Ramblings: Some ‘What If’ scenarios from the last decade
The world continues to turn even as we continue to effectively sit in one spot. There are talks about proposals from both the league and the players but we haven't seen anything formal yet, and everything until then is just speculation.
Speaking of speculation, I feel like doing some "what ifs" from the past however many years I decide is necessary. Alternative histories are always fun, be it television shows or sports articles. They're something I think of often, particularly when I finished a handful out of first in a fantasy league and wonder where things went wrong.
Let's take a spin through some things that have occurred in recent memory and how things could have been different. Most stats from Hockey Reference or Natural Stat Trick. Cap information from Cap Friendly.
JT Miller is not traded to Vancouver
I'm going to start with one that had immediate fantasy implications. The Lightning were facing a cap crunch heading into the 2019-20 season and the casualty of that cap crunch was winger J.T. Miller. He was shipped to Vancouver for a pair of picks (one a conditional first, which, well, who knows what happens there) and proceeded to have by far his best season in the league, skating mostly with Elias Pettersson.
What happens if Miller isn't traded to Vancouver?
Well, the Canucks go into the season a bit thin on the left side, but it would likely have left Tanner Pearson on Pettersson's wing, especially given the injuries the team suffered through the year. As it is, Pearson set a career-high with 45 points in just 69 games. If we swap his PPP total (10) with Miller's (25), Pearson is sitting at 60 points. (Yes, I know it's not fair to just do a straight swap because everything wouldn't have turned out the same way. But this is a What If exercise, not a This Is What Would Have Definitely Happened exercise.) That would be 60 points in 69 games, and we're not even talking about increased point rates at even strength.
And does J.T. Miller put up the same points if he ends up in, say, Arizona or Montreal? It's doubtful. In other words, this worked out as well as it possibly could have for the Canucks; Pearson has his best season ever, at least by points, and Miller has his best season ever as well. Any other 'what if' scenario probably falls short of this.
Sidney Crosby stays healthy in 2011
Sometimes, we can forget how good a player really was. For Crosby's first eight seasons, he averaged 1.42 points per game, or about 116 points every 82 games. Since 2005, we've had just five individual seasons of at least 115 points: Joe Thornton (125) and Jaromir Jagr (123) in 2005-06, Crosby (120) in 2006-07, and Nikita Kucherov (128) and Connor McDavid (116) in 2018-19. Yes, Crosby only reached that mark once himself, but averaging that for eight years is incredible.
Of course, the reason for the average is the exceptionally high point rates he posted in shortened 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. The concussion he suffered on New Year's Day in 2011 limited him to 63 games in those two seasons, but he amassed 103 points in those 63 games. At the time of his injury in 2011, he was on pace for 132 points.
What if Crosby stays healthy, and doesn't suffer that concussion? Well, he's probably flirting with close to 1400 points, for one. At the least, he's well over 1300 points. The significance of that is this: there is one player to have amassed 1300 points by the end of their age-32 season that did not play the majority of his career in the 70s and 80s, when the league average scoring was largely 3.2-3.8 goals per game per team (for reference, from 2006-2018, the league saw zero seasons over 3.0 goals per game per team).
So, Crosby would have really been hammering his name in the record books. But let's not forget about the team. At the time of his injury in 2011, Pittsburgh was 26-12-3 and was third in shot share. They were bounced in the first round that year by Tampa Bay in seven games. Surely, Crosby helps squeak out a win earlier.
Players suffer injuries all the time but watching Crosby struggle for basically three years was hard for hockey fans (I can only imagine how hard it was for him). It also robbed us of the prime of the greatest player to be drafted in the league in 20 years. What if, indeed.
Anaheim doesn't fumble at the goal line, er, blue line
Let's take a look back for a minute. The year is 2017 and the Ducks were just bounced out of the Conference Finals. The team is getting older, but there are two bright spots: goaltender John Gibson and their blue line. In fact, the blue line is one of the envies of the entire league: they have underrated all-star Hampus Lindholm, steady veteran in Cam Fowler, and a trio of younger defencemen in Josh Manson, Sami Vatanen, and Shea Theodore. Now, I've gotten on the Fowler Is Overrated train in recent years, but he could have been a solid contributor on this blue line on a second pair behind, say, Lindholm and Theodore.
Anyway, the expansion draft rolls around and Anaheim fumbles the pot of chili. Let's remember the rules of the draft for teams exposing players. They had two options:
- Expose seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie
- Expose eight skaters (any mix) and one goalie
Also, remember, that teams had to protect players with no-move clauses. The year before expansion, the Ducks signed Antoine Vermette (who had just been bought out, mind you), and gave him an NMC. Yes, they gave an NMC to a 34-year old depth centre who had just been bought out. Here's the kicker: they did the same thing with a 35-year old Kevin Bieksa. The significance of this is that the team already had a lot of players with NMCs: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and Andrew Cogliano already had theirs.
At this point, the Ducks are already forced to protect five forwards and one defenceman, and they still haven't protected Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, or Hampus Lindholm. That makes nine skaters, meaning that if they wanted to protect as many future cornerstones as they could, they had to go 7-3-1 rather than just taking eight skaters. They were forced to keep Bieksa, were always going to keep Fowler, and decided Lindholm was the guy they need to hold onto. On top of the five forwards they were forced to keep, they added Rakell and Silfverberg. The Ducks then traded Theodore for consideration that Vegas would pick Clayton Stoner, effectively giving up Shea Theodore for Kevin Bieksa. Quite the wheeling and dealing.
Remember that all free agents were asking for NMCs at the time to avoid expansion, so it was the cost of doing business. On the other hand, it cost them one of the most dynamic young defencemen in hockey and now the team is in the midst of a rebuild (re-tool?).
I have to think that handing out NMCs to a pair of non-stars in their mid-30s the year before an expansion draft is about the oddest move I've seen from a GM in my life, and I remember Peter Chiarelli. What if Anaheim still had Theodore, Lindholm, Manson, and Fowler? Does that change their timeline at all?
Speaking of the expansion draft… Florida
— Claude-André Mayrand (@CAMayrand) November 17, 2017
Re-drafting Boston's 2015 first round
I hate getting on the case of drafting because we all know how much of a crapshoot drafts can be. It can only take a couple years to look back and see the plethora of mistakes in every round. Such is the nature of drafting teenagers.
On the other hand, after the Bruins made a trio of picks at 13-14-15, we saw names like Thomas Chabot, Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, and Anthony Beauvillier go by the end of the first round. There is also this absolutely iconic tweet from someone who was then a member of the online hockey community but is now working for the Florida Panthers:
Oh shit, Boston could get Barzal, Connor, and Kylington here
— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) June 27, 2015
Barzal was a guy who was high on a lot of boards from people I respect, which is why the Bruins drafting not-Barzal was funny then but prescient in retrospect. Again, drafting is a very precarious endeavour, but sometimes it's best just to listen to the nerds.
What if instead of drafting Zboril, DeBrusk, and Senyshen, they draft Connor, Chabot, and Barzal? Or Konecny, Boeser, and Barzal? Or Chabot, Barzal, and Boeser? There were at least seven impact players left in that first round when pick 13 rolled around and Boston ended up with one.
I ask this 'what if' because Boston has been one of the best teams in the league over the last few years. What if that lineup has Barzal as the 2C with Boeser next to him and Chabot on the second pair? Does Boston have another Cup by now? Two? It's hard to say, but to use a gambling term, they definitely left money on the table. (I know it's not strictly a gambling term.)
Those are some of my what-if scenarios. What are yours? Hit up the comments.
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