This is something I have been thinking about doing for a few months now. This is not fantasy hockey, this is hockey fantasy. Hockey fantasy is what could have been, what should have been, what never was. What if Eric Lindros wasn’t a big baby and actually played for the Nordiques? What if the Maples Leafs’ strangle hold on Ontario hadn’t failed and they had drafted Red Kelly from the start, and not let him slip to the Red Wings because a scout said he wouldn’t play 20 games in the NHL?
What if the Hurricanes were actually able to sign a goalie they drafted named Frederik Andersen in 2010? Would they still be going through the carousel of backup goaltenders they hope and pray can be a starter because they throw money at them?
We’ll never know. But that’s what hockey fantasy is. And because I am a Penguins fan, I want to start with the Pens and the always referenced “open window” of theirs.
Let’s first fantasize that after 2009, winter wasn’t as cold as it was supposed to be, so all of those bugs didn’t die and it required the Pens to install some heavy-duty screens- the window is open, it’s just… blocked a bit. And with that blocked window, the Pens decide not to always go so all-in, especially with some of their trades.
In the 2009-2010 season, one move did not need to be made, and that was trading a 2010 second round pick to Florida for Jordan Leopold. Leopold, in my opinion, was a fine defenseman. In hindsight, however, it was a wasted move because in 20 regular season games, Leopold scored four goals for eight points. In the playoffs, he was then concussed in Game 2 of the first round thanks to a vicious hit from Ottawa’s Andy Sutton.
Leopold would return in the second round against Montreal, but registered zero points and was a minus-two in eight total playoff games.
Meanwhile, that second round pick that was sent to Florida turned into Connor Brickley. Imagine, instead of losing a second round pick, the Penguins kept it and, instead of choosing Brickley, they chose the next player in that draft, Calle Jarnkrok, picked by the Red Wings.
Jarnkrok, who was drafted as a center but can play leftwing, has been a consistent 15-goal, 30-point player the last three seasons for Nashville. A Penguins team with him developing in the minors waiting to debut full-time in the 2014-15 season… Penguins fans remember what happened in the 2014-15 playoffs run right?
Fast forward a year, first, now to the 2010-11 season. The trade that stands out, and that didn’t need to be made, was the Pens receiving Alexei Kovalev from Ottawa for the Pens’ seventh round pick. A seventh round pick, doesn’t sound too exciting or promising, right? Wrong! That pick turned out to be Ryan Dzingel! RYAN DZINGEL! The seventh round pick who has been playing left wing on the first line for the Sens and showing he can be a consistent 20-goal scorer even on a terrible team like the Ottawa Senators.
The Penguins having not one but two left wings in the system- which they are desperately short on- could have turned the tides not just five seasons ago, but today as well.
Finally, one honorable mention trade I want to bring up: the Douglas Murray acquisition for a second round pick in 2013 and one in 2014. The 2013 pick turned out to be Tyler Bertuzzi. Depending on what kind of hockey you enjoy, I think Bertuzzi is a valuable player for an NHL team. He is a bottom-six agitator, one of those players that today could answer the common question “What do you do about Tom Wilson?” A team wouldn’t need Bertuzzi to fight a guy like Wilson, but you do need a player who knows how to annoy the hell out of the other team.
Or, the Pens could have saved that pick to take a defenseman who could actually skate like Brett Pesce thus eliminating the need to sign Jack Johnson in 2018. But that’s part of the fantasy.
It’s easy to understand the logic behind the Penguins always going for it. When you have two of the best players in the world on the same team, you put all of your eggs in the same basket. That’s not to say that, if there was one person involved with the team who would have spoken up to say maybe this isn’t our year, the future would have been even brighter. That is hard to argue with back-to-back Stanley Cups on the horizon for the Penguins, but some awful years like the 2014-15 season where they were eliminated by the Rangers in the first round could have been avoided.
With that said, if the Pens stayed a little more patient from 2009-2011, my hockey fantasy lines today would be
Guentzel – Crosby – Rust
Dzingel – Malkin – Kessel
Pearson – Jarnkrok – Hornqvist
Aston-Reese – Cullen – Sheahan
Dumoulin – Letang
Pesce – Riikola
Maatta – Pettersson