Talking Red

This Day In Devils History – Claude Lemieux traded for Steve Thomas

Posted in on by David Sarch

When a team wins the Stanley Cup you wouldn’t ever imagine them trading away their Conn Smythe trophy winner.  But this is the New Jersey Devils and this is Lou Lamoriello.

In March 1995 the Devils agreed to terms with the 1995 playoff MVP Claude Lemieux.  After three years of declining numbers and the ending of the lockout, Lemieux agreed to terms with the Devils for four years at a combined $5.2 million.  Then, the playoffs happened.  In just 20 games, Claude Lemieux put up 13 goals compared to just 6 in 48 regular season games.  He scored big goals and maybe none more memorable than his blast past Ron Hextall of the Flyers.  The honeymoon was very short, though.

During the offseason (and reportedly while on vacation) after winning the Stanley Cup, Lemieux told the Devils he would not be reporting to training camp that fall.  Lemieux felt the contract he signed was not valid.  As reported by the Associated Press, Lemieux argued that because he signed a fax copy of the document, the contract was invalid.    The Devils took Lemieux to arbitration and independent arbitrator George Nicolau ruled in the team’s favor.

Following the ruling, the Devils would then trade Lemieux to the New York Islanders for free agent Steve Thomas.  Lemieux was traded that same day to the Colorado Avalanche.   He renegotiated his contract with the Avalanche and received a more lucrative deal.  Thomas soon after agreed to a three year contract with the Devils.

When looking back at the situation you begin to form those “what if” questions.  “What if” the Devils didn’t trade Claude Lemieux?  The Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup the following season, becoming the first player to win the cup back-to-back  with different teams. In an article from the New York Times, it is clear that the Devils felt they would have won the Stanley Cup in 1995 even without Lemieux; however, in the following season the Devils failed to make the playoffs.  While the Devils got back into the postseason in future seasons, Thomas would only score one goal in 16 playoff games as a Devil.  The team wouldn’t win the Stanley Cup again for another 5 years, and that wasn’t until after the Devils had reacquired Lemieux.

You can also get into the mind of Lou Lamoriello from this incident as well.   After trading away Bernie Nichols in 1994 and then Claude Lemieux in 1995, his team first philosophy was clear to every Devils player.  After negotiating with Lemieux midseason, this has to be one of the last examples of him doing so.

The Devils have never been known as a team to do things the normal way.  While most teams look to keep together their Stanley Cup winning teams, the organization has always put the team first.  There is no better example than the trading of Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux.

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