As we get closer to the NHL trade deadline on March 21st, we will look at the five worst trades that the Toronto Maple Leafs have made in their 105-year history. Today we will be talking about trade numbers three and two.
#3: Captain Farewell
Toronto Maple Leafs acquire: Rich Costello, future considerations (Ken Strong) & 1982 2nd Round Pick (Peter Ihnacak)
Philadelphia Flyers acquire: Darryl Sittler
On January 20th, 1982, the Maple Leafs organization was changed dramatically when they traded their captain Darryl Sittler for essentially free. They acquired three players who played a total of 444 games in the NHL and scored 275 points, which is 24.5% of Sittler’s total points (1,121). This trade ended Sittler’s tenure with the club and later saw him ranked fourth on the Maple Leafs" top 100 player’s list.
The Maple Leafs traded only one piece in this deal, and it was a huge one, sending their captain Darryl Sittler to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982. To no one’s surprise, the team’s owner Harold Ballard and the bad relationship he had with his players was the catalyst behind the trade. Ballard was notorious for having his own issues within the team and it went from bad to worse for Sittler. He did not like the Lanny McDonald trade to the Colorado Rockies (now the New Jersey Devils) in 1979, and because of it chose to resign as the captain of the team. During the 1981 season, he informed the team that he was willing to waive his no-trade clause and was traded to the Flyers in January of 1982. Sittler’s 12 years in Toronto was nothing short of amazing, scoring 916 points in 844 games, which included a 10-point game (six goals and four assists) on February 7th, 1976, against the Boston Bruins. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989, his jersey was retired by the Maple Leafs in 2016 and is a member of Legends Row outside the Scotiabank Arena.
This must be one of the worst returns for a superstar player in NHL history and includes three players, with two of them playing less than 20 games combined. As we all know the no-trade clause limits the teams where the player can be traded, but it shouldn’t affect the trade to this extreme, where you are essentially giving your captain up for free. The Maple Leafs acquired forward Rich Costello, the 1982 2nd round pick, which they used to select forward Peter Ihnacak, and future considerations which turned out to be forward Ken Strong. Not exactly the household names back in the 1980s, especially on such a good team like the Flyers.
Selecting Peter Ihnacak with the 1982 2nd round pick was the biggest piece coming back to the Maple Leafs, as he played the most NHL games out of the three. In his 8 years with the team, he collected 267 points in 417 games and finished 10th in voting for the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the year) in his first season in 1982-83 with 66 points in 80 games. Sadly, after his rookie season, he didn’t have that type of production again. He didn’t score over 45 points after the 66 points in his first year and only managed to play more than 70 games since his first season.
Rich Costello was another piece in the deal going to the Maple Leafs and it was a terrible choice. Costello went on to play only 12 NHL games over two seasons, all with the Maple Leafs and collected a thrilling four points. He was a complete bust of a player, so the team traded their captain for a package that was not good at all, truly makes you shake your head.
Lastly, the package included future considerations which turned into Ken Strong who much like Rich Costello was a complete bust of a player and truly makes you question the choices that Maple Leafs" general manager Harrold Ballard made. Strong played a total of 15 games in the NHL all with the Maple Leafs, and he tallied only four points as well. If Rich Costello’s career was awful, adding in Ken Strong’s 15 games makes this trade even worse.
#2 What the Fans didn’t want
Toronto Maple Leafs acquire: John Kordic, & 1989 6th Round Pick #125 (Mike Doers)
Montreal Canadiens acquire: Russ Courtnall
This trade has been deemed as the worst by many fans but finds itself in the number two spot. On November 7th, 1988, the Maple Leafs made a trade that would be a head-scratcher for years to come, parting with Russ Courtnall to acquire John Kordic, and a 1989 6th round pick, which they selected Mike Doers with.
Russ Courtnall was the 7th overall pick in the 1st round by the Maple Leafs in the 1983 NHL draft, and he had shown that he can compete and be a big piece of the future for years to come. In 1985-86 he broke through and the production was showing, he collected 60 points in 73 games, the next season he scored 73 points in 79 games, and in the two years after that he put up 49 points and 41 points. He was traded 9 games into the 1988-89 season and only had two points, in the remainder of the season with Montreal he scored 39 points in 64 games. Russ Courtnall would go on to score 744 points in 1029 NHL games with a few different teams, however, he spent the most time with the Maple Leafs (six years). When former general manager Gord Stellick, traded Courtnall to the Canadiens his goal was to add toughness to the team, but the price was extremely high, many would say too high.
John Kordic, the main piece of this trade, his time with the Maple Leafs was difficult. Like most enforcers drug abuse and alcoholism go hand and hand, well that story is the same for Kordic. The general manager at the time, Gord Stellick wanted to add toughness to their lineup and Kordic provided that. He played 104 games and had 16 points with 446 penalty minutes. His time with the Maple Leafs was short-lived, with lots of adversity, as he struggled a lot with drugs and alcohol. Many people close to Kordic, and the Maple Leafs noticed that his addiction had gotten significantly worse during his time with the team. In 1991, he was traded to the Washington Capitals for a 5th round pick, which made the initial trade for Courtnall even worse. Sadly, his time was limited due to his addiction, on August 8th, 1992, John Kordic passed away at the age of 27. Unfortunately, his death could have been prevented with the appropriate help. Now in 2022, when looking back at the Enforcer role in the NHL, and players like Kordic, and Wade Belak the realization that many turn to addiction is scary, and the result of that addiction is even scarier.
Overall, with all due respect to the late Kordic, and Mike Doers who never played for the organization this trade never should have happened. The Maple Leafs should have kept the young talented Russ Courtnall and tried to make him an important part of the future.
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