THE NHL : Trade of Gilmour Stirring Up Calgary


New Year’s resolutions always sound good.

On New Year’s Day.

By Jan. 2 . . . well, you know how it goes.

Except in the case of center Doug Gilmour.

In his ninth NHL season, Gilmour had spent the last 3 1/2 with the Calgary Flames.

But after a recent bitter arbitration battle, Gilmour vowed to spend no more time in the uniform with the bright red flame.

Gilmour had been asking for $1.2 million a season. The Flames had countered much lower down the pay scale at $550,000. The arbitrator settled on $750,000.


The situation reportedly came to a head 11 days ago during a game against the Kings at the Olympic Saddledome.

When Gilmour came off the ice after a shift, General Manager/Coach Doug Risebrough reportedly told him: “You’ll have to play a lot better than that if you want me to trade you.”

Gilmour had a better idea.

On New Year’s Day, he joined his teammates for a practice at the Saddledome. But while their minds were on skating, Gilmour was busy packing. He took all his gear and informed the Flames that he was out of there, one way or the other.

This was one New Year’s resolution he wasn’t about to go back on.

That forced Risebrough to finally pull the trigger on a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is believed to have begun merely with Gilmour for Toronto wing Gary Leeman.

But by the time the deal was completed last Thursday, it was Gilmour, defensemen Jamie Macoun and Ric Nattress, wing Kent Manderville and goalie Rick Wamsley to the Maple Leafs for Leeman, fellow wing Craig Berube, defensemen Alexander Godynyuk and Michel Petit and goalie Jeff Reese.


The media reaction in Calgary has been nearly unanimous: The Flames have been taken. Because they were struggling, the critics say, Risebrough panicked and traded too much talent, dealing several of the players because he didn’t get along with them.

What made the trade appear even worse from Calgary’s standpoint was that Risebrough was dealing with Toronto General Manager Cliff Fletcher. Until he left after last season, Fletcher was the only general manager the Flames had in their 19 years. So it appeared to some that the man who had stocked the Calgary roster was now taking his favorites along with him to Toronto.

It is known that Fletcher had promised to renegotiate some Flame contracts, but left Calgary before he had the chance to do so. According to one theory, espoused by columnist Terry Jones in the Edmonton Sun, Fletcher was able to take advantage of a mutinous situation that he himself, however inadvertently, had created.

One Calgary paper had a cartoon of Fletcher walking away smugly with a bag filled to the brim with players, as Risebrough watched in anguish while sitting in a barrel, stripped of his clothes.

A Calgary Herald headline read: “New Year’s Revolution.” Another called the deal: “The Great Trade Robbery.”

Gilmour has refused to comment further on his hostile feelings toward Risebrough or the Flames.

“I don’t want to say anything bad about anybody,” Gilmour maintained. “I don’t want to burn any more bridges.”

Risebrough is picturing the deal as an opportunity to exchange whiners for winners--a chance, in his words, to trade “me” players for “we” players.

“I can’t have anybody on the team who says, ‘I’ve got to think of myself,’ ” Risebrough said. “This is a team game. . . . I really felt we lost some enthusiasm. Let’s face it, we’ve been out of the playoffs in the first round twice in two years. This team had a chance to (finish) first overall in the division last year and didn’t. It’s time for a change.”

Add cartoon: Flame fans can take heart from the fact that this isn’t the first time Fletcher has been pictured in a cartoon walking away with a bagful of players, in an obviously triumphant mood, while his victim looks on helplessly from a barrel.

A similar cartoon ran in Calgary three years ago after Fletcher, then with the Flames, made a trade to get Rob Ramage and the same Wamsley he just obtained.

The victim pictured in the barrel on that occasion was Ron Caron, general manager of the St. Louis Blues.

And one of the players Caron got stuck with was . . . Brett Hull.

Bernie’s back: Former King Bernie Nicholls is finally fitting in with his new team, the Edmonton Oilers, after sitting for two months. When Nicholls was traded from the New York Rangers in the first week of the season, he announced that he would not report until his wife, Heather, pregnant with twins, gave birth.

Heather Nicholls had a complicated pregnancy, which kept her bedridden, before she finally delivered a daughter, McKenna, and a son, Flynn, on Nov. 29. Bernie took a lot of heat for staying in New York, although he brought on some of it himself by saying another factor in his failure to report was that the Oilers are in a rebuilding phase.

“The thing about our game,” Nicholls said, “is that it’s a game. When your wife needs you as much as my wife needed me, there was no way I was going to play. You’ve got to stand by your wife. It was well worth it. We now have two healthy kids. Any female who has kids understands what I did.”

Disgraceful, perhaps, but never dishonest: After Minnesota’s Mark Tinordi checked Chicago’s Chris Chelios into the North Star bench Sunday, the Blackhawk defenseman was asked if it had been a cheap shot.

Chelios told the Chicago Tribune, “Yeah, but so was my sucker punch on him.”