The 25 Biggest "What Ifs" in NHL History
In the 2002 film, The Time Machine, a central character utters the following towards the climax of the film: "You're a man haunted by those two most terrible words: What if?"
Hockey fans also can find themselves haunted by that question. Sometimes the result could have been good, sometimes it could have been bad.
In this slideshow, we will explore some of the scenarios. There are good answers, bad answers and different answers.
Perhaps you see the situations different or have some other "what if's" from hockey that you think are worth pondering. Feel free to throw them out there in the comments section for discussion.
What If There Were Another NHL Team in Toronto?
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Answer: This is unknown. Would fans support another team, causing a fracture in the city's hockey fan base similar to baseball in Chicago or New York?
One thing is without question: the passion, knowledge and market for a second team is present in Toronto. From afar, I do not believe I can accurately answer this one.
If you are a Leafs fan, let me know if a second team in Toronto would be well received or if the Leafs are too big and would doom this team from the start.
What If the NHL Were to Return to Quebec City and/or Hartford?
Al Bello/Getty Images
Answer: NHL fans both in those cities and outside of them will rejoice! Many believe it was a crime for these two cities to have lost teams in the first place.
With the NHL finally returning to Winnipeg, hope is stronger than ever that these cities could see the return of the NHL. While Hartford may be a long shot, Quebec City has been getting their ducks in a row similar to how Winnipeg did for the past few years.
Let us all hope that some day both of these wrongs are righted as well.
What If the Florida Panthers Had Never Traded Roberto Luongo?
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Answer: This would likely have had a much more dramatic effect on the Vancouver Canucks. Most likely they would not have made the Finals this past season.
While Luongo has been a fun punching bag for the media and various know-nothing know-it-alls like myself, the fact remains that he was one win away from a Stanley Cup. Removing that goaltending from the Canucks would have left them short of that.
As for Florida, it is tough to envision Luongo there still. If he were there, he would likely have filled the role that Tomas Vokoun held recently: the lone hope on a team seemingly going nowhere.
What If the New York Islanders Had Never Traded for Alexei Yashin?
Len Redkoles/Getty Images
Answer: If the New York Islanders had never acquired Alexei Yashin, they would have kept Zdeno Chara for starters. They would have had the draft pick that led to Jason Spezza and even if they did not want him, they could have traded that No. 2 overall pick.
Then GM Mike Milbury would not have signed him to a 10-year, $87.5 million contract as well, which needless to say could have been used in other areas. While you can't blame the awful decade that was the 2000s for the Isles on Yashin alone, maybe not making this one move would have stopped the snowball.
What If Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle Hadn't Bought Penguins out of Bankruptcy?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Answer: It seems very likely that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a distant memory. If not for Mario Lemieux's dedication to this organization, it could have been sold out of time 10 times over.
In fact, Lemieux even tried to do that a time or two to William "Boots" Del Biaggio and Jim Basillie. There was also the time where he flirted with the idea of the team going to Las Vegas or Kansas City. He now claims that was all just posturing, but either way if the team was in other hands during the process, they would be somewhere else.
I also would likely have had some type of criminal record, since I would have to have made good on a long made promise that if the Penguins were ever leaving and I could lay in front of the moving trucks, then that's what I would have done.
Instead of all that, the Penguins are a highly successful franchise on and off the ice and the Consol Energy Center will be their home for many years to come. All thanks to Mario Lemieux (and Ron Burkle).
Sometimes it is a good thing that "what if's" never were.
What If There Weren't an NHL Lockout Season?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Answer: If the 2004-2005 season was not lost due to a lockout, the game would have changed dramatically. Teams that are having trouble meeting the salary cap floor would have spent very small amounts, while other teams loaded up on talent.
You can argue that some teams may have been forced to move. The Pittsburgh Penguins for example cited a new arena and "cost certainty" as their only chance to remain in the Burgh at the time.
There would also not be a salary cap, which may or may not be a bad thing depending on your perspective.
What is uncertain is whether or not player salaries would have continued to rise beyond the level that a salary cap has provided. An NHL player can max out at a certain percentage of the salary cap, which ends up being nearly $12 million for one player.
While most players take a "hometown discount" to allow for a more competitive team, salaries do seem to be doing well.
The main area that would have been affected without a lockout is the style of play. After the lockout, there was a focus on obstruction and various other items and rule changes that "sped the game up" or eased restrictions on talented players.
What If There Weren't a Salary Cap?
Answer: Let us assume that the current NHL existed as is, but did not contain a salary cap structure. What would happen?
Naturally there would be an advantage to certain teams with rich owners or lucrative markets. Some would argue that is not a bad thing for the sport since these may already be traditional hockey hotbeds like Toronto.
It seems likely that the league would have been grouped into the "haves" and "have nots" similar to how talent is distributed through Major League Baseball.
As a Penguins fan, I can see both sides of the argument. The salary cap helped level the playing field for the Penguins after their terrible performance in the early 2000s allowed for stockpiling of top draft picks.
