To begin the feature of counting down the top ten best and top ten worst trades in modern day Habs history, I decided to begin with the worst and rotate from 10th worst to 10th best and count down simultaneously. This way, as was so often the case in Habs history, we will finish with the best ever.
On the eve of the 2006-07 season, Montreal GM Bob Gainey would manufacture a deal with the Dallas Stars that would go down as one of his biggest blunders at the helm of the Habs. With Saku Koivu firmly entrenched as the front line center on the team and a young Tomas Plekanec making a name for himself, Gainey decided the time was right to move slick set-up man Mike Ribeiro.
The 26 year old Ribeiro had led the team in scoring just two years prior, but a number of off ice incidents made him the expendable one. Entrusting the middle of the ice to the likes of Koivu, Plekanec as well as penalty killing role players such as Radek Bonk, Max Lapierre and Steve Begin was not the problem with this deal. The problems arrived with the return.
Content with a top six of Koivu centering Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder as well as Plekanec between Alex Kovalev and the newly acquired Sergei Samsonov, with skilled youngsters such as Andrei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse and Alexander Perezhogin fighting for ice time on the top two lines, Gainey decided to look for help on an uncertain blueline.
Gainey found a willing partner in his former Dallas Stars and dealt Ribeiro along with a 6th round pick for Janne Niinimaa and a 5th round pick. The 5th round pick heading to Montreal became Andrew Conboy and the 6th rounder to Dallas was used to select Matthew Tassone, both of whom are yet to play an NHL game.
Ribeiro would flourish with the Stars, leading their team in points each of his first three seasons there. He played a total of six seasons in the Lone Star State and recording 407 points in 461 games, reaching a career high 83 points in his second season after leaving Montreal. After his career regular season, Mike led the Stars to the Conference Finals, with 17 points in 18 playoff games before being knocked off by the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings. Ribeiro was traded from the Stars this past June at the NHL Draft, at the age of 32 for promising young prospect Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick in the draft. The type of return that would make trading a player like Ribeiro worthwhile, however the Habs were only able to squeeze an aging Niinimaa and a 5th round pick out of Dallas for him when he was just 26.
Niinimaa arrived in Montreal as an overpaid and over the hill defenceman. He was 32 years old when the Habs received him but his best years were far behind him. An adequate two way defenceman in his younger days, he was slowing down before the lockout in 2004-05 and had clearly lost a step after. His 2005-06 season saw him reach just 16 points and a plus minus of minus 12. In his one and only year in a Habs uniform, Niinimaa would tally three points all season, none of which were goals and finished a career worst minus 13. In and out of the pressbox, Janne would dress in just 41 career games with the Habs before heading overseas to play in Switzerland.
Looking at the numbers of this trade Montreal gave up a player with 461 career games and counting left in his career for a player with just 41. Traded away another 407 points so far and got 3 in return. One of the biggest blunders in the Gainey rein goes down as the 10th worst trade in Habs modern day history.