While reading Coach: The Pat Burns Story, there was a nugget of information I found interesting.
Before the 1991 playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens had the chance to trade Shayne Corson to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Wendel Clark. However, the Habs backed out of the deal because Clark had too much of an injury history.
At first, I scoffed at the idea. There’s no way the Habs would have turned down that deal. But looking back at it, was it the right decision?
Strangely, I think it was.
Looking at the previous three seasons, Corson had scored 26, 31 and 23 goals (and had 50, 75 and 47 points). More importantly, he played 227 games (and had one all-star appearance).
In that same time period, Clark had scored 7, 18 and 18 goals (and had 11, 26 and 34 points). And he had played only 116 games.
Even Clark had three 30-plus goal seasons, he hadn’t one in five seasons, and hadn’t played an 80-game season in four years. So while Clark may be more fondly remembered now, Corson was probably the better player at the time, and was definitely the safer bet.
Plus, if the deal had gone ahead, I don’t think the Habs would have won the Stanley Cup in 1993. Corson was dealt the following summer to Edmonton for Vincent Damphousse.
Damphousse went on to become the Habs captain, and had three seasons of 90-plus points with the Canadiens (including 97 points that first year with the Habs). More importantly, Damphousse led the Canadiens in goals and points during the 1993 playoffs, when the Habs last won the Cup, and is easily one of the top 50 Habs of all time.
Clark had a good playoff run in 1993 (after a bad regular season), when the Leafs lost to the L.A. Kings in the semi-finals. In the summer of 1994, he was traded to Quebec in the deal that got the Leafs Mats Sundin.
What would have happened if the Corson-Clark deal went ahead? Probably no Cup for the Habs, and the Leafs wouldn’t have been able to trade Corson for Sundin, so the Leafs would have been without that true superstar for the better part of a decade.
So at first glance, it seems like the Habs were foolish to turn down the deal back in 1991. But on further reflection, it looks like it was the right move.