Back in the summer of 2001 at the annual NHL Entry Draft, then Canadiens GM Andre Savard swung for the home run fence and pulled out all stops to aquire the Atlanta Thrashers first overall pick Ilya Kovalchuk.
Savard had offered a package of 5 players that included the team's two first round pick, with which they'd yet to use to select Mike Komisarek and Alexander Perezhogin.
At the draft table Thrasher's GM Don Waddell admitted that the Canadiens had come closest in luring him into a deal, and later confided that if the Habs had included one player over another he would have gone for it. Savard has never let on who the deal did include, but it was once reavealed that the player he refused to part with was goaltender Mathieu Garon.
Over time, it has slipped out that the players on the table included Richard Zednik for certain, and surprisingly Andrei Markov, who was just beginning to round out and was having adaptation problems to North American lifestyle at the time. Goaltender Jose Thoedore was the stumbling block in it all! Benoit Brunet's name was also mentioned as Savard levied to make it a 6 for 1 deal, but Waddell wouldn't budge in that direction.
As with many Canadiens fans, I ended up adoring the player Jose Theodore became, while considering the possibility that Garon, due to his size, might have the better upside.
Hindsight does blur perspective, Theodore being the Hart Trophy winner the very next season, must have made Waddell second guess himself some.
Foresight is an altogether different beast. How could anyone have known in 2001 that in less than six seasons, Garon would outshine Theodore in the long haul?
The whole once upon a time scenario makes for some interesting backwards speculation. It took Atlanta six seasons to achieve a winning record and seven to make the playoffs, where they have yet to win a game. Montreal in that time, have never had a sniper near the prowess of Kovalchuk. He would not only have lifted fans from their seats in that span, he might have made the seats lift by themselves.
As it stands now the Thrashers have failed consistently due to the lack of a decent backline. Markov and Komisarek, had Atlanta chosen him, would surely have rectified this area.
Montreal is still in search of a gamebreaker the likes of Kovalchuk. Had they sacrificed such depth to aquire him, would they be any better off today?
Needless to say, the complexion of both teams would have been drastically altered had the deal gone down.
When one looks beyond this trade that never happened at teams like Tampa and Atlanta and their current standing, it could be underlined that one player does not make a team successful.
Waddell should have made the deal, in hindsight.
In the same perspective, it might be a good things for Habs fans that Savard was so fussy in his upside assessment of Garon. Despite the fact the he, and Theodore are no longer on the scene, it's hard to perceive that the Habs would have been better off in the long run.
Looking back and placing oneself in that timeline, Savard had he made the trade, might still be the Habs GM - hardly a hellsih scenario!
Whether Andre Savard and his staff would have drafted well enough since then to surround Kovalchuk well enough to make the team a contender within six seasons is guesswork beyond comprehension. Perhaps the Habs fate would have had them take steps back before turning things around. Those back steps might have led to better draft picks, and then again maