With the Red Wings on the eve of their 23rd straight playoff appearance (I was going into second grade by the way) you can’t help but be cliché and reminisce about the past seasons leading up to tomorrow’s game against the Boston Bruins. The disappointment in 93, 94, 95 and 96 with playoff losses to Toronto, San Jose, New Jersey (Cup Finals) and Colorado respectively. Finally achieving the ultimate goal in 97 winning the Stanley Cup in 4 games against the Flyers, once again in a clean sweep the following year against Washington, once again in 2002 beating the Hurricanes in 5 games then finally in 2008 defeating Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in 6 games. Then there’s everything else in between whether it’s the emergence of Sergei Fedorov, the end of the Dead Wings, the Claude Lemieux turtle, Nicklas Lidstrom becoming perhaps the greatest defenseman to ever play the game, the ridiculous 2001-2002 team and so on.
One memory that popped into my head the other day though got lost in the shuffle namely because the Wings finally got themselves a Championship in 1997 and went on to become a power house throughout the rest of the decade and into the 2000’s. The memory and scenario though could have changed the overall makeup of the Red Wings then and perhaps now if it went down and that’s the notion that Detroit was looking to trade the now legendary Steve Yzerman in the mid 90’s.
A lot of the Yzerman trade talk started in the summer of 1995 right after the Wings were swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the New Jersey Devils. Rumor has it that then Red Wings GM Jimmy Devellano was growing more and more concerned that Yzerman couldn’t lead them to the promised land and were potentially looking into trading the long-time team captain. Depending on who you ask though it appeared that a Yzerman trade was more than just speculation as a very detailed trade was laid out on the table and allegedly sent into the league offices on February 26th, 1996 before the Wings and/or Senators ultimately backed out.
That trade some say looked like this:
To Ottawa: F Steve Yzerman and G Chris Osgood
To Detroit: F Alexei Yashin, G Damian Rhodes and the Senators’ 1st round picks in 1996 and 1997
So lets say this trade does in fact happen, there’s a ton of questions and scenarios that possibly play out. First do the Red Wings that year go out and get Brendan Shanahan two games in the following season? If that’s not the case this means that the Wings keep their first round draft pick in 1997 originally sent to Hartford for Shanahan. This also obviously means the Wings have Ottawa’s first overall pick in 96 which the Senators used to draft defenseman Chris Phillips (the Wings later went on to draft defenseman Jesse Wallin with the final pick in the first round that year).
The following year though is where it gets more interesting.
During the 1997 draft, the Senators took forward Marian Hossa with the 12th overall pick. Hartford who was the Carolina Hurricanes that year used the 22nd overall pick to take defenseman Nikos Tselios. Shortly after the 97 draft is when Jimmy Devellano would be promoted and Ken Holland would take over so let’s assume that the longtime philosophy of the Wings still takes place and Hossa spends a few years in the minors before being called up to the organization’s NHL roster. That means he probably has no impact on what the Wings do in 97-98 where he only played in 7 games for Ottawa.
Backing up a bit though do the Wings still win the Stanley Cup in 97 with Yzerman gone and Alexi Yashin in tow? That season Yzerman had 22 goals, 63 assists and 85 points while Yashin had 35 goals, 40 assists and 75 points. Yashin went on to have 4 more 30+ goal seasons in the NHL including a contract dispute with the Senators that had him sit out the entire 1999-2000 season before being dealt to the New York Islanders for Zdeno Chára, forward Bill Muckalt and a second overall draft pick that eventually became Jason Spezza. During his five season with New York Yashin wasn’t as productive but still decent putting out two 20+ goal seasons before leaving the NHL and playing the rest of his career in Russia in 2007-2008.
Again the questions linger on…
Do the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1998. Remember Steve Yzerman won the Conn Smythe trophy that year. How about the following year, do the Wings go and trade for Chris Chelios with Chris Phillips on the team? You even have to wonder what the team would have looked like in 2002 when they won the Cup with all the future Hall of Famers present. Is Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille even on the team? Could they have been replaced by this time with a young Marian Hossa?
Aside though from the Stanley Cup wins, another big question I ask myself is what happens with Sergei Fedorov? It seemed like one of Fedorov’s biggest gripes with the Wings was playing in Yzerman’s shadow. With Yzerman long gone at this point does Fedorov finish his NHL career as a Wing and not bolt for Anaheim in the 2003 offseason? What kind of chemistry is also developed between Fedorov, Yashin and eventually Hossa? Is it enough to be as successful in this alternate Red Wings universe and perhaps win more Stanley Cups? Or what about Yzerman’s leadership, how much is that missed and who steps in as the new captain? Fedorov? Lidstrom? Keith Primeau if we’re still going off the notion that the Wings never went out and got Shanahan?
Obviously these are questions we’ll never know the answer too and no matter how you may have felt then about the trade you have to be happy with the results and the fact that Yzerman eventually went on to god-like status with the Wings.
Still though… it’s fun to wonder.