By way of introduction, this is Puck Planets first “What If” article. We will be posting a new alternate scenario similar to this on the 15th of every month. We are very excited to get these articles out to all of the readers and hockey fans out there. A lot of thought and research is going into these articles and I personally love giving stuff like this some thought. Now, onto Sidney Crosby, the man of this article.
Crosby’s Career to this point
Before we get into the implications and fun stuff about the Thrashers, let’s take a bit of a look at some of the accomplishments and achievements that Crosby has accumulated to this point in his illustrious career.
Sidney Crosby came into the NHL as a rookie and instantly impressed the league. By the end of his rookie season (the 2005-2006 season) he had emerged as one of the league’s best young players. He finished his first year in the league with an impressive 102 total points. He scored 39 goals and had 63 assists in his rookie year. That point total also broke Dale Hawerchuck’s record at the time for the youngest player to score 100 points. Crosby was 18 years 253 days old. Hawerchuck scored his 100th point at the age of 18 years 354 days old.
- Crosby won the Mike Bossy Trophy awarded to the QMJHL’s best prospect in the 2005-2006 season.
- Crosby set Penguins franchise records for assists (63) and points (102) as a rookie. Both were records previously held by Mario Lemieux.
- In his rookie year, he became the youngest player to score 100 points as well as only the 7th rookie to hit the 100 point marker in scoring.
- In the 2006-2007 season, scoring 36 goals and 84 assists in 79 games, Crosby became the first teenager to win the NHL scoring race since a 19-year-old kid did it by the name of Wayne Gretzky. Crosby became the youngest player at 19 to win the Art Ross Trophy and the youngest scoring champion in any major North American professional sport.
- In the 2007-2008 season, Crosby still managed to put up 72 points despite playing in only 53 games due to injury.
- Won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2007, 2014
- Won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2010
- Won the Con Smythe Trophy in 2016
- Won the Ted Lindsay Award in 2014, 2013, 2007
- Won Best NHL Player ESPY award in 2016, 2014, 2013
- Won the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2010
- Won the Art Ross Trophy in 2014, 2007
- Has won 2 Stanley Cup Championships and 2 Olympic Gold Medals. He is only the 9th hockey player ever who has done that.
Now that we have taken a bit of a look at just what this guy has meant to the NHL as a whole and some of the individual and team awards and honors Crosby has piled up to this point in his career, let’s start to take a look at what might have been if the Atlanta Thrashers had gotten lucky that fateful day at the draft lotto.
Due to the lockout there was a weighted lottery for which every team was eligible. The odds of the lotto were determined based on the previous three years performance.
It was one of the few times that due to the lockout season, each team in the NHL had a shot at winning the top pick. Crosby was the man at the top of the draft who every franchise had dreams of building their team around for the next decade, but there were also a few other big time players in that draft. Players such as Bobby Ryan (who went 2nd overall), Carey Price (who went 5th overall), Anze Kopitar(11th overall), T.J. Oshie(24th overall), and Martin Hanzal (17th overall) to name a few of the players who turned out to star in the NHL.
After doing some research and some brainstorming, here are some of the implications and things that we (Ryan Crappa and Jon Book) feel would have happened.
Implications for the Atlanta Thrashers
We anticipate the Marian Hossa trade to the Atlanta Thrashers still happens and that Dany Heatley would still want out. He wanted out after the accident and that would have been unaffected by drafting Crosby. (The only thing that might have changed that would have been the fact that he saw the skill of the young Crosby and felt like maybe even though the accident happened, he might still be able to make it work, though we both feel like that is less likely .)
The Atlanta Thrashers attendance did improve. When the Thrashers did make it to the playoffs, the attendance picked up and people got some of that hockey fever that the playoffs and a generational talent such as Crosby can help to produce.
The Marian Hossa trade to the Penguins does not happen. Atlanta is a playoff team now and the 2007-2008 season, when he was traded, was due in a big part to them not making the playoffs and Hossa wanting to be moved to a team where he had a shot at a Cup. Interestingly enough, he would now be playing with Crosby from the time he was drafted, instead of just in the future after a trade. The Atlanta Thrashers also would not part with such a major piece of their offense just ahead of a playoff berth.
The Atlanta Thrashers franchise does not move. Even if the attendance issues were not resolved with Crosby and the playoffs happening, the league heavily promoted the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry after the locked out. This was a key strategy to help to re-kindle the fan interest in the league. This would be at a fever pitch now that this is not only a rivalry that we see occasionally but now that it is a divisional rivalry that we see many times each season head to head. In our current NHL timeline, the league went to the mat for one team (The Arizona Coyotes) and that meant that it couldn’t do the same things for the Atlanta Thrashers. In our alternate scenario, we feel that the NHL has to back the Atlanta Thrashers. They can’t afford to break up the Crosby-Ovechkin divisional rivalry that they banked so much of their promotion and marketing around to bring fans back to the sport. In this scenario, it would be likely that the league would have to abandon the Arizona Coyotes instead of the Atlanta Thrashers. The Coyotes then are moved to Hamilton Ontario.
Crosby still wins all the individual awards that he has won to this point with the Penguins, but he has failed to get that elusive Stanley Cup Championship that he so desperately wants at this point in his career. He has accomplished just about everything else an athlete could dream of, but the Cup is still just outside of his reach. The top line with the Thrashers is hands down one of the top, if not THE top offensive line in the entire NHL at this point now. It is good enough, in fact, to win a very weak Southeast division often and on the rare times it’s not, they are still easily able to obtain the 8th seed if nothing else. The biggest issue that plagues this team at this point is the mediocre goaltending in Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec. They also have a less than serviceable D core.
