​​LeBrun: Tage Thompson’s Sabres star turn is a reminder not to judge NHL trades too soon

One of the things I’ll never forget from my years doing this job is the night the Los Angeles Kings ended their 45-year Stanley Cup drought in June 2012 and how general manager Dean Lombardi began his media availability.

Before any of us could get a question, the architect of this championship squad wanted to get something out.

– Let’s make something right here. When a team wins, there are some guys that don’t get appreciated,” Lombardi said as his Kings players celebrated on the ice around him at a rocking Staples Center. “You have to give a lot of credit to (former Kings GM) Dave Taylor ; I started with three good players in (Dustin) Brown, (Anze) Kopitar and (Jonathan) Quick. Let us never forget what he did. And let’s not forget (former coach) Terry Murray either. He stabilized the franchise and gave us credibility. There are some unsung heroes here that need to be appreciated.”

It was a very classy thing to do at a moment when Lombardi had achieved his own highest personal glory in the sport, and wanted to point out that it wasn’t all about him.

I was reminded of that moment 11 years ago when I watched Tage Thompson score a hat trick on Tuesday — yet another magical offensive night for the Buffalo Sabers star forward, who has become one of the league’s must-watch stars.

It’s another example of how sometimes it takes longer than we think to know whether an NHL move will pay off.

The Sabers traded for Thompson four and a half years ago. The full blockbuster deal went like this: Ryan O’Reilly to St. Round pick (Ben Roger).

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Berglund was an important part of the deal, but he walked away from his NHL contract and went home to Sweden, later telling a Swedish media outlet that he needed to do so to find happiness again in his life. And who can steal him for that?

But it was a tough pill to swallow at the time for the Sabres, obviously.

Thompson was the young player that then-GM Jason Botterill was focused on in the trade talks with the Blues.

“Like any multi-player trade, there are a lot of names bandied back and forth. Throughout the process, Jason was adamant that Tage be included as part of the deal,” said Randy Sexton, assistant GM with the Sabers at the time. , said. The athletic Wednesday.

“His conviction has proven to be well-placed,” Sexton added.

Thompson’s breakout didn’t come until last year, a 38-goal campaign in his fifth NHL season — nearly two years after Botterill was fired and replaced by current Gene Adams.

So let’s take stock from July 1, 2018, trading again now almost five years later:

O’Reilly was instrumental in leading the Blues to their first Stanley Cup championship in June 2019, winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP along the way. By any measure, even today with Thompson’s remarkable ascent, Blues GM Doug Armstrong would make the move for him again. A cup is a cup is a cup is a cup. And O’Reilly, the Blues captain, has been a huge presence since arriving there.

Thompson, meanwhile, finally developed into the talented power forward he was drafted to be, going 26th overall to St. Louis. Louis in the 2016 NHL draft.

So what we have here is what NHL GMs actually strive for but rarely achieve: a trade that gave every franchise what it needed. The Blues don’t win the Cup at the front end without this trade. The Sabers have an emerging superstar on the back end.

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So credit to Botterill, now an assistant GM in Seattle, for making the trade to begin with. He was hammered for it for years, especially after O’Reilly’s Cup win.

Credit to head coach Don Granato for helping unlock Thompson’s talents. Granato coached Thompson with the U.S. it. National Team Development Program, and clearly that previous relationship has paid off here.

Credit to Adams, the current GM, not only for seeing Granato’s ability to develop players, which is why he elevated him to head coach, but also for signing Thompson to a seven-year, $50 million deal on Aug. 30, a complete Agreement. year ahead of Thompson’s current deal. I remember thinking to myself that this was all faith.

Doesn’t matter. I was not right.

Now on pace for 60-plus goals this season, when the extension kicks in next year with an average annual value of $7.1 million, it will feel like a bargain. The extension could save Sabers owners Terry and Kim Pegula around $30 million overall if you figure Thompson could be a $10 million player in the current market.

So to recap, it takes a village sometimes. The former GM made the trade, the current coach helped unlock the player, the current GM made a brilliant move in extending him when he did.

And of course the player himself played a role.

“In credit to Tage, two things about him that you need to know is that he’s an unbelievable person (and) he loves hockey,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, who drafted Thompson in St. Louis. There, told The athletics Michael Russo recently. “And so, a lot of times now, you see him, and it looks so natural to him. He could do the same thing before. He just wasn’t strong enough in the body to be able to hold people off. Now he is. And when you see him come through the neutral zone and keep the pucks out, there’s no way anybody can get to him.

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“He’s so strong in that, and his confidence has grown. He knows when he gets the puck in certain areas, you’re not going to stop him. But when we were in a scouting meeting, one of our scouts said, one of Management asked us, ‘Well, where do you see all of our prospects fitting in?’ And one guy said, ‘Well, I see Parayko is one-timing on one side and Tage one-timing on the other side. And nobody’s going to touch us.’ So it never came to fruition. But we always knew he had it, because at UConn you could see it. You could see little glimpses of it. And when he went into the program in the summer to try out for the World Juniors , you could see it again. Just couldn’t hold it for very long.”

In the end, this is a trade that reminds me a lot of the Dallas-Calgary blockbuster in December 1995 that saw veteran Joe Niewendic go to the Stars and young Jarome Iginla go to the Flames. The Stars probably never won the Cup in 1999 without Nieuwendyk. Iginla? He had a Hall of Fame career in Calgary.

It was a rare win-win trade. What is now what the O’Reilly-Thompson deal is also looking like.

(Top photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)


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