Welcome to a new series of posts that goes back through recent New York Rangers history and asks, "What if?"
It was the 2008-09 season; the Tampa Bay Lightning had this really good 18 year old center named Steven Stamkos who had a bit of a rough start to his season (2g 5a 7pts in 21 games) and Tamp ownership began shopping him around to the rest of the league.
Enter Cigar Chompin' Glen Sather who began chatting up the Lightning ownership over in Europe while the two teams opened the season in Prague. Sather kept at it even as the two teams came back to North America and an outline of a deal was in place where the Bolts could choose from a list of Evgeni Grachev, Michael Del Zotto, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.
From Sather himself:
"How close did we come?" Sather asked rhetorically, repeating the question we posed to him as the Rangers practiced in Tampa on Thursday. "We shook hands on it, that's how close.
"I'd been on it since Europe. I had an agreement with Len Barrie. I asked him if he had the authority to make the trade, and he assured me that he did, because he was an owner.
"But the next day, I found out that he didn't. He went to run the deal by [GM] Brian Lawton, who wanted no part of it. As I understood it, the way it was told to me, Barrie was still going to make the deal, but then he was told that he couldn't unless he got the approval of [co-owner] Oren Koules.
"Koules shot it down," said Sather. "That was the end of it."
After the jump I examine the possibilities of what would have happened had this trade gone through
Let's put this in perspective...THE NEW YORK RANGERS COULD HAVE HAD STEVEN STAMKOS FOR MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO OR EVGENI GRACHEV
Now that that's out of the way lets look at how this deal would have changed the Rangers:
In 08-09 the Rangers were a team fighting for the lower seeds in the playoffs and unloading Evgeni Grachev or Michael Del Zotto for a struggling Steven Stamkos may have been seen as a minor move to improve the team at the time.
Good thing hindsight is 20/20: After putting up 23 goals and 23 assists in his first season in the NHL Stamkos went on to put up 51 goals his next season...the same season in which the Rangers dumped Scott Gomez for Chris Higgins and Ryan McDonagh as well as added Marian Gaborik who scored 42 goals in his first year with the Rangers.
Meanwhile; Michael Del Zotto had a great rookie year with the Rangers in 09/10, putting up 9 goals and 28 assists for 37 points, but we all know his well documented struggles in his own zone which led to him being sent down to the AHL the next year. Evgeni Grachev can barely make the St. Louis Blues line up and Brandon Dubinsky was just shipped off to Columbus for Rick Nash.
Obviously the Rangers would be the real big winners in this deal adding a player of Stamkos' caliber and would probably have been skating with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards last season and would be skating with Gaborik and Nash whenever the next season starts.
For the Lightning's take on this deal I turn things over to Cassie McClellan, writer for our friends over at Raw Charge:
On the climate of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the time:
In 08-09, the Tampa Bay Lightning were coming off of being dead last in the NHL. Which is how they landed the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, which is how they ended up with Steven Stamkos. New ownership had just taken over, and a new coach - Barry Melrose - started his first (and only) season with the team.It was a rough start that season, and the new ownership group called OK Hockey that was led by the likes of Len Barrie and Oren Koules, had little patience. Melrose had said from the beginning of that season that Stamkos should've started the season with his major junior team; that he wasn't ready for the NHL. But as the new owners wanted to show off their new prize after a massive buildup campaign in the Tampa area (Seen Stamkos?), so he stayed and Melrose was fired 16 games into the season.It turns out, Melrose actually knew what he was talking about. In this case, Stamkos wasn't actually ready for the NHL that rookie season of his. He definitely struggled, scoring only four goals in the first half of his first year. Not exactly the showing you want from your top draft pick. The second half of the season, under Rick Tocchet, was much more productive for the then 18-year-old, scoring 19 goals in his final 41 games. The Lightning ended up back at the bottom of the league again, however, which ended up giving them defenseman Victor Hedman second overall in the 2009 draft.So there really was legitimate concern for the owners, after all of their publicity, and after being thrilled over making a first overall pick, that he might be a bust. And the Lightning desperately needed defense at the time, which is why they ultimately picked Hedman with their first pick in the following draft. So trading Stamkos for Del Zotto then might not have been a bad idea at the time.Thank the hockey gods that they didn't, however. In the three season following, Stamkos had 51-, 45-, and 60-goal seasons, respectively. Turns out, instability within an organization doesn't exactly inspire confidence in rookies. Once the OK Hockey circus left town, things have been much better for the team overall. And maybe Stamkos was just a late bloomer, anyways.
If the trade had gone down as reported, then probably not much would've changed for the Lightning. They would've missed Stamkos's scoring ability, of course, but then in the 2009, they could've picked up a forward with their second pick overall instead of Headman. The team was in such a disarray in 08-09 that getting a young defenseman first and drafting a scorer a year later (probably Matt Duchene, who would've had Martin St. Louis tutoring him, even as he's tutored Stamkos) probably wouldn't have made a huge difference.