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Alternate NHL history: If the Penguins won the Ovechkin lottery

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With 2019-20 NHL season on pause we are going to take an occasional look back at some of the alternate timelines that could have existed throughout the history of the league. Here, we contemplate what would have happened had the Pittsburgh Penguins, and not the Washington Capitals, had won the 2004 NHL draft lottery for Alex Ovechkin.

Even before the arrivals of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals had developed a fierce rivalry throughout the 1990s.

They were old Patrick Division foes. They met in the playoffs seven times between 1991 and 2000 and had some absolutely epic games, including the Petr Nedved four overtime playoff game, the night Jaromir Jagr received a 10-game suspension for making contact with a referee, and the night two coaches nearly climbed over the glass to fight each other, and a bizarre postseason scheduling conflict that infuriated former Capitals coach Ron Wilson.

The two teams were also surprise trade partners in the summer of 2001 when the Penguins sent Jaromir Jagr to Washington for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk.

In short: The two franchise already had a bitter history with each other.

During the 2003-04 season they were involved in a different kind of race. The race to the bottom of the league. The results would forever change the course of the NHL.

Following the trade of Jagr, the Penguins had completely stalled as a franchise and were a couple of years deep into a massive rebuild.

The Capitals, meanwhile, were off to a terribly disappointing start, were unable to get the best out of Jagr, and were preparing to start their own rebuild that would get kicked off with the in-season trade of Jagr to the New York Rangers and several over high profile moves.

Both teams were now in desperate need of a franchise-changing player.

That player was going to be Alex Ovechkin.

Everyone knew Ovechkin was going to be the top pick in the draft, and even though Evgeni Malkin (the eventual No. 2 overall pick) had started to become a favorite of scouts and hockey people there was still a gap between the two players, and it was a slam dunk that Ovechkin was going to be the player. He was so sought after that the Florida Panthers tried — on more than one occasion — to draft him in the 2003 class by arguing that when leap years were taken into account he would have been eligible for that draft (he missed the cut-off for the 2003 draft by four days).

The 2003-04 season ended with the Penguins finishing with the league’s worst record with 58 points, one point back of the Chicago Blackhawks and Capitals. That gave the Penguins the best odds (25 percent) of winning the 2004 draft lottery, while also guaranteeing they would pick no lower than second, meaning they were going to get one of Ovechkin or Malkin. The Blackhawks had the second-best lottery odds (they had fewer wins than Washington), with the Capitals entering the lottery with the third-best odds.

When it came time to draw the ping pong balls to determine the top pick, it ended up being the Capitals that won it, moving from third to first, pushing Pittsburgh to second and Chicago down to third.

The Capitals selected Ovechkin, the Penguins ended up getting one of the best draft consolation prizes ever in Malkin, and the Blackhawks selected … Cam Barker. Ovechkin and Malkin have gone to have Hall of Fame careers and collect a truckload of team and individual honors, while Barker just 200 mostly forgettable games in Chicago.

There are a lot of significant “what ifs” at play here.

Among them…

The 2005 Draft

Those results would have a significant impact on the next draft that would also be headlined by another Hall of Fame talent — Sidney Crosby.

With the 2004-05 regular season wiped out by a lockout, the league needed a way to handle the 2005 lottery and draft with no games producing results.

The solution was a weighted lottery that involved all 30 teams.

The odds were weighted by playoff appearances in the previous three seasons and first overall picks in the previous four drafts. Teams that had no playoff appearances and no first overall picks in those time frames were awarded three lottery balls. Those teams were the Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, and New York Rangers.  The Penguins *did* have a No. 1 pick during that time-frame, but it was via trade … not a draft lottery win.

Teams that had only one playoff appearance or one top pick were given two lottery balls.

Every other team was given one lottery ball.

This matters because if the Penguins had won the Ovechkin lottery they would have only had two lottery balls in the 2005 class and a lesser chance of selecting Crosby. It is not a guarantee that they wouldn’t have won, but they would have a lesser chance.

The long-term direction of the Penguins, Capitals, and Blackhawks

All of these teams ended up going on greatness over the decade-and-a-half that followed, combining to win seven of the 14 Stanley Cups between 2005 and 2019, while also combining for four Presidents’ Trophies and only a handful of non-playoff seasons. They have been the elite of the elite in the NHL.

But had the 2004 draft lottery gone in a different direction there is no telling where all of these teams end up.

If the Penguins had won the the 2004 draft lottery and selected Ovechkin, that means the Blackhawks would have had the No. 2 overall pick and been able to select Malkin, while the Capitals would have picked third and ended up with neither.

Maybe they do not select Barker in that spot like Chicago did, but the rest of the top-10 was Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Al Montoya, Rostislav Olesz, Alexandre Picard, Ladislav Smid, and Boris Valabik. Other than Wheeler, there is not a top-line or top-pairing player in that group.

It would have given the Capitals a second lottery ball in the Crosby lottery, but that is still no guarantee of getting him. It would have been entirely possible — if not likely — that they would have ended up with none of Crosby, Ovechkin, or Malkin.

Given Ovechkin’s importance to the franchise and hockey in the nation’s capital, it could have been crushing. Would they have remained bad enough to get a top pick in a future year (like a Patrick Kane or Steven Stamkos)? Or would they have settled into long-term mediocrity?

The Blackhawks would have also gone down an entirely different path. Instead of having Barker, they would have a true franchise player and an immediate jumpstart to their rebuild. Malkin would have been an absolute game-changer from the very start and rapidly improved their short-term outlook. But that, also, could have had a long-lasting impact. Would they have been in a position to win the 2007 draft lottery and select Kane No. 1 overall? Would they have been in a position to get Jonathan Toews in 2006?

