Kordic deal was Stellick's 'Uecker moment'

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

As the Maple Leafs ponder the need for a proven fighter who can play a regular shift, it's worth looking back to the infamous John Kordic deal, made 20 years ago this week.

The passage of time hasn't made Gord Stellick's trade of Russ Courtnall for Kordic look any different than what it was, a sleek train engine for a train wreck. But the one-time boy wonder general manager takes solace that he followed his convictions and that many of his successors have pulled the trigger on much bigger duds.

"People were obsessed about Kordic-Courtnall," Stellick said last week. "It was definitely my Bob Uecker moment, the one boner they still talk about.

"But I find it funny after 20 years to think of the Cam Neely trade from Vancouver (swung by Canucks' boss Harry Neale), and see a guy such as Doug Risebrough still thriving in the NHL after he made that Doug Gilmour trade with the Leafs."

Stellick wryly noted he should have sent the popular Courtnall a little further away than the rival Montreal Canadiens.

"When Punch Imlach traded Lanny McDonald to Colorado he went right out of sight," Stellick said. "Unfortunatly for me, it seemed Russ was on TV every Saturday in Montreal, with his perfect teeth and scoring four goals a night, even though he only had 22 for them that year.

"He was a sexy player, but when you tuned in to Kordic, it was like an episode of that show Cops."

Stellick lasted less than a year after that trade before the unpredictable Harold Ballard changed GMs again. He worked briefly for the New York Rangers but wound up finding his niche as a hockey analyst with Sportsnet, on a popular morning radio show on The Fan 590 and as host of the annual Hockey Hall of Fame inductions.

The next full-time GM the Leafs had after Stellick was Floyd Smith, who lost the first-round draft pick, which turned out to be Scott Niedermayer, to the Devils for average defenceman Tom Kurvers. Smith was followed by Cliff Fletcher, who, after his three mega-deals, improved the Leafs but never got them to the Cup final.

Fletcher suffered for his "draft schmaft" trades, which cost a chance at Roberto Luongo, Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus, among others.

The Pat Quinn era saw talent such as Jason Smith, Brad Boyes and Alyn McCauley get away, while John Ferguson traded a first- and second-rounder for a Brian Leetch cameo, and his smart acquisition of goaltender Vesa Toskala came after the folly of trading first-rounder Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft.

Barely 30, Stellick might have seemed too young to be GM at the time, but for years he had seen the muddled inner workings of the Leafs hockey office, good men such as GM Jim Gregory and coach Roger Neilson having to deal with the meddling Ballard.

When coach John Brophy watched Edmonton's Marty McSorley run roughshod over the Leafs and cried out for some muscle, Stellick eyed Kordic, who had fallen out with Habs coach Pat Burns.

'MIXED UP'

"We had an 8-3-1 start at the time, much better than this year's Leafs and Broph wanted some toughness," Stellick said. "I remember sitting in the old Chicago Stadium with Russ (demoted to the fourth line at the time), who said: 'Get me out of here.' Back then, Kordic was seen as an effective player when harnessed, a former WHL all-star. The real tragedy was that we had no idea how mixed up he was inside."

Kordic's personal demons destroyed his life on and off the ice. In August of 1992, after a struggle with several policemen in a Quebec hotel, he suffered heart failure in an ambulance. A coroner determined the 27-year-old had large amounts of cocaine in his system at the time.


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