When that group progressed, they eventually made two Stanley Cup finals, losing and winning against the Detroit Red Wings. In 2002, the idea of competing with the Red Wings, let alone playing them for a championship was silly.
After the team started to establish themselves as successful, the salary cap then started to work against them to some extent. Players like Rob Scuderi, Ryan Malone, Hal Gill, Max Talbot, Mike Rupp and many others have left because the Penguins have little salary cap space to work with because of whom they have chosen to invest in.
Whether the NHL would be better off with or without a salary cap is up for debate. There is not a simple answer to that "what if" either. This is a topic where I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter via the comments.
photo courtesy of tattoodonkey.com
What If Sidney Crosby's Career Had Been Derailed by Concussions?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Answer: Crosby will enter a list of promising players that were cut down before their time. Looking at it objectively, some might suggest that the Penguins received karma for Matt Cooke's injury of Marc Savard.
As a Penguins fan, I do not discount that. Headshots should be eliminated across the league, including by Matt Cooke.
But the fact remains that no player should be struck down by a career threatening injury. While Crosby haters may rejoice if he is forced from the league, the sport will suffer somewhat because of it.
With that being said, the sport is always bigger than any one player, and as sad as it would be, the NHL would carry on just as it has when other players have been forced out due to injury. Crosby would forever be enshrined as a "what if" or "could have been" player.
Having said that, again as a Penguins fan, I do not believe this will happen. Crosby will take as long as needed to return, and my season ticket money is more than okay with that. His health is most important, even if that makes games in January a bit more dull.
What If the Washington Capitals Had Not Won the Alexander Ovechkin Lottery?
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images
Answer: It seems almost unthinkable, but the Penguins were the team that "lost" the lottery with the Capitals moving up a slot and earning the rights to draft Ovechkin. Probably tough to find a Penguins fan that would admit it, but I will...it sure would be interesting to think of Crosby and Ovechkin starting on the same team.
Had the Capitals not won the lottery, it would be very easy to imagine that they would have taken Evgeni Malkin. Given his initial reluctance to shine in the media spotlight, the Caps would have been an entire organization.
Ovechkin defines his team and fanbase as much as any athlete in pro sports today. Had this "what if" happened, the Capitals would likely still be in the funk of the early 2000s.
What If Brett Hull's Cup Winning Goal Had Been Disallowed?
A game seven in the finals is an unknown, because it is only one game for the prize. Would Buffalo fans have taken their chances with a game seven instead of a controversial ending?
There is no "if" about that. Of course they would.
One wonders what would have been if Buffalo had finally been able to get over the hump and win a Stanley Cup.
What If Gretzky Had Been Called for the High Stick to Gilmour in 1993?
Answer: The easy and short answer is that Wayne Gretzky does not score in this playoffs game. As for the series, well we will never know. But how cool would a Maple Leafs and Canadiens Stanley Cup Final have been?
Perhaps, Toronto would have been the team lifting the Cup. Instead Leafs fans continue to wait and hope.
What If NHL Expansion to the South Had Never Happened?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Answer: The ramifications of NHL expansion were both positive and negative. On the positive side, it expanded the NHL presence deep in to the United States. The negative is that Canadian NHL hockey suffered because of it.
While Winnipeg and Quebec were not lost due to expansion, they were both at the beginning of a wave that saw teams added to a variety of places. Some of them, such as San Jose and Anaheim have proven to be successful. Others, such as Atlanta, Phoenix, Columbus or Miami have had a more difficult time and the jury is wishy washy on Tampa and Dallas from a pure financial standpoint.
Hamilton or a secondary Toronto team may have suffered the most at the hands of the push to move south. Overall, expansion into the southern United States has been positive but it should not have been done as aggressively and with such disregard to the game's place in Canada.
What If Mark Messier's Guarantee Hadn't Worked?
Glenn Cratty/Getty Images
Answer: If Mark Messier's May 1994 "guarantee" in the Eastern Conference Finals hadn't worked, he still would have been remembered as a legend for his days in Edmonton. His time in New York, however, added an extra layer to his legend.
Prior to their Stanley Cup victory over the Canucks, the last time the Blue Shirts raised a cup was 1940. Messier's leadership had Broadway abuzz, and winning guaranteed his place in sports lore forever.
What If Eric Lindros Hadn't Forced a Trade from the Quebec Nordiques?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Answer: If Eric Lindros had not forced a trade from the Quebec Nordiques, the NHL in the 1990s and beyond could have been drastically altered. For starters, Lindros would have played alongside Joe Sakic as a one-two punch, or on the same line at times.
Secondly, Peter Forsberg would have started his career in Philadelphia, the team that drafted him. Also, even if the Nordiques still would have left the province, the team that arrived in Denver would have been drastically different.
