The Flyers were looking to do two things with a trade on this day. One was to ‘get the old gang back together’ and secondly, rectify a mistake.
The first was to possibly reunite winger Mikael Renberg with his “Legion of Doom” linemates Eric Lindros and John LeClair. This trio had a magical run through the mid 1990s and dominated opponents around the NHL. The second was to rectify a huge misstep when the Flyers management decided to sign center Chris Gratton away from Tampa Bay some 16 months prior to a five-year, $16.5 million offer sheet, an acquisition that included a $9 million signing bonus.
When the Flyers signed Gratton, they had to work out a deal or they would lose four first-round draft picks as compensation. In that ‘deal’, Renberg and defenseman Karl Dykhuis were sent to the Lightning.
The trade to seemingly 'undo' that mess was to send Chris Gratton back to Tampa Bay along with Mike Sillinger for Mikael Renberg and centerman Daymond Langkow.
The Chris Gratton “experiment” never really worked out for the Flyers although statistically, he did not play terribly. After being signed in August of 1997, he played in all 82 games for the Flyers that season, scoring 22 goals and adding 40 assists. His 62 points matched his career high (in Tampa the year prior) and his plus 11 rating for the year was the first time he had been a plus in his NHL career.
What the Flyers had liked, was his 6'4", 220-pound frame at center, to play the second line and be a 1-2 punch of size and skill, with Eric Lindros. In a very physical Eastern Conference, the Flyers felt that size and strength would be paramount and this 30 goal scorer from a year ago in Tampa had incredible upside to him.
Maybe it was the expectations that the Flyers management placed on him that he couldn’t deal with, or the big city of Philadelphia. For whatever reasons, his play was not matching his potential and with a fan favorite like Renberg being dealt away, Gratton's play didn’t win over the throngs of the Flyers’ faithful either.
After just 26 games in the 1998-99 season, the trade was made after Gratton struggled to get his game going to the level the Flyers had hoped. He had just one goal and seven assists and was a minus 8 on the season. Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, Renberg had played in 20 games with just four goals and eight assists. Both players were reunited with their original teams and Sillinger and Langkow were also swapped. All in all, the 'experiment' wasn't too costly, aside from the 9 million dollars Gratton pocketed while visiting Philly for a year and a half.
Gratton did eventually settle in and find success in the NHL, as he spent four years in Buffalo before stints in Colorado, Florida, Phoenix, Columbus and Tampa Bay a third time. In 2000-01, he played in 13 playoff games, leading the Sabres in goals with six and added four assists. It should also be mentioned that five of those goals came against the Flyers in the conference quarterfinals as they won the series, 4-2, including the embarrassing 8-0 shutout in Game 6 to end the series.
Mike Watson is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @Mwats_99