Geroy Simon is one of those athletes whom fans fall in love with for so many of the right reasons, and his departure Thursday was wrenching for many who follow the B.C. Lions.
The trade which sent him to Saskatchewan was brought about by the player’s firm belief that he didn’t warrant a pay cut in the region the Lions had in mind and he had other options. The club felt it had enough in the way of veteran leadership in its room and enough good, promising receivers in the pipeline to take a hard line.
It’s the Wally Buono way, and he has had considerable success with these moves in the past that some would say are ruthless and unfeeling.
Sadly, however, those are often the attributes of a good manager, rather than the cheery charisma and coolness which so many people seem to fall for when naming a CEO or even a president or prime minister. And when it comes to looking at some of the most gut-wrenching trades in Vancouver sporting lore, history tends to reward managers who have the jam to go ahead and make those unpopular deals.
Clearly the most raw case in people’s minds, even today, is the trade of Trevor Linden after Mark Messier had been imported by ownership and Mike Keenan, the man making the hockey decisions at the time.
The boss seemed to favour Messier as his team captain and was not a big fan of Linden, in whom he saw something of an acceptance of the status quo in February of ’98 that had plagued the Canucks since Keenan’s Rangers topped Vancouver in the ’94 Cup final, albeit by a hair.
So for Keenan, there wasn’t nearly the emotion involved as there would have been with Buono and the Simon deal, and when Keenan was offered the package he said it was a no-brainer for him, even though the city howled collectively like banshees when the news broke. It turned out to be the best deal this team ever made, or at least as good as Pat Quinn’s deft move when he conned Pittsburgh into taking Alex Stojanov for Markus Naslund.
Vancouver, of course, got Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe in that deal and — as everyone knows — Bertuzzi was turned into Roberto Luongo and McCabe into one of the Sedins. That Linden deal, which upset so many people including the player himself, is still giving and giving to this city and the team.
Keenan’s name became the plague in town, even more so than it already was, because Linden, unlike Simon, wasn’t thought to be anywhere near the end of his career. But Linden was in a transition phase, getting into more of a checking role (although to be fair in Long Island and Montreal he didn’t have stars with whom to play) and Keenan loved what he saw in Bertuzzi, in particular. It was the signature trade in Keenan’s career, even though he risked being lynched had he been seen in public that day.
Just as wrenching as the Linden deal was the trade for Glen Hanlon back in March of ‘82. Not as many Vancouver fans will remember but this was a goalie who had been struggling for a short period of time but was thought to be a tremendous goaltending stud. He turned out to have a long career but he went to weaker teams and had to teach himself how to play a more modern style as the game changed. He was never really as good as he was in his brief but spectacular time here in Vancouver. The Canucks got four players back in the deal, none of them stars by any stretch, but Jim Nill got a huge goal in Chicago and played a decent role in the trip to the Cup final that spring. And Tony Currie got five goals and eight points in the 12 games he played down the stretch as the team raced into the playoffs with momentum under coach Roger Neilson. Further it set the stage for Richard Brodeur’s brief but amazing run to the Cup final.
Vancouver was crestfallen because Hanlon loved it here. He was worth the price of admission to watch and he broke down crying when he faced the media on trade day. They were trading away a young player most thought would be a stud, a guy who had been labelled “The Franchise” by the hockey news the year before.
This trade could blow up in Buono’s face should Simon grab a couple of TD passes in a key win or two over the Lions next year. Chances are, however, history will serve him well when all is said and done.
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