Killer of a mistake -- Risebrough

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If the suits running Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. truly wanted to seize the moment Saturday during Doug Gilmour Night, they would invite Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough to help hoist the banner honouring No. 93 into the Air Canada Centre rafters.

After all, this special event never would be happening if it were not for Risebrough.

In fact, Gilmour never would have become a Maple Leaf on that Jan. 2, 1992 morning if not for Risebrough.

And, some 17 years later, Risebrough knows it.

"It was a mistake by a very young general manager," he said yesterday. "We traded the wrong guy."

He was not referring to Kent Manderville.

In what was the largest swap in NHL history, Risebrough, the Calgary Flames GM at the time, and Cliff Fletcher, his former boss in Cowtown who had taken over the Leafs, pulled off a 10-player blockbuster that sent Gilmour, Manderville, defencemen Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress and goalie Rick Wamsley to Toronto for Gary Leeman, defencemen Michel Petit and Alexander Godynyuk, bruiser Craig Berube and backup goalie Jeff Reese.

On that particular morning, the only two reporters on hand immediately after practice were yours truly and Hockey Hall of Fame scribe Frank Orr of the Toronto Star.

After coach Tom Watt had listed off the names in the deal, Frank, accurately analyzing that the deal was lopsided in Toronto's favour, said to him: "Surely, Thomas, you must be missing some names who are heading to Calgary as well."

Nope.

Gilmour would go on to lead the Leafs to back-to-back appearances in the conference finals.

Leeman, meanwhile, would score just 23 more goals in his NHL career.

Of course, Risebrough is fully aware of how things played out, thanks.

To his credit, Risebrough was quite forthcoming on the topic yesterday. And let's face it. When you are known as the architect of one of the most one-sided deals ever seen in the NHL, you don't start beating your chest with pride.

But it was a different era, a changing league back then. Yes, the Flames, with Gilmour on the roster, had won the Stanley Cup in 1989. But salaries were snowballing like never before, and teams were having difficulty, Risebrough points out, finding their way into the financial future.

"The expectation was that Dougie would have been comfortable year to year," Risebrough said. "It probably would have been better had we gone long term.

"(The trade) had nothing to do with not appreciating Dougie as a player. He was a great player, a great competitor. It was a forced issue.

"We weren't going to win another Cup with that team. (A trade) probably should have happened sooner. Instead we traded the wrong player."

As for the 10-player swap, Risebrough said: "It was probably a mistake. A smaller deal would have been better."

Almost two decades later, Risebrough uses that ill-fated deal as a "history lesson." He therefore is understandably guarded when asked about possible future trades concerning the Wild. When a group of Toronto reporters queried him about the potential dealing of goalie Niklas Backstrom, a pending free agent this summer, a coy Risebrough would only say: "I keep those things to myself. I would only say, this is a good place for a goalie to play."

Obviously Backstrom would look good in a Leafs uniform, although the all-star Wild goalie did say yesterday that "I want to be here," referring to Minnesota. Whatever happens on that front, Risebrough feels Gilmour is quite deserving of the honour being paid to him by the Leafs on Saturday.

"This general manager does know one thing," he said. "The only Stanley Cup Doug Gilmour ever won was as a Calgary Flame."


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