As a last ditch effort to shore up the defense and goaltending positions, the Thrashers make a couple of large trades (They don’t want to have to lose Crosby or ship him elsewhere to find his Cup). Crosby is about ready to give up on the chance of bringing a Cup to the Thrashers by the start of the 2016-2017 season when he gets a call from the GM letting him know that they would have a couple of new bodies in camp this year. They have just traded multiple future 1st rounds picks and some minor league prospects to bring in Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Knowing that the Lightning would only be able to protect one goalie in the expansion draft the following off-season Steve Yzerman decided it’s best to get some assets he can protect in exchange for the veteran elite goalie). They also would be bringing in Travis Hamonic to start the year. In a similar situation to what was going on in Tampa Bay, the Islanders GM realized ahead of time that he would be losing either Hamonic or one of their young d prospects that the team is very high on right now. Crosby is now overjoyed at the possibility of bringing that Cup home to Atlanta finally.
Wow! That is a lot to think about… Well, we are just getting started! Let’s take a look at some implications to the Pittsburgh Penguins now!
In this alternate scenario, the Pittsburgh Penguins are still a very good solid team. They make the playoffs regularly and are expected to at the start of each season as they are currently. The team still does not relocate. This Penguins team still has Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. The attendance still improves and the financial situation stabilizes and pretty much like clockwork come to the NHL trade deadline, they are still adding whatever they can to try and make those playoff chances that much better. Unfortunately, if you’re a Penguins fan we do not see them actually going all the way and winning a Cup. Crosby is simply too vital a piece of the Penguins success in 2009 and in 2016 for their Cup runs. We have to point out as well, we don’t feel like this purely from a statistics point of view either. It is also about resource allocation. Malkin was outstanding in 2009 because the Detroit Red Wings had to have their best players (defensively) on the ice against Crosby. If they even make it in 2009, the focus is now shifted to Malkin and shutting him down, which they do, and it kills any shot the team has at winning that playoff series.
Jordan Staal would then not be traded to the Carolina Hurricanes either. The Penguins do not trade Jarome Iginla to the Boston Bruins at the 2013 trade deadline. Instead, Staal stays with the team as their second line center. This helps the team a ton, as they keep a high level two-way forward on their roster and it allows them to go toe to toe with Boston more successfully. We also think that the Bruins then are also not extra motivated in that series due to having been shot down by Jarome Iginla. Instead, a slow Zdeno Chara and a slow Jarome Iginla get bogged down trying to face a much faster Penguins roster built around Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Implications for other teams in the NHL
We predict that the Detroit Red Wings become repeat Stanley Cup Champions in 2009. Even without Marian Hossa, there is no team in the East but the Penguins in our scenario that could have stopped the Wings that year.
Chris Osgood wins the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy and it now becomes impossible to keep him out of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The lack of individual accolades is what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame currently in our time. With a fourth Stanley Cup Championship (3 of them as a starter) and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name, he has too many team accolades and now he also has the individual ones as well.
The Chicago Blackhawks do not win the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship. The missing piece in Chicago’s roster was Marian Hossa. There is no Marian Hossa with them now. Marian Hossa is still with the Atlanta Thrashers, likely locked up as a long term part of the teams’ core. It is still a deeply talented roster that made the Conference Finals the year before. They also can still make it to the Fin aka, but they lose there to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers, after finally winning a Stanley Cup Championship, stop the never ending cycle of blowing up their team every offseason. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards aren’t traded in 2011 offseason. The team has more patience with Sergei Bobrovsky. The team doesn’t undergo the Ilya Bryzgalov experiment. Retaining this roster, along with the emergence of Bobrovsky as an elite goaltender pushes the balance of power in the East to the Flyers.
No Carter and Richards trades means they do not go to the LA Kings. No Carter acquisition in 2012 means that the La Kings miss the playoffs and likely don’t fare much better in 2014 either.
The New Jersey Devils also find itself on the outside looking in come 2012. The team remains lead by an aging core of Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, and Marek Zidlicky. While the team does have a young star in Zach Parise, it’s lacking a young elite level player to compliment him. Ilya Kovalchuk remains with the Thrashers in this alternate scenario as well.
Implications for the NHL as a Whole
The relocation of Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton Ontario requires the league to realign. However, this is nothing as drastic as the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg. The league can’t pursue an aggressive realignment strategy that moves two Western Conference teams to the East. Instead, they have to settle for a few simple moves. The Vancouver Canucks are moved to the Pacific, Hamilton joins the Northwest Division.
League Expansion is now radically different. With the relocation of Phoenix, there is a massive chilling effect to the notion of sticking another team in the desert southwest. It’s unthinkable given the last failure. When the league pursues expansion bids and finds only Las Vegas and Quebec interested, only Quebec is approved. Secretly the league is/was holding out for the hope that either Seattle or Houston would submit bids for the expansion team.
Well, there you have it hockey fans! This concludes our first “What If” article. What did you think? Do you like this kind of article? Do you think that there were any big things that we missed or failed to mention? Please let us know in the comments as we would love to continue the discussion in the future with you there.
If you enjoyed this kind of article please let us know and be sure to check back on the 15th of next month when we will be posting our next article in this series. One last thing, if you have a scenario in your mind that you would like us to look into for a future article, please let us know in the comments as well. It would be great to be able to do some research on a scenario that the readers and fellow hockey fans want to hear about!
One last big shout out and thank you to Jon Book! Without his amazingly hard work and dedicated research, this article and this series would be none existent.
Be sure to check in on the 15th of next month to see the next installment of this Series!
Feature Image Credit to icethetics