The early 1990’s began to set the stage for a New Jersey dynasty in the NHL— Scott Neidermayer was drafted, Brian Rolston was signed, Lou Lamoriello battled arbitration to bring Scott Stevens and Randy McKay to the Garden State in 1991. The next year, Lamoriello added the third and final member of the Infamous Crash Line, Hartford Whalers forward Bobby Holik.
The Devils in 1992
The Devils were building a formidable roster, but some wrinkles still needed ironing — one large wrinkle was goaltender Sean Burke. After helping the team make the finals for the first time in their history in 1988, Burke lost his starting gig to Chris Terreri. Amid complaints of ‘unprofessionalism’ in the organization, Burke refused to play any of the 1991-92 season and officially requested a trade. Burke was a talented goaltender with playoff experience and good numbers, but at the time of the trade request he was a backup who had refused to play, which casts a bit of a shadow over his resume. Lamoriello would need to work some magic to get a good trade return.
In front of Burke and Terreri stood another problem for the Devils— a rapidly expanding defensive core. The organization was looking to add rookie Scott Neidermayer to the big league roster soon, so they would need to find some room. A package deal was the best way out of both problems for Lamoriello.
The Hartford Whalers in 1992
The Hartford Whalers were in need of a few things when they started dealing with New Jersey. First, they needed a starting goaltender— Sean Burke being a surefire sell was the logical place to start. They also had a core of defensemen that provided very little contribution to offense, and could use a player who could take up that mantel a bit. New Jersey, with its bloated blue line, had room to make a deal. Lamoriello, rumors say, had had a return price in mind for some time.
Whalers forward Bobby Holik had not developed the way scouts and management alike had hoped. At his drafting in 1989, Holik was expected to be a huge offensive presence, putting up 40+ goal seasons on the regular. After two seasons in the NHL putting up just half that, the Hartford sports world concluded he’d never be the player they hoped for. Lou Lamoriello, on the other hand, was not so sure.
On August 28th, 1992, Lamoriello and the Devils sent Sean Burke and defenseman Eric Weinrich to the Whalers in exchange for Bobby Holik and a second round pick in the 1993 entry draft. That second round pick would later be used to draft Jay Pandolfo.
Reactions At the Time
The overwhelming attitude at the time was that New Jersey had lost the trade. The drama around playoff-finalist and Olympic medalist Burke somewhat overshadowed the coverage of Holik’s part of the trade, but the general consensus was that the Devils had lost a solid goaltender and a top-4 defenseman for an underperforming rookie and a pick. Grading the trade the following season wasn’t easy, considering both Burke and Holik suffered injuries. Weinrich got off to a less than impressive start in his new role as an offensive defenseman. The 1993 draft pick was, at the time, the make or break part of the deal. Hartford GM Brian Burke was quoted as saying “This could go down as one of the great trades in history or one of the worst trades in history depending on what New Jersey does with that draft pick”.
Grading the Trade Today
Sean Burke played in Hartford for five seasons, during which he finished fourth for the NHL All-Star team in the 1994-95 season and finished eighth in voting for the Vezina trophy. In 256 games with the Whalers he had 100 wins, a 3.12 GAA and a .903 sv%. He eventually went on to play for 7 other teams in his NHL career, including a stint with the Phoenix Coyotes in which he received votes for the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2000-01 and 01-02.
Eric Weinrich played two seasons with the Whalers before moving on, eventually playing for a total of 8 teams. In 87 games he had 8 goals and 30 assists in Hartford.
In exchange, the Devils had Bobby Holik, who “New Jersey tried to make him a centerman and he’s definitely not one” according to MSG analyst John Davidson in 1993. With the Devils, Holik centered what would become the famous Crash line of Peluso and McKay. He played 764 games and scored 198 goals and 265 assists for a combined 483 points and finished a plus 136 (these numbers are not his official team totals as he did return for one more season in 08-09- the totals from his career as a Devil are in the chart below). He was an All-Star in 1998 and 1999, received votes for the Hart trophy in 1998, and received votes in five consecutive Selke awards in a row from 1998-2002. He also lifted the Stanley cup twice, once in 1995 and again in 2000, before leaving New Jersey as a free agent at the end of the 2002 season. Holik still sits in the top ten on the franchise leaderboards for all time games played, goals, assists, points, goals created, plus/minus, game winning goals, even-strength goals, hat tricks, shots, and penalty minutes for good measure. Not bad numbers for ‘not a centerman’. Holik left a bad taste in the mouth of many Devils fans when he left as a free agent and signed with the New York Rangers. The Devils Stanley Cup raised the very next year wiped some of that sting, and his return to the Devils after three years in New York and three in Atlanta may have helped soothe some angry fans as well.
Holik’s numbers and contribution to the team alone would be enough to consider this trade a win for New Jersey by most standards, but the trade had one more gem to drop for the Devils—Jay Pandolfo.
Drafted with the Whalers’ 1993 pick, Pandolfo joined the Devils in 1996 and played until the 2009-10 season. He spent 819 games in a Devils uniform and brought an additional 99 goals and 124 assists. He also received votes in five consecutive years for the Selke from 2003-2008 and votes in consecutive years for the Lady Byng from 2006-2010. Like Holik, Pandolfo also raised two Stanley cups in a Devils uniform— the 2000 cup alongside Holik and the 2003 cup as well. Pandolfo eventually left and spent a season each in Long Island and Boston before the end of his career.
Whalers GM Brian Burke was partly right— the Holik trade probably has gone down as one of the best/worst trades in NHL history, but the Devils drafting of Pandolfo with the 1993 pick was really the icing on the cake for a huge win in New Jersey Devils trade history.
What was your initial reaction to the Holik trade? If you thought it was bad initially, when did that change (assuming it did). What’s your best Holik memory? Leave your thoughts and memories in the comments and thanks for reading!