(Ed. Note: It’s the NHL Alternate History project! We’ve asked fans and bloggers from 31 teams to pick one turning point in their franchise’s history and ask ‘what if things had gone differently?’ Trades, hirings, firings, wins, losses, injuries … all of it. How would one different outcome change the course of history for an NHL team? Today: John Broadbent of Anaheim Calling on the Anaheim Ducks. Enjoy!)
By John Broadbent
The year was 2005.
Katrina lay waste to New Orleans, Bush was starting his second term, Bird Flu was a thing and YouTube had just been launched.
In the hockey world, the NHL had just cancelled an entire season due to its third lockout in twenty years (and not the last).
But what about the entry draft? Who should get first pick? Nobody played so who is to know which team would have done the best job at sabotaging their season? This was before Edmonton had the first overall on lock so the convenience of just giving it to the Oilers was not a conceived notion at the time.
On July 22, 2005 a lottery was held to determine that team. This was an important lottery because the clear-cut player expected to go number 1 was a generational talent wildly heralded as the second coming of Wayne Gretzky.
His name was Sidney Crosby.
Teams were given 1 to 3 balls based on their playoff appearances and first overall picks in the past three years. The draft order once determined – would snake across the rounds, much like your fantasy team.
Teams with three balls: Buffalo, Columbus, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh
Teams with two balls: Anaheim, Atlanta, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville & Phoenix.
Teams with one ball didn’t really have a chance, so let’s ignore them for the sake of this piece.
We all know that one of Pittsburgh’s lucky balls dropped and three Stanley Cups later the rest is history but what if another team had won that lottery? Things could have been so much different if one ball had bounced another way. What if the team that came second, came first?
What if Anaheim had won that lottery?
Selecting Sidney Crosby first overall, then-Ducks GM Brian Burke would have wasted no time in signing him to a heavy performance-laden entry level contract.
“I feel very fortunate to be in this situation,” Crosby would have said. “A lot of guys … who are drafted early go to a team that’s maybe rebuilding, but that’s not the case here.”
Crosby would have joined the post-lockout 2005-2006 Ducks whose roster consisted of a newly signed Scott Neidermayer, substitute-Kariya Sergei Fedorov, two rookies by the name of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry but most importantly a completely revitalised Teemu Selanne and one Chris Kunitz.
Sidney would have started the year centering the second line with Selanne and Kunitz on his wings before quickly elevating himself to top-line pivot by December. Fedorov would have still been traded – because Brian Burke – and likely still for Beauchemin, again because Brian Burke but that wouldn’t matter because Sidney Crosby single handily turned Teemu Selanne into a 50-plus goal scorer again. Crosby would end is rookie campaign with 120 points and break essentially every Anaheim rookie and regular season record ever save for most wins by a goaltender.
The Ducks would again meet the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals but this time – Chris Pronger would spend all of his minutes keying on Crosby, whilst the unheralded Andy McDonald line in conjunction with the “Kid Line” would both step up to sneak the Ducks past the Oilers in 7.
Meeting the Hurricanes in the Cup Finals – Anaheim would tire the Carolina team with its relentless rolling of three scoring lines, lead by Crosby, McDonald and Getzlaf in conjunction with the Samuel Pahlsson shutdown line. Winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie year as well as the Calder Trophy, Crosby would set the Ducks up to be a dynasty for years to come, as they would go back to back to back until 2009 when consecutive cup hangovers and inevitable injuries would finally catch up to them.
Instead, Bobby Ryan was taken with the second overall pick, where he was subsequently mismanaged for three years and the Ducks lucked into their first and only Stanley Cup in 2007 after whatever the heck happened with Chris Pronger (and his wife) in Edmonton:
Burke bolted for Toronto in 2008, leaving his understudy to do his best to emulate him by signing third-pairing defensemen to catastrophic contracts with unnecessary no movement clauses.
In the end, the team with Sidney Crosby has three Stanley Cups in 10 years.
The other has one.
All because of one frigging ball.
John Broadbent is a blogger for Anaheim Calling.