3MI’s 40 for 40: The Mogilny Trade
Welcome to 3rd Man In’s “4o for 40”. Yes, we’re ripping off ESPN, and no, I don’t care. Over the course of this season, 3MI will break down 40 moments from the first 40 years in Sabres history, some unlikely to be covered by other retrospectives but yet still interesting moments in the franchise timeline. This is installment #1, looking at the trade of Alexander Mogilny.
Question: Besides the Dominik Hasek trade, which transaction was the most important building block of the 1999 Eastern Conference champions?
Unless you really think it’s acquiring Michal Grosek and Darryl Shannon from Winnipeg in 1996, the easy answer involves possibly the most dynamic and arguably most prolific scorer in franchise history, Alexander Mogilny.
Mogilny’s story is typical. Young Russian hockey phenom, performs well at the international level. Selected in the 5th round of the 1988 Draft by the Sabres. Defects from the Soviet Union by getting picked up by Sabres staff members at a mall in Stockholm… pretty standard really.
Alex is best remembered for his 76-goal season in the 1992-93 campaign, which tied for the league lead with Winnipeg rookie Teemu Selanne. Amazingly enough, that would be the only season he led the Sabres in goals. He was regularly on the scoresheet while in Buffalo, tallying 444 points in 381 games, as well as putting up 30 points in 31 playoff games. He was good.
Mogilny, while teamed with Pat LaFontaine, helped the Sabres sport one of the most potent offensive pairings of the early 1990’s. When LaFontaine struggled to stay healthy, it was “Alexander the Great” who was handed the captaincy, and deservedly so. A cornerstone on offense, and never a minus player while in blue and gold, Mogilny was a superstar. But, like many times here in Buffalo, that superstar player finds their way out of town.
With, naturally, a contract dispute and an ongoing rift with local media creating an issue, the Sabres dealt Mogilny at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. Sent to Vancouver, along with a fifth round draft pick, the Sabres received a couple young players, forward Mike Peca, defenseman Mike Wilson, and the Canucks’ first round pick in the 1995 draft. The Sabres decided to go with a young defenseman from Niagara Falls of the OHL named Jay McKee.
All three players saw time in the Sabres lineup during the 1995-96 season. Peca notably scored the last goal in Memorial Auditorium, while Wilson found his way on the ice for 58 appearances. McKee, after spending the season in the OHL, made his NHL debut at the end of the season. As for Mogilny, now teamed with Pavel Bure, he tallied 55 goals in his first year with the Canucks.
While the Sabres missed the playoffs that year, all three continued to develop. Peca was eventually named captain after Pat LaFontaine’s departure. Jay McKee turned into a defensive stud, and in a matter of years became the Sabres’ shutdown defender.
Wilson became a bit of a whipping boy, drawing ire of the fans on many occasions. Even after finishing with a solid +13 rating in each of his first three seasons with the Sabres, Wilson never developed into the top pairing blueliner many expected him to. He was dealt to Florida at the trade deadline in March 1999 in exchange for Rhett Warrener and a 1999 fifth round pick, which the Sabres used on a goaltender.
With Peca leading the team as a two-way force and McKee and Warrener becoming Buffalo’s shutdown pairing on defense, the Sabres, backstopped by two-time MVP and reigning Vezina winner Dominik Hasek, stormed through the 1999 playoffs, winning the Eastern Conference title.
While they fell short in the end, a big part of the core of that roster was created by one man: Alexander Mogilny.