Scott Stevens trade revisited

By Jeff Charlesworth
On July 13th 1990, Capitals GM David Poile decided not to match the St. Louis Blues’ Free Agent contract offer to defenseman Scott Stevens. As compensation for their loss, the Capitals received first-round picks in 1991 through 1995. The players selected by the Capitals were: Trevor Halverson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Nolan Baumgartner and Miika Elomo. Now, 10 years later (and with the benefit of hindsight), it is up to us to decide if Poile made the right move.

About a month ago, I wrote an article detailing the situation and the decision that David Poile made. I asked the readers of Hockey’s Future to write in and let their opinions be known on the subject. Well, the votes are in – and an overwhelming 75% of you said that you would not trade Stevens for the five players listed above.

A lot of Capitals fans think that this “trade” is a black mark on the organization. It seems that most of the public feels the same way. Here are some of the comments against letting Stevens go:

“I would not make the deal unless I was an expansion team looking for a bunch of young blue-liners.”

“When trading a player of Stevens’ calibre, you have to get more than what essentially is two NHL starters, Witt (solid, but unspectacular) and Gonchar (second tier defensive star).”

“Poile did well to get Baumer, Gonch and Witt, but with Stevens here, he wouldn’t have needed to make at least two of those picks (Witt and Baumer).”

“That’s Poile’s vote too (ED: keeping Stevens). As he’s said numerous times that was his biggest mistake.”

“Five first round picks doesn’t guarantee you anything in terms of an NHL player. That’s why teams are matching offers from other teams to their stars.”

Not everyone was in favour of keeping Stevens, however. Some readers were happy to take the package of young players – which is what the Capitals did. For the most part, these fans pointed to Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt as suitable compensation for Stevens.

“As good as Stevens is, I think it was summed up best as Scott Stevens for Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt. Advantage: Gonchar and Witt.”

“…for a team building as the Caps are, two young and improving defensemen are worth more than Stevens, who is 36.”

“Even with Stevens dominating in Jersey, I would say that most GMs would take a package of Gonchar, Witt and Elomo for a 36-year-old defenseman.”

“…the Caps hands were tied. Considering the circumstances, I think they did well getting two players who are starting for them (Witt and Gonchar).”

“It doesn’t matter that the draft picks didn’t work out. I would take my chances with five first rounders.”

Although the majority of fans regret this decision, it could have been worse. Poile could have opted to take player compensation from St. Louis – and who knows what we would have received then. At least the Capitals had control of their own destiny by having the power to select the players they wanted in the draft. Poile had his eye to the future, and came away with two solid building blocks: Gonchar and Witt.

It is interesting to note that all five of the players that the Capitals got for Stevens are Free Agents this summer. Already, the first one of them has left: Miika Elomo was traded to Calgary two weeks ago. Trevor Halverson is still battling his concussion that he sustained last year, and may not play next season. Nolan Baumgartner will probably re-sign and start the season in the AHL once again. Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt are both expected to return to the Capitals, but since they are Restricted Free Agents – if they sign an offer sheet with another team – the whole cycle could start over again.