Ghost of Flames-Leafs trade lingers almost 20 years later

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

When anyone debates the most lopsided trades in sports history, Doug Gilmour’s name is sure to come up.

And the Calgary Flames always are the butt of the joke.

On Jan. 2, 1992, Flames GM Doug Risebrough shipped out Gilmour along with four other players to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a five-player package built around former 50-goal man Gary Leeman.

Even at the time pundits knew the Flames were robbed by their former general manager Cliff Fletcher, who was then running the Leafs.

Toronto Sun hockey writer Mike Zeisberger remembers the day well. He was on the beat as Leafs coach Tom Watt came out and told him and the Toronto Star’s Frank Orr to take out their notepads and write down names.

Once he was finished, Orr asked Watt: “Surely, Thomas, there has to be a couple more names headed to Calgary, right?”

“I was only covering the team a few games, and even I could tell it was a lopsided deal,” Zeisberger recalls with a laugh.

Less than three years removed from a Stanley Cup victory, Gilmour had a long-running dispute with Risebrough and the Flames about his contract and the money he was awarded in arbitration.

On Jan. 2, 1992, he walked out on the team, and that forced Risebrough’s hand.

“We had to get something done,” Risebrough said at the time. “We had to improve our defence over last year, and we wanted character.

“I feel what we’ve done is acquire people who want to be here and who are going to say, ‘I’m going to make a contribution to the team.’ ”

Gilmour went on to lead the Leafs to back-to-back conference finals appearances and is beloved by Toronto fans.

Leeman played just 59 games with the Flames and managed 11 goals before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens the following season for Brian Skrudland.

The Toronto Sun knew the Gilmour swap was a steal, writing a scathing editorial at the time.

“To think that Cliff would pull such a fast one on his hand-picked successor, Doug Risebrough,” the editorial said. “Forget the old chestnut that this trade will be good for both teams. Turn this deal inside out or up and down and there can be but three winners — Fletcher, the Leafs and their supporters.

“In one single stroke, Fletcher has fanned a spark of hope and encouragement throughout the entire organization, most notably the spark in the hearts of downtrodden Leaf fans.”

It might take a few more years for the Dion Phaneuf deal to be considered as lopsided as that one, but people in Toronto had the same reaction last season.

“When the Phaneuf trade came down, people asked if Risebrough was still the GM in Calgary,” Zeisberger said.


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