Kevin Lowe: Hall of Famer and a steal of a trade

Former New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Lowe finally made it into the Hall of Fame.

There has been a little controversy over former New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Lowe’s selection into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  He falls into the category of a player who didn’t have spectacular statistics, but was a reliable player for 18 years.  He won six Stanley Cups in his career and was a presence at the All-Star Game, but didn’t take home any individual hardware except one King Clancy Trophy.

Hall of Fame criteria aside, it’s undeniable that he was vital  piece of the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup championship team and was acquired in trade that was outright theft. The deal itself was one of the more peculiar in NHL history.

When a trade is not a trade

Kevin Lowe had played 15 seasons in Edmonton, winning five Cups with the talent-rich Oilers of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri.  He held franchise records with 996 regular seasons and 170 playoff games played.  After the departure of Mark Messier, he was named the Oilers’ captain.  He was the consummate veteran and anchor of the defense, but was destined to follow fellow blueliners Coffey and Jeff Beukeboom out of Edmonton, mostly for financial reasons.

When the 1992-93 season started, Lowe was a Group 3 free agent meaning the Oilers had the right to match any offer.   The 33-year old held out for a reported $1 million salary and remained at home when the season started.  On December 5, 1992, Oilers General Manager Glen Sather traded him to the Rangers.

The trade was contingent on the Rangers signing Lowe to a contract. When Sather announced the trade, no one knew what the Oilers  were getting and what Blueshirts  were giving up.

It took a week, but the Rangers were finally able to come to terms with Lowe on a three-year deal and they formally announced the trade, then the signing. What was odd about the deal was that despite the fact that Sather had announced the trade, it wasn’t a done deal until the Rangers signed Lowe.  But, they theoretically couldn’t sign him until they they had acquired him in the trade.  What actually happened was very different than what officially happened.  It was all quite strange at the time.

The trade

Here’s the part that made this a steal.  First off, it made Mark Messier very happy, a fact of the utmost importance to the Rangers.  When Lowe held out, Messier actively lobbied for the Rangers to acquire him. More important was that Kevin Lowe played four seasons with the Rangers including the Cup season in 1993-94 before returning to Edmonton in 1996 to finish his career.

But his biggest impact was what it meant to the Ranger defense.  While Brian Leetch and Jeff Beukeboom was the top defense pair on the Rangers, Lowe was  teamed with Sergei Zubov on the second blueline pairing.  Lowe’s defensive play enabled the young Russian to play more offensively,  one reason Zubov was able to lead the team in scoring in 1993-94.

And what did Edmonton get in exchange for a player who solidified the Rangers defense and enabled them to win the Stanley Cup?

The Rangers gave them Russian prospect Roman Oksiuta, who had been drafted in the 10th round of the 1989 Entry Draft.  Oksiuta did come over from Russia to make his debut with Edmonton in 1993, but he played in only 36 games for the OIlers before they traded him to Vancouver.  The Rangers also gave up their third round pick in the 1993 draft.  The Oilers selected winger Alexander Kerch, another Russian player who was scoreless in five games in Edmonton before returning to Europe.

The Rangers had no idea that they were getting a future Hall of Famer when they traded for Kevin Lowe back  in 1992.  While that trade doesn’t get the same attention as the slew of deadline deals made in 1994, it could be argued that acquiring Kevin Lowe was a more important step in building that championship team than any other deal except the acquisition of Mark Messier.