Hall of Fame weekend sparks stories of deals that didn't happen

Chris Pronger, Peter Karmanos, Angela Ruggiero, Bill Hay, Nicklas Lidstrom, Phil Housley, Sergei Fedorov receive their Hockey Hall of Fame rings. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

TORONTO -- As the Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend kicked off Friday, fellow inductees Peter Karmanos Jr. and Sergei Fedorov said they were looking forward to quizzing each other at some point over the next few days.

"I haven't asked him yet how he felt when the Red Wings matched the contract," Fedorov said with a smile after the inductees received their HHOF rings.

Ah yes, the contract. As in the six-year, $38 million offer sheet Karmanos gave Fedorov back in February 1998, an attempt to pluck him away from the Detroit Red Wings at the peak of the Russian superstar's career.

"It was a different kind of offer sheet, too. I'm still proud of the creativity we put in that," Karmanos said with a smirk Friday.

It was different, all right, as in a guaranteed $14 million signing bonus right away, a $2 million base salary for the rest of that season (Fedorov hadn't played yet that season during a contact dispute with the Wings), plus another $12 million bonus if the team in question reached the conference finals. And Karmanos knew darn well that was a good chance for the reigning Cup champion Red Wings, which is why the Carolina Hurricanes structured it that way, to make it as hard as possible for the Wings to want to match.

At the time, neither Fedorov nor Karmanos really knew how it would turn out.

"We frankly didn't know," the Hurricanes owner said. "It was 50-50 as far as I'm concerned."

Fedorov recalled simply making a business decision, not an emotional one, in order to end his contract dispute.

"It was an exciting time, a nervous time for me a little bit," Fedorov said. "I had to do what I had to do to get back out there."

The Wings? Owner Mike Illitch didn't blink.

"Our owner stepped up in a big way," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Friday.

Finances aside -- Fedorov would end up pocketing $28 million in the first five months of that deal -- getting five first-round picks as compensation wasn't that enticing for a Red Wings team in the heyday of its Cup runs.

"Those five first-round picks would not have given us a player as good as Sergei Fedorov in return," former legendary Wings coach Scotty Bowman said Friday, pointing to the fact that Carolina was a good team so the picks wouldn't be that high.

To this day, Karmanos wonders what would be if Detroit had not matched.

"Who's to say, that if we had gotten Sergei, it turns out a few years later we're playing the Red Wings in the finals [in 2002], and the guy that made the key play in the series for them was Sergei. It was very ironic," said Karmanos, whose Hurricanes lost that series in five games.

"We could have had three pretty good centers on that team: Ronnie [Francis], Sergei and [Rod] Brind'Amour."

The whole episode left bitter feelings between both organizations, especially between the owners.

I asked Karmanos if time had helped ease that tension between them.

"No. But that's all right," Karmanos said.

Speaking of what-ifs with this year's induction class, imagine Chris Pronger in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform coming off his sensational run to Game 7 of the Cup finals with the Edmonton Oilers back in 2006.

The Leafs, then under general manager John Ferguson, were one of the clubs that then-Oilers GM Kevin Lowe spoke with in June 2006 as he attempted to honor Pronger's trade request.

"The deal just didn't come together," Ferguson said Friday over the phone. "But I do recall [former Oilers assistant GM] Scotty Howson coming by the draft table and dropping a little shredded piece of paper with hand-written names and a draft pick. Believe me, I saved the piece of paper and I've still got it."

The names on the piece of paper were that of Tomas Kaberle and Alexander Steen plus a high draft pick.

Kaberle, 28 at the time, was just coming off a career-best 67-point season. Steen, 22 at the time, had just played his first NHL season.

For starters, Ferguson didn't want to trade Steen, whom he viewed as a player with serious promise (which he would be proven right on). And on Kaberle, aside from the fact he had just had a monster season, there was something else.

"There was an element of honoring the contract with Kaberle, which included a limited no-trade clause, which that wasn't going to kick in until July 1," said Ferguson, who said he had made a verbal promise not to trade him before it kicked in.

"That was a factor among many that kept the parties apart on a trade."

In reality, the deal really never got that far down the path. But the Oilers certainly got Ferguson's attention.

"I, as much as anyone, understand the value of Chris Pronger. I was in St. Louis the entire time he was there," Ferguson said.

Pronger remembered hearing word of talks with Toronto.

"Yeah a little bit, I had heard a bit of that, what was involved in the trade. I heard they didn't want to trade Steen and then they traded him the next year," Pronger said, chuckling, on Friday.

The Leafs, with Ferguson no longer as GM, actually traded Steen two years later in November 2008, but you get Pronger's point.

As it turns out, getting traded to the Anaheim Ducks instead got Pronger the Stanley Cup ring he was missing.

"It worked out pretty good," Pronger said, smiling.

And what of fellow inductee Nicklas Lidstrom in the What If department? Holland said no team ever had the audacity to call him about the great No. 5.

But then, as he thought back, the Wings GM did remember a bit of scuttlebutt back before Lidstrom became a superstar.

"I can remember when [Eric] Lindros was traded [in June 1992], Quebec was trying to get us in the mix and they wanted Lidstrom as part of a package," Holland said. "We had no interest though."

That was news to Lidstrom on Friday.

"I never heard that story," Lidstrom said. "I know when I was drafted [in 1989] and before I came over, I heard my name in some trade rumors but no, I never heard that story before."

Well, Hall of Fame weekend is indeed about telling stories.