Every professional sports fan's biggest nightmare, next to losing the championship on a technicality, is having his or her team's best player or players traded away to a rival, and while that doesn't happen as often in hockey as it does in some other professional sports, a trade can still form the basis of a hockey fan's bleak, long winter — that is until the wisdom of trade, which sometimes exists, makes itself known.

As hockey awaits its next opening game, here are six of the most shocking trades in NHL history to keep die-hard fans on pins and needles wondering whether or not this off-season might find their team's owner trading their favourite players in hopes of fattening their bottom lines and boosting their chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

1. The Oilers Trade Gretzky

When The Great One left Canada for sunny southern California, an entire nation of hockey lovers — not just the fans of the Edmonton Oilers — was in shock, and a new nation of hockey lovers to the south was born. Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers had just won their fourth Stanley Cup in only five years when owner Peter Pocklington started shopping Gretzky around under the assumption that when his contract expired in a year, he'd be too expensive to keep.

The Los Angeles Kings were delighted to take the legend, and Gretzky — who still boasts one of the most popular NHL jerseys of all time — was traded to away along with two other veterans for three first-round picks, two excellent, young Kings players, and $15 million. How good was the trade? Tough to say. The Oilers won the Cup again in 1990 and the Gretzky-led Kings advanced to the finals in 1993 but never won. Southern California did get two more NHL franchises. And the Kings boasted Cup wins in 2012 and 2014, which is part of Gretzky's legacy.

phil-esposito-hosts-a-hockey-radio-show-on-xm.jpg2. The Bruins Trade Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais

In the 1970s, few teams disliked each other to the degree that the Rangers and Bruins did, which is why, when the Bruins General Manager traded Carol Vadnais, a great defender, and Phil Esposito — who'd just had a 127-point season — to the Rangers for the NHL's second-best defender Brad Park and centre Jean Ratelle just after the season got underway in 1975, fans weren't just shocked; they were sickened. Old loyalties were soon forgotten, however, as the season went on, especially because the Bruins proved themselves the winners of the trade by going to the Stanley Cup finals in 1977 and 1978.

3. The Rangers Trade Park and Ratelle

The other half of the Esposito/Vadnais trade, it was just as shocking to the Rangers to lose Park and Ratelle to their sworn enemies in Boston — especially because the Rangers didn't fare as well after the trade as the Bruins did. However, Esposito did lead the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup finals where they were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens dynasty, but Espo never scored for the Rangers the way he did for the Bruins.

4. The Oilers Trade Coffey

Due to their ongoing success in postseason play, the Edmonton Oilers kept finding themselves faced with players deserving of more money during the 1980s, and when All-Star defender Paul Coffey — after helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup in 1987 — sided on a quest for more cash, they decided to trade him rather than figure out how to afford him. He went to the Penguins where he helped them win the Stanley Cup a few years later in 1991.

5. The Canadiens Trade Roy and Keane

Without Patrick Roy, it's fair to say the Canadiens wouldn't have won a Stanley Cup in either 1986 or 1993 — after all, he was the winner of the Conn Smythe trophy in each of those years. But Roy found himself the object of a trade after a fit he threw after being benched in an 11-1 rout against Detroit. The Canadiens sent Roy and team captain Mike Keane to Denver for two young forwards and prize goaltender Jocelyn Thibault. The next season saw the Colorado Avalanche win its first Stanley Cup, followed by another — with Roy still tending the goal — in 2001.

6. The Oilers Trade Messier

Just three years after they traded away Gretzky, the Oilers angered fans once again by trading away Mark Messier to New York, who, after leading the Oilers to the Stanley Cup in 1990, refused to report to work when he wasn't allowed to renegotiate his contract. The trade cost the Rangers three young, excellent players, but it was more than worth it to New York as Messier led them to the Cup just three years later, ending a 40-year Stanley Cup drought. Messier's teammate for that glorious run? None other than The Great One.

Hockey trades have loomed large in the fortunes of teams and fans over the years, and while they don't always work out the way the initiator in the trade intended, they do provide plenty of drama for players and fans. So stay tuned hockey fans, who knows what the summer will hold for you!

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