(Ed. Note: It’s the NHL Alternate History project! We’ve asked fans and bloggers from 31 teams to pick one turning point in their franchise’s history and ask ‘what if things had gone differently?’ Trades, hirings, firings, wins, losses, injuries … all of it. How would one different outcome change the course of history for an NHL team? Here’s Robyn Flynn on the Montreal Canadiens! Enjoy!)
By Robyn Flynn
The franchise player for the Montreal Canadiens has been, for better or for worse, the man found between the pipes, dating back to at the very least the dynasty days of the ‘70s. From Ken Dryden to Patrick Roy to José Théodore to Cristobal Huet to Jaroslav Halak to their current cornerstone, Carey Price, the Habs have counted on their man in the blue paint to carry them to the Promised Land.
Unfortunately for them, that hope hasn’t managed to bear fruit since Roy was their main man in 1993.
Given the fact that it seems highly unlikely at this point that general manager Marc Bergevin will be trading Price anytime soon (given the eight-year, $84 million contract extension he just signed), let us ponder what the Habs might have looked like if things had gone a little differently…
Montreal Canadiens Alternate History : What if the Habs had never drafted Carey Price in 2005?
In 2005, Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Gainey was the guy in charge, and despite having a Hart and Vézina winner between the pipes in José Théodore, and a whole slew of promising prospects in Cristobal Huet and Jaroslav Halak, Gainey opted to draft a WHL goaltender out of Tri-City, prompting perhaps the dumbest piece of commentary ever provided by a hockey analyst.
Carey Price went on to put up underwhelming performances early on in his career, party a little too hardy around the island of Montreal, and overall disappoint fans of the bleu-blanc-rouge.
Then the Canadiens traded Jaroslav Halak, after his insane run backstopping the Habs to the 2010 eastern conference finals, angering many … er, “most” Habs fans, who to this day say that they knew seven years ago that Price was the right man to keep… But the radio never forgets, and the clips of their angry calls to Team 990 say otherwise.
Price wound up outperforming Halak by a mile, in large part due to an injury-plagued career that Jaro has had to deal with, not to mention Mr. Cassé’s CRAZY Hart and Vézina winning season that pretty much silenced his haters.
And just in case you still weren’t convinced of his superhumanly nature, the complete and utter collapse of the Habs without him two seasons ago pretty much proved it. And now, the Habs are locked into eight more years of Carey Price, who will eat up $8.5 million of their salary cap each year.
Cue the record scratch sound effect …
Not so fast. What if the Habs had never drafted Carey Price?
What if Bob Gainey had decided to fill the gaping hole down the middle that fans have whined about for the better part of the last two decades?
Enter, Anze Kopitar.
The 6-3 centerman who hails from Jesenice, Slovenia went 11th overall in 2005 to the future Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. But in this alternate reality, Kopitar was selected fifth overall instead of Price, filling a desperate need for the Canadiens.
“The Montreal Canadiens proudly select, from Jesenice, Slovenia, Anze Kopitar,” announced Trevor Timmins from the podium, alongside Bob Gainey.
Kopitar posed for pictures in his new Habs jersey, and shyly answered James Duthie’s questions immediately thereafter.
After spending one more season playing in the SEL, Anze Kopitar boarded a plane for Montreal, and reportedly lost four inches in height the moment his plane touched down at Trudeau Airport. The phenomenon is known as Montreal Smurf Syndrome, a condition that has afflicted the team down the middle for many years. Despite dealing with suddenly becoming vertically challenged, Kopitar adapted to life in Montreal quite well, developing instant chemistry with Alex Kovalev.
The 2006-07 Habs, bolstered by Kopitar’s 61 point season, and Saku Koivu’s strong leadership as a 2C, catapulted into sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 44 win season. Cristobal Huet did not play on February 15, 2007, because he was so hungover from celebrating at Kopitar’s week-early half-birthday party, and therefore was never injured, and remained the defacto starter down the stretch.
Despite a promising rookie performance from the Slovenian Sensation, the Habs lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Thrashers, thanks to Marian Hossa’s series-clinching double-overtime game winner in game six of the series.
Flash-forward to 2010 and Jaroslav Halak’s historic run to the Eastern Finals.
Kopitar, flanked by Mike Cammalleri (who decided he preferred to play on the right side), and Ilya Kovalchuk (who was so impressed with Kopitar’s performance during the Thrasher’s 2007 first round series against the Habs, that he demanded to be traded to Montreal in February 2010), scored 20 post season goals, including five game winners, en route to the Habs’ 25th Stanley Cup championship. Rookie PK Subban scored the Cup clinching goal, ultimately sealing his fate as a permanent fixture on the Habs’ blue line, and ensuring that no man would ever wear number 76 in Montreal again.
The Canadiens defeated the Chicago Blackhawks handily in five games. Patrick Kane was so devastated by the loss that he immediately retired from professional hockey, and moved to the Adirondacks, where he would live out his days in solitude as a mountain man.
Habs fans naturally proceeded to riot in the city’s downtown streets for four straight days, forcing the cancellation of the Stanley Cup parade, and the army being called in by a young Member of Parliament by the name of Justin Trudeau. When Trudeau was told that he couldn’t just call in the military, the young MP invoked the words of his father and said, “just watch me.”
Stay tuned for the Alternate History Sequel: What if the Habs had decided to trade Carey Price instead of Jaroslav Halak in 2010?
Robin Flynn is a writer, producer and commentator for CJAD 800 and TSN 690. Find her @robynlisaflynn on Twitter.
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