Ever wondered what could’ve been? How if a particular trade had occurred, would the Canadiens been better off? Or did they actually lucked out that the trade fell through? Would the Habs have benefited more taking another offer, instead of the one they actually took? Had the stars aligned and the Habs avoided significant injuries, would they have had a chance at a 25th Stanley Cup? In this section of “Had it Hab-enned”, for fun and kicks, I take a look back at various events and rumours that have been reported to be true and wonder what the future could’ve been had it actually happened. To start this section off, I go back to the 2001 NHL Entry Draft in Florida…
The Canadiens had just finished 11th in the Eastern Conference and was coming into the 2001 NHL Entry Draft with the 7th and 25th (acquired from Washington in the Linden/Zubrus for Zednik/Bulis trade) overall selections. With George Gillett Jr. now the principal owner of the Montreal Canadiens, having acquired 80% of the team in January of 2001, it was expected that he would come in and influx some money into the Habs’ rebuilding process. Thus giving a management team of Andre Savard and Michel Therrien 1.0 more money to spend than when previously owned by the Molson Company. Throughout the season, Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and OHL phenom, Jason Spezza were dueling it out to see who would go number 1. There were significant rumblings that then GM, Andre Savard, had put in a substantial offer to Thrashers’ GM Don Waddell, who held the prized first overall pick.
Savard had offered a package of five players that included the team’s two first round picks that year, which were eventually used to select Mike Komisarek and Alexander Perezhogin.
At the draft table, after Atlanta selected Kovalchuk, Thrashers’ GM Don Waddell admitted that the Canadiens had come closest in luring him into a deal. He later confided that had the Habs included a different goaltender than the one offered he would have gone for it. Savard, at the time, never admitted who the deal included, but it was later revealed that the player he refused to part with was goaltender Mathieu Garon. Savard was offering prospect Jose Theodore instead.
Over time, it has slipped out that the other players on the table included Richard Zednik for certain, and, surprisingly, Andrei Markov, who was just beginning to round out and was said to be having adaptation problems to a North American lifestyle at the time.
– Source Habs Eyes On The Prize
Now, in an alternate universe, Savard agrees to ship Garon instead, and the Habs decides to pick Ilya Kovalchuk. How would the Habs have look like building around a franchise sniper? How would the Habs have looked like without the service of Andrei Markov for the next 15 years? Savard and company ended up picking Mike Komisarek out of the University of Michigan with the 7th overall selection, a serviceable defenseman during his time in Montreal before leaving to rival Toronto in 2009. And with the 25th pick, the Canadiens drafted Alexander Perezhogin, who ended up only playing 2 seasons in Montreal before jettisoning back to Russia.
Here is a potential mock-up of the Habs roster entering the 2001-02 season had Kovalchuk became a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Brian Savage – Saku Koivu* – Ilya Kovalchuk
Martin Rucinsky – Mike Ribeiro – Oleg Petrov
Jan Bulis – Yanic Perreault – Chad Kilger
Gino Odjick – Joe Juneau – Andreas Dackell
Sheldon Souray – Craig Rivet
Stephane Quintal – Patrice Brisebois
Karl Dykhuis – Stephane Robidas
Healthy Scratches: Arron Asham, Patrick Poulin, Patrick Traverse, Francis Bouillon
Now how does that defense look…barf. I doubt the Habs trade Rivet to San Jose without an upcoming younger defenseman in Mike Komisarek in the system to replace him. As a result, this means that Max Pacioretty never become a Montreal Canadien. What about fan favourite, Alex Kovalev? With already a budding superstar winger in Ilya Kovalchuk to build around, it is unlikely that Bob Gainey goes out and make the trade for Kovalev. And then there’s the effect of how would Kovalchuk have been under the coaching of Michel Therrien. I actually think Kovalchuk would’ve been fine under Therrien, he’s actually a big forward that uses his body and dishes out crunching hits, similar to Evgeni Malkin. And Malkin was fine, scoring 85 points in 78 games in his rookie season, while coached by Therrien.