Eight division titles and two Stanley Cups were captured by the Colorado Avalanche, due largely to this trade. At the very least, the fans in Denver should rejoice that this "what if" did not become a reality.
What If Peter Forsberg Had Stayed Healthy?
John Grieshop/Getty Images
Answer: Peter Forsberg likely would have added significantly to his personal statistics if he had not had issues with his spleen and ankle. You could argue this affected at least four seasons in his prime, which probably would have put "Foppa" over the 1,000 career point mark.
His years in Philadelphia would have likely gone differently as well. Tough to say how that would have played out, but having an injury free Forsberg would have made them a much stronger team.
What If Cam Neely Had Stayed Healthy?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Answer: Had Cam Neely not fallen victim to a cheap shot at the knee of Ulf Samuelsson, he would have had two more seasons in his prime. He would at the very least have scored about 100 more goals.
More importantly for Bruins fans, his presence may have helped bring a Stanley Cup to Boston in the 1990s. Neely did return from this injury, but he was never the same in terms of longevity. Therefore, it is also safe to say the injury cost him many games and individual statistics for years to come.
What If Eric Lindros Had Stayed Healthy?
Ian Tomlinson/Getty Images
Answer: Without the nagging concussion problems that plagued his career, Lindros could likely have established a Hall of Fame career. He never quite lived up to the hype generated when he came out of Oshawa, but injuries significantly contributed to that.
If he had been healthy, Lindros would have gone over the 1,000 point mark easily and with the potential for a longer career and at least four of his seasons in his prime extended instead of shortened, he would have piled up numbers and perhaps made more trips to the Stanley Cup Finals.
What If the Oilers Dynasty Team Had Stayed Intact?
Tim Smith/Getty Images
Answer: While it is tough to balance the effects of time against keeping a group of star and role players together that had already won multiple Stanley Cups, it seems very likely that the Oilers would have continued to be a force in NHL. Additional Stanley Cups would not be out of the question in such a scenario.
What If Jaromir Jagr Had Stayed in Pittsburgh?
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Answer: While it may be difficult to get anyone in Pittsburgh to admit it, Jaromir Jagr is the second best player in franchise history. Had he not felt the need to force a trade out of town, his legacy here would have been altered dramatically.
For starters it is possible that he would have made a run at Mario Lemieux's franchise records in scoring. Secondly, even if he eventually left on better terms, he would have remained one of Pittsburgh's all time favorite athletes alongside Lemieux and others such as Jerome Bettis.
This is the "what if" that haunts me the most as a Penguins fan. While others booed him every time he touched the puck, I have always considered "Jags" one of my favorite players.
Unfortunately this past summer, the chance of him returning a hero died forever. For this one, there are no more "what if's."
What If the New Jersey Devils Had Never Drafted Martin Brodeur?
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
Answer: For starters, three Stanley Cup championships would likely not have been captured. More importantly, there may not be a team in Newark, or anywhere in the state of New Jersey.
It also seems likely that they would have continued to have been a "Mickey Mouse Organization" as Wayne Gretzky once described them.
For Devils fans, it is a good thing this "what if" never became a reality.
What If There Were an NHL Lockout Next Season?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Answer: The league would be harmed, perhaps to the point of irreparable damage. Hockey will always thrive in Canada and select US Cities, but a lockout could be the final nail in the coffin for many "sun belt" teams. While that may not be a bad thing, it is much more preferable for it to happen at the league's choosing and pace.
What If Patrick Roy Had Never Been Traded to the Colorado Avalanche?
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
Answer: If Roy had been pulled a bit earlier in his final game for the Canadiens, he would have gone on to many more great seasons for the Habs. As a result, it seems likely that the Avs would not have won their Stanley Cups, but Montreal would have had the shot to claim more for themselves.
What If Bobby Orr Did Hadn't Had to Retire Because of His Knee Problems?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Answer: If Orr had not been injured, or if medical surgeries had been more advanced, Orr would have continued having productive seasons. In fact, there is a chance that he would have added to his legacy as one of the three greatest players in NHL history instead of fading away at the end.
What If Wayne Gretzky Had Stayed in Edmonton?
Tim Smith/Getty Images
Answer: The entire landscape of hockey would have changed, or actually not changed in this case. There would not have been increased exposure in the areas of the United States where hockey previously didn't get much notice.
Gretzky's personal numbers may not have been altered, but it seems very likely that there would not have been the desire on the league's part to allow teams from Winnipeg, Quebec City and Hartford to move to new markets.
Also, Edmonton may have been able to reload for another dynasty. They won a Cup without Gretzky, how dangerous would they have been with him?
What If Mario Lemieux Were to Stay Healthy?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Answer: While it still is extremely unlikely, a fully healthy Mario Lemieux for a full career is the only chance that Wayne Gretzky's scoring records ever fall. Without chronic back problems, a battle with cancer, and later-career hip and heart concerns, perhaps "Le Magnifique" is the No. 2 or No. 1 scorer in NHL history.