High-scoring Pat LaFontaine became a Buffalo Sabre today in a seven-player blockbuster deal that ranks as one of the most significant trades in National Hockey League history.
The Sabres acquired LaFontaine from the Islanders along with left wing Randy Wood, defenseman Randy Hillier and an undisclosed draft choice. Sent from the Sabres to the Islanders were center Pierre Turgeon, defenseman Uwe Krupp, and wingers Benoit Hogue and Dave McLlwain.
Sabres General Manager said this morning that he hoped all three newly acquired players would be in the lineup for tonight's game against the San Jose Sharks in Memorial Auditorium.
The deal was announced this morning during press conferences held by both the Sabres and the Islanders. Sabres General Manager Gerry Meehan said he completed the deal with Islanders General Manager Bill Torrey between 3:30 and 4 a.m.
"I was kind enough not to wake up (owner) Seymour Knox until seven this morning," Meehan said.
"You don't trade Pierre Turgeon every day, but Pat LaFontaine doesn't come on the market very often," Meehan said.
LaFontaine, a 26-year-old center, has not played a game this season. He became disenchanted late last season when the Islanders were slow to renegotiate his $425,000 salary and vowed never to play for the organization again. Isles General Manager Bill Torrey had been in contact with numerous clubs trying to work a deal for LaFontaine. Although Buffalo's offer was widely regarded as the most enticing, finalization of the deal was stalled in part by the anticipated sale of the Islanders by owner John O. Pickett.
The Sabres will commence renegotiation of LaFontaine's current contract shortly after his arrival in Buffalo.
"I hope to get him signed very quickly," Meehan said. "I really haven't talked to Pat yet. I talked to his father-in-law who was babysitting while Pat was out skating."
The Sabres expect LaFontaine to report reasonably close to game shape. Meehan said that LaFontaine has been working out three hours daily at a Long Island rink.
LaFontaine has scored 287 goals in a career that has spanned seven full NHL seasons and a small portion of another. He scored a career-high 54 goals and 105 points during the 1989-90 season. Last season, LaFontaine had 41 goals and 85 points.
The Sabres coveted LaFontaine for his capacity as a game-breaker. He is a quick, darting skater who often puts himself in position to score goals as crucial moments.
"He is a great skater; he is a great goal scorer; he is a leader," Meehan said. "I think he is a game-breaker. A guy that can blow a game open and win the close ones. The opportunity to acquire a superstar quality player comes along very seldom," Meehan said.
The Sabres' players were informed of the deal at today's morning skate at the Aud. They expected the deal was coming, but nonetheless lamenting losing four teammates in the trade.
"It's tough to see all those guys go," Rob Ray said. "Some of them had been here a long time. But they (management) made a deal they think will change the team and help us win, and hopefully it will work. "It's the same as when Dale (Hawerchuk) came here," Ray said. "These are more or less two players in the top five in the league. It's something we can build off of."
Sabres captain Mike Ramsey said that Buffalo's slow start surely hastened management's efforts to complete the deal.
"We're 2-5-1 and there's nobody to blame but the guys in the locker room," Ramsey said. "We're all responsible for the guys getting traded. It's not just the guys who got traded. Everybody's responsible for it. If we were 5-2-1, there's a possibility there wouldn't be a trade."
None of the Sabres involved in the deal could be reached for comment early today. However, it was expected that Turgeon took the news hardest of all.
Buffalo selected Turgeon first overall in the 1987 entry draft and immediately talked of him as the cornerstone of the franchise's future. Turgeon had a trying rookie season, but emerged as a formidable player in 1989-90, his third season with the Sabres. Turgeon had 40 goals and 66 assists that season as Buffalo placed third overall in the NHL's regular-season standing. He slipped to 32 goals and 47 assists last season.
Meehan said Turgeon took the news with mixed feelings. "I think Pierre thought that this would be his home for the rest of his career," Meehan said.
In Krupp, the Sabres part with a big, strong defenseman who was selected to participate in the NHL All-Star Game last season. Krupp established career highs for goals (12) and points (32) last season, and had two goals and no assists in eight games this season.
Hogue was a player the Sabres long regarded as an emerging talent. And last season he showed signs of meeting those expectations by scoring 19 goals and 47 points in 76 games. However, Hogue was often critical of the Sabres management and coach Rick Dudley, particularly in interviews conducted by journalists in his home province of Quebec. The Sabres were dismayed by Hogue's caustic comments.
McLlwain was acquired by the Sabres from Winnipeg exactly two weeks ago today. But Meehan said Buffalo never had the intent of acquiring McLlwain to include him in their offer for LaFontaine.
"We very much regretted to have to part with McLlwain, but it became necessary to make it a four-for-three deal instead of the two-for-three as originally discussed," Meehan said.
Besides LaFontaine, the Sabres also acquired Wood and Hiller.
Wood, 28, is in his sixth pro season. He is an average-sized NHL winger (6-foot, 195 pounds) and scored 24 goals each of his last two seasons with the Islanders.