The Penguins would have almost certainly been able to build a contender around Ovechkin, but the strong likelihood of not having Crosby makes it difficult to believe they would have put three more Stanley Cup banners in the rafters.

Then there is the matter of where Crosby would have potentially ended up. New York, Columbus, and Buffalo would have been the only teams with three lottery balls in the 2005 class, all of which would have been desperate for a talent like him. Would he have turned around the Blue Jackets or Sabres? Would an extra lottery ball in the 2005 draft produced a better result for the Capitals and sent Crosby there? The possibilities are endless.

In the end the Capitals began the 2003-04 season coming off of a 92-point, playoff season the year before and were expected to be back in the postseason. But their season going in the tank and some lottery balls bouncing their way ended up having a profound impact on them, the Penguins, the Blackhawks, and the entire NHL as a whole.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stars will not have Roope Hintz, Blake Comeau for Game 5

Stars Game 5
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The Dallas Stars will be without several key forwards for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream)  as they look to fight off elimination and extend their season.

Coach Rick Bowness announced that forward Roope Hintz will not be available for Saturday’s game after he was injured in Game 4 on Friday night.

Hintz logged just five minutes of ice-time in the Stars’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That is a pretty significant blow to the Stars’ lineup, not only because Hintz finished the season as one of their leading goal-scorers (19 goals in only 60 games), but because they are already dealing with injuries to a couple of key depth players.

In addition to Hintz, the Stars will again be without forwards Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau.

Comeau has missed the past two games in the Stanley Cup Final, while Faksa has been sidelined since the middle of the Western Conference Final.

What really makes this an issue for the Stars is Comeau and Faksa were two of their most used forwards on the penalty kill during the season, with Hintz also playing a minor role in that spot.

Tampa Bay’s power play has caught fire in the Stanley Cup Final, scoring on six of its 15 opportunities. Taking those three out of the lineup is not going to help the Stars’ chances of containing the Lightning power play.

More: Stars need one more improbable run to complete improbable season

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stars need one more improbable run to complete improbable season

Stars Stanley Cup
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It would be easy at this point to write off Dallas Stars’ chances in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

They enter Game 5 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream) facing a 3-1 series deficit to a steamroller of a Tampa Bay Lightning team that is clicking on all cylinders.

They need to find a way to win three games in a row against a team that has more regular season and playoff wins than anybody else over the past six years. Three wins in a row against team that has lost three games in a row on just five different occasions over the past three full seasons.

Not only that, but in the history of the league only one team has comeback from being down 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, and it required a lot of madness and insanity for it to happen (read about it here).

The odds, clearly, are not in the Stars’ favor right now.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

But when has that mattered in this NHL season, in this bubble, in this year? Especially for this Stars team that just keeps finding ways to surprise people.

It’s been easy to write this Stars team off all season. When they started the season 1-7-1 through their first nine games, no one would have blamed you for making them an afterthought and forgetting about the.

The same was true when they went through a sudden and shocking mid-season coaching change.

And it was true when they ended the regular season on a seven-game losing streak, and then lost two out of their three Round-Robin games in the Return To Play, all while looking like a complete inept offensive team.

It was a foregone conclusion to pretty much everyone outside of Dallas that Colorado was going to skate by them in the Second Round. Then when the Avalanche failed to beat them, it was just generally accepted the Stars’ luck would run out against Vegas. Wrong again! Both times!

Now here we are again in a position where it’s easy to say, yeah, they’re done.

[Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

But twice this postseason the Stars have ended a series by winning three games in a row (Calgary and Vegas). Obviously the circumstances here are a little different (playing a better team, actually facing elimination with no margin for error) but they have done it before and in a variety of ways. They have found a way to score goals when needed, and they have also been able to lock things down or lean on their goaltending when needed.

If the first four games of this series have shown us anything it’s that they may need more of the latter approach to stay in this. Khudobin has cooled off considerably over the past few games, but he is absolutely capable of turning things around in the blink of an eye. In his two years with the Stars he has .923 save percentage in his 95 appearances (regular season and playoffs combined), which is one of the best marks for any goalie during that stretch. He helped single-handedly get them through the Vegas series. Does he have three more games like that in him?

No matter how they go about it, the Stars’ backs are clearly against the wall here. But that has been the case from the very start of the season and it has not yet stopped them.

They need to find a way to exceed the expectations one more time.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Steven Stamkos will not play in Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final

Stamkos Game 5
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If the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to win the Stanley Cup on Saturday night they are going to have to win one more game without Steven Stamkos.

Coach Jon Cooper announced on Saturday that the Lightning captain will not be available for Game 5 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream) against the Dallas Stars.

Stamkos has played in just one game this postseason for the Lightning as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury and a core muscle injury that sidelined him in late February.

His lone appearance this postseason was the Lightning’s Game 3 win when he played just a little under three minutes, scoring a goal on his only shot of the game.

He spent the final 47 minutes of the Lightning’s 5-2 win seated on the bench.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

On Friday, Cooper announced that Stamkos would not play in Game 4 (which the Lightning won in overtime, 5-4) but that they were not ruling him out for the rest of the series.

If the Lightning win on Saturday night, they will win the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history and for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

The Lightning’s top line of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat has helped drive the offense in Stamkos’ absence, while they have also received massive contributions from their newly formed second line and their defense.

They are 17-6 in the Return To Play, with 16 of those wins coming without Stamkos in the lineup.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)