I was watching NHL Live on the NHL Network today, they were commenting on the rivalry brewing between Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and started thinking what if things happened different between these two franchises and how it'd effect the rest of the NHL, as well as other what if's. So here we go
Alex Ovechkin was taken no. 1 in the 2005 draft by the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin was taken no. 2 by the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is going to be a more significant rivalry between these two at least than Ovechkin vs Crosby for the mere fact they were both in the same draft class and they're both Russian. These two will be battling year after year on who is the better Russian player of our time. It's much easier to compare those two than Crosby and Ovechkin. They play different positions, as Malkin does play center but if matched with Crosby he's playing the wing. They play different playing styles, Ovechkin is a scorer and Crosby is a set up man. Ovechkin plays a more physical game than Crosby as well. Ovechkin and Malkin play similar styles. Malkin can light up the net as well as being a play maker , Ovechkin isn't just a goal scorer, he can make plays too, he just hasn't had anyone to complete the play until now with the emergence of Alex Semin and other Cap players. They both play a physical style and aren't whiners. No offense really to Crosby, it'd suit him better if he never opens his mouth about something since he was tagged a whiner in his first two seasons.
Now though, what if the Penguins won the lottery in 2004 instead of Washington or if Washington picked Malkin over Ovechkin, and Pittsburgh drafted Ovechkin instead of Malkin. The whole NHL would be different. It's safe to say Crosby would still be a Penguin given the Penguins won the draft lottery during the lockout. The Penguins would have started the post-lockout with both Ovechkin and Crosby on their roster. At this point in 2005-2006, the salary cap wouldn't have been an issue since they both played in entry level contracts the first three seasons. The two tandem would be as great as Gretzky and Kurri. Both of their rookie stats would be a lot higher if they played together as well in 2006. Maybe Joe Thornton wouldn't have won the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial, and Jagr maybe wouldn't have won the Lester B. Trophy, maybe Jonathan Cheechoo wouldn't have won the Rocket Maurice Trophy. Those two could've dominated the NHL in their first season together.
Sidney Crosby's cast wasn't that great his first year in the NHL and Ovechkin's was worse. Crosby and the Penguins started with high expectations coming out of the lock-out as then GM Craig Patrick signed Ziggy Palffy, Mark Recchi, John Leclair, and Segrei Gonchar. The result, the penguins were winless in their first 9 games, Mario Lemieux retired again after being diagnosed with a irregular heart beat, Palffy retired 42 games into the season with a nagging shoulder injury that had been bothering him for years, Mark Recchi was traded to eventual Stanley Cup winners the Carolina Hurricanes, John Leclair only posted 22 goals and 29 assists and minus 24. Crosby at the age of 18, became the unofficial new leader of the team after Lemieux retired, posted 39 goals and 63 assists. That's pretty decent given he had a rotating cast of wingers all season from trades, injuries, retirements, and people who weren't up to the task of playing with his caliber of play. The Penguins ended the season 22-46-8 for 58 points. Second to last in the NHL.
Ovechkin had less to work with as the Capitals traded away any talent they had pre-lockout and went through a serious rebuilding stage and Semin didn't return from Russia the first season after the lockout. Ovechkin was a one man team and got a lot of heat from his coach and media that he seemed to act like that. Glen Hanlon even kept Ovechkin on the bench during a game in the middle of the season to change his attitude. It worked though, he became the face of the Capitals with his energy, heart and play. Yet, it was still true he was a one man show. The Capitals didn't have much to boast to help Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus was second on the team in points with 57, that's almost half of Ovechkin's 106. Ovechkin didn't have a no. 1 center to work with or even a no. 2 center to play with for that matter, yet he still posted 52 goals. The Capitals finished better than the Penguins did posting a 29-41-6 their first season with Ovechkin.
Now if both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were drafted by the Penguins, maybe the Penguins wouldn't have dumped so much money into free agency that year, not that it mattered because only Gonchar still remains with the team and has actually panned out for them. But Recchi was still having a good year when he was traded to Carolina. He had 24 goals and 57 points in 63 games. A first line of Crosby centering Ovechkin on the left and Recchi on the right or even another player, would have been the most dominating line in the NHL that season. Ovechkin had 52 goals and 106 points without a no.1 center and Crosby had 63 assists and 102 points without a natural goal scorer. Put the two together and Ovechkin could've scored more than his career high of 65 goals in his first season and maybe even maybe broke Teemu Salenne's Rookie goal record of 76 goals, that's pushing it in todays NHL, but anything could've happened with two players of their caliber playing on the same line every game. Crosby definitely would've surpassed his 63 assists and even his career high of 84 he set in his second season. The Penguins might even have made the playoffs that year and who knows what could have happened with a tandem of Ovechkin and Crosby together. The Hurricanes possibly wouldn't have won the Stanley Cup as Penguins would be in the hunt for the playoffs and wouldn't have traded Recchi not saying he was a difference maker in their cup win but he did post 7 goals and 9 assists in 25 games. The Penguins definitely wouldn't have had drafted Jordan Staal as they wouldn't have had a high draft pick that year, the Hossa trade most likely would never have happened, Sykora might not have been signed by them either. Colby Armstrong might still be a Penguin. All of the standings would have changed altering who they drafted in the drafts, Penguins might even have won a cup in those three years.
The Capitals would've hurt the most in this what if Scenario, Malkin didn't make the jump from the Russian Super league to the NHL until 2006-2007. That first year out of the lockout the Caps wouldn't have had a goal scorer of Ovechkin's caliber winning games for them. They would've finished dead last behind St. Louis and they most likely wouldn't have Niklas Backstrom and might have drafted either Jonathan Toews, Erik Johnson, or Jordan Staal. Or the Capitals still would've drafted Backstrom, as it seems since all four players have played in the NHL already, Toews would be the only better draft pick. Then where would that leave Chicago? If they got Staal or Backstrom instead of Toews, who knows if they would've been able to draft Kane or if they would gel well with Kane.
The Bottom line though it's a 'what if?'. It's a fantasy. In the end though, it benefits both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh for the way things did end up. We have this new great rivalry getting bigger each season between the Capitals and Penguins. The debates on who is better Crosby or Ovechkin is great as well as Ovechkin and Malkin for that matter, if it keeps getting bigger, who knows how well the two will gel together for the 2010 games in Vancouver where they'll most likely be line-mates on the first line for Russia's team. Even if this happened it wouldn't last long, one team is not big enough for both Crosby and Ovechkin on a nightly basis. The Penguins would've said goodbye to Ovechkin after the entry level contract was up as they couldn't keep both Crosby and him. Crosby would stay as he was defined the new face of the Penguins and the NHL before he even played an NHL game. Ovechkin would never stay in his shadow either. They're both made to be faces of NHL teams and the NHL as well.