As we continue our trip down memory lane, the second-worst trade in Calgary Flames history is really a tale of three men and a tragic miscalculation in asset management that really hamstrung the club going forward. Folks, let’s learn about Marc Savard’s exit from Calgary.

The three men worth thinking about here are Savard, then-head coach Greg Gilbert, and Russian prospect Ruslan Zainullin.

Marc Savard

Savard joined the Flames in a draft day trade in 1999, sent from the New York Rangers with their first round pick in exchange for Jan Hlavac, the Flames’ first round pick and a third round pick. The Flames grabbed Oleg Saprykin with their first round pick and Savard settled into their lineup right away.

In his first three seasons with the club, Savard had 53 points (22 goals), 65 points (23 goals) and 33 points (14 goals) albeit in an injury-shortened season. He wasn’t yet a world-beater nor a true 200 foot player, and he was a tad inconsistent, but he was just 25 years old and was beginning to find his way.

Greg Gilbert

Meanwhile, after the Flames hired Crag Button to replace outgoing GM Al Coates, Button went out and hired Don Hay as his new head coach. Hay was shown the door just 68 games into his first season, and was replaced by assistant coach Greg Gilbert.

Gilbert, by that point, had developed himself a good reputation after four seasons as an AHL head coach in Worcester. This was Gilbert’s chance to become a full-time NHL head coach. In 2001-02, Gilbert coached a Flames team that saw Jarome Iginla emerge as perhaps the best player in hockey. Iginla won a scoring title and suddenly the spotlight was on the Flames.

Unfortunately, it was a team with warts, and the inexperienced Gilbert often clashed with the inconsistent Savard. They butted heads behind the scenes and soon that spilled out into barely-concealed shots in the media. Then the shots became more blatant. It became obvious that something had to be done.

17 games into the 2002-03 season, Button traded Savard to Atlanta for Ruslan Zainullin.


Ruslan Zainullin

Zainullin was a forward who played in the Russian Superleague. A 2000 second round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning, he had bounced around like a bad penny since being drafted. In 2001 he was traded to Phoenix. In 2002 he was traded to Atlanta.

Moreover, he hadn’t really moved the needle as a pro. He had 20 points in 16 games in his draft year the Russian First League – the third tier of Russian hockey – but had four points in 2001-01 and two in 2001-02, both in the Russian Superleague. He also had just a single point in the World Juniors on a gold medal-winning Russian squad.

The Flames traded a consistent 20 goal scorer for an untested prospect who had yet to move the needle in the Russian pro leagues.

Then it got worse.

The aftermath

Forced to choose between an unhappy player and an unhappy coach, Button traded the player. The Flames went 1-7-0-0 over the eight games immediately following the trade, leading directly to him firing Gilbert, too. (As of this writing, Gilbert hasn’t yet returned to the NHL as a coach.)

Thankfully, Zainullin was going to be a great player, right? Nope. He never became an offensive force in Russia – his best season was 23 points – and he never came over to North America.

Well, at least Savard didn’t turn into much in Atlanta, right? Nope. He scored at over a point-per-game pace for the Thrashers and was even better in Boston. He was superb before a concussion ended his career.

Well, at least the coaching changes didn’t come back to haunt Button. Nope. He did eventually hire Darryl Sutter in late 2002, but Sutter actually ended up inheriting the GM spot – so Button ended up hiring his own replacement, too.

Sometimes trades just do not work out for one team.