, don’t get me wrong) Bill Collins and Guy Charron.

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