By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Fans love to see their favorite sports teams trade players.
It’s a chance for instant improvement. Sometimes the new player turns out to be much better than the old player, and helps the team win more games. It’s also a sign that a team is trying to get better, which is always encouraging. We love to argue about how trades look at the time, and then discuss how they worked out down the road.
Trades also are one of the biggest appeals of fantasy sports. Your team isn’t doing well? It’s time to pick up the phone, call someone in the group, and add a fresh face or two.
Buffalo has a long history of big trades over the years. The Bills, Sabres, Braves and Bandits have been involved in transactions that featured some of the big stars in their history.
Ah, but which ones were the biggest? That’s a fascinating argument.
Let’s start with a definition. I’m measuring the size of a trade in terms of impact. That includes immediate – how much of a splash it made the day it happened – and long-term – how much did it do for the two teams involved. A minor transaction at the time can turn out to have a lasting effect on a franchise.
I’ve dug out the list of trades by the pro sports teams in town, and picked out the 100 biggest deals. We’ll be announcing them, No. 100 to No. 1, on this website for the next several weeks.
You probably should know that when it comes to impact on the sports scene, the Bills have a slight edge on the Sabres and Braves in the rankings. The Bandits really suffer in such a poll, because interest in the team and sport isn’t that strong. But don’t worry – they are represented here.
Some issues need to be discussed before we start. The biggest trade involving a Buffalo franchise might have come in 1978. That’s when the Braves of the NBA were legally traded for the Boston Celtics. John Y. Brown and Harry Mangurian ran the Celtics, while Irv Levin took over the relocated Braves in San Diego.
I decided not to include that deal on the list. The Braves were “designated for assignment” to another city before that transaction, so it’s not as if it affected what the fans in Buffalo watched. That means the massive trade between the Celtics and Clippers doesn’t count either.
I was willing to include trades completed by the area’s pro indoor soccer teams. However, the Stallions and the Blizzard generally signed players as free agents rather than trade for new talent. They didn’t make the list.
But if you are interested, here are two significant swaps in the indoor soccer world. The Stallions dealt Yilmaz Orhan and Zoran Savic to Kansas City in 1981 for Carlos Salguero, and the newcomer went on to become the team’s all-time leading scorer. Then in 1992, the Blizzard traded Russ Prince, Chuck Codd and Ko Thandabouth to Cleveland for Randy Pikuzinski. That worked out well too.
I also skipped deals involving Buffalo’s major league baseball team in the 1880s. The entire roster was sold to Detroit in 1885, but that didn’t really count as a trade.
And this list was finished on April 24. If anything happened after that while this series is running, it is out of luck. (But I reserve the right to sneak it in around the spot where it might be ranked had it met the deadline.)
Before we get to No. 100 on Tuesday, let’s look at the 10 trades that just missed the cut-off point for inclusion.
November 25, 1970 – The Sabres trade Mike McMahon to Los Angeles for Eddie Shack and Dick Duff.
Shack and Duff were a pair of former Maple Leafs who helped make the Sabres a little more respectable – and, in Shacl’s case, more fun in their first two seasons.
July 26, 1971 – The Braves trade Herm Gilliam and Don May to Atlanta for Mahdi Abdul-Rahman and Jerry Chambers.
May was the leading scorer for the Braves in their first NBA season, but they couldn’t resist the chance to move him for Abdul-Rahman, who formerly went by Walt Hazzard. The deal’s most important player was Gilliam.
April 19, 1973 – The Bills trade Edgar Chandler, Wayne Patrick and Jeff Lyman to New England for Jim Cheyunski, Mike Montler and Halvor Hagen.
Six-player deals that don’t involve a draft choice have become less and less common over the years. Montler and Cheyunski both started for a few years.
June 7, 1977 – The Braves trade a first-round draft choice in 1977 (Marques Johnson) to Milwaukee for Swen Nater and a first-round draft choice in 1977.
Braves owner John Y. Brown called the Bucks and, according to Milwaukee GM Wayne Embry, said he wanted to trade for “a white center.” Embry had one in Nater, and the deal was complete with an exchange of draft choices.
September 1, 1980 – The Bills trade Joe DeLamielleure to Cleveland for a second-round draft choice in 1981 (Chris Williams) and a third-round draft choice in 1982 (Eugene Marve).
It’s always said to say goodbye to a top player, and DeLamielleure was good enough to be inducted in the Hall of Fame eventually.
November 16, 1995 – The Sabres trade Doug Bodger to San Jose for Vaclav Varada, Martin Spanhel, Philadelphia’s fourth-round draft pick in 1996 (Mike Martone), and a future first-round draft choice.
The Sabres were in the midst of breaking up the 1995 team that sort of crashed at the end of the season. They did receive a good-sized package from the Sharks for Bodger.
March 8, 2007 – The Bills trade Willis McGahee to Baltimore for third-round and seventh-round draft picks in 2007 (Trent Edwards and C.J. Ah You) and a third-round draft choice in 2008 (Tavares Gooden).
McGahee’s departure meant that the gamble that the team took in drafting him – bad knee and all – didn’t completely work. He had some good seasons here, but had worn out his welcome in Buffalo when the deal was made. Edwards did have a few moments as a starting quarterback.
June 25, 2011 – The Sabres trade Paul Byron and the rights to Chris Butler to Calgary for Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik and a second-round draft pick in 2012 (Jake McCabe).
This is a relatively small deal that worked out well for the Sabres. Regehr and Kotalik had some good years in Buffalo uniforms, while McCabe is still contributing. Byron did little in four years in Calgary, but is contributing to the Canadiens now. Butler spent three years in Calgary, and has been mostly a spare part for the Blues for the past five seasons.
August 11, 2017 – The Bills trade Sammy Watkins and a sixth-round draft choice in 2018 (Sebastian Joseph) to the Rams for E.J. Gaines and a second-round draft choice in 2018 (Duke Dawson).
The promise that Bills’ fans felt when the team traded up to grab Watkins came to an end on this day, when he was swapped to Los Angeles. Watkins was very good when he was on the field, but was often injured.
November 28, 2018 – Acquired Corey Small and conditional second-round picks in 2020 and 2022 from Vancouver for Mitch Jones and conditional second-round picks in 2020 and 2022.
Sometimes trades are completed in the National Lacrosse League because of convenience. Small wanted to come East for personal reasons, and Jones wanted to return to the West. Thus two scorers who ranked in the top 20 of the league were traded for each other.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)