Yzerman to Ottawa

As the 2009 Hall of Fame class was formally inducted into hockey’s shrine yesterday, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering how different things could have been for Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators had former Detroit GM Jimmy Devellano pulled the trigger on an infamous deal that never happened.

According to legend, on February 26th, 1996, Detroit’s VP and GM, Jimmy Devellano and Ottawa’s GM, Pierre Gauthier agreed in principle to a trade that would have seen Chris Osgood and Steve Yzerman dealt to the Senators in exchange for Alexei Yashin, Damian Rhodes and Ottawa’s first round picks in 1996 and 1997.

Over the years, there’s been a lot of speculation as to why Devellano backed out on the trade. Some theorize that owner, Mike Illitch, vetoed the deal because Yzerman was one of his favorites. Another theory is that Devellano backed out because he only wanted to put a scare into Yzerman using the threat of a trade. At the time, it was well publicized that Head Coach Scotty Bowman was having issues getting Stevie Y to commit to the defensive side of the game. By publicly displaying the possibility that he could be moved, the threat of a trade left Yzerman quite impressionable. Imagine having to be faced with the daunting task of turning a his hometown team, a perennial losing franchise, into a contender.

However, the question remains…what if the Yzerman deal actually occurred?

On the surface, the Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt for Alexei Yashin fleacejob never happened. Without the 1996 and 1997 first rounders, Marian Hossa and Chris Phillips never would have played for the Senators either. No Hossa. No Heatley. No Milan Michalek. No Jonathan Cheechoo. (Huzzah!) And no 2010 second round pick.

In other words, without Chara and Phillips, the conversation concerning the best Senators defenceman ever would have been limited to Wade Redden, Norm MacIver and Steve Duchesne. Yikes. If that wasn’t bad enough, imagine having to go through the rest of your existence as a Sens fan without being able to reference Bill Muckalt’s goalless 2001-02 season?

Conversely, had Steve Yzerman been dealt to Ottawa, maybe he never would have made the team sacrifice and developed a solid two-way game. More importantly, without Jason Spezza, fans never would have heard their peers draw parallels between their respective careers.

With the Red Wings, Yzerman won three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998 and 2002). I think it’s safe to say that by adding Rhodes and Yashin, these Cup victories never happen. Without three Stanley Cups, Yzerman’s legacy is irrevocably altered. Maybe it could have been that he had salvaged Alexandre Daigle’s career? While that would have garnered the respect of pundits everywhere, Yzerman wouldn’t have received a ring for that. Maybe the key to the City but definitely nothing as cool as a Stanley Cup ring. More importantly, my website would be without a sweet punchline for its banner.

Had Yzerman arrived in Ottawa, I don’t think there’s any question that management would have immediately given him the captaincy. (Along the same lines as the Canucks giving Mark Messier the honours when he signed there as a free agent.) Now, assuming that Yzerman retired after the 2005-06 campaign, Daniel Alfredsson would only be enjoying only his fourth season of captaincy. Weird.

But what about Osgood? Had he come to Ottawa, there’s no question that playing behind the safety blanket of the Detroit Red Wings, his career numbers would no longer be skewed and writers would not be discussing the merits of whether or not Osgood is a Hall of Famer. However, with Chris Osgood enjoying the prime of his career in Ottawa, the Senators never would have had the need for Patrick Lalime so those infamous Joe Nieuwendyk goals never would have happened. It’d be quite the tradeoff, striking the Nieuwendyk goals off of the pages of the franchise’s history book but having to endure years of looking at Chris Osgood’s ugly bucket helmet. Would it be worth it?

In retrospect, it’s fun to discuss what could have been had Yzerman been dealt here. Sure, maybe Ottawa would never have developed its label as a playoff choker.  Or maybe Yzerman would have wilted under the hometown pressure and bombed like Mark Messier did for the Canucks. The only real conclusive thing that I can say is that had Stevie Y played here, he’d have a better chance at succeeding Bryan Murray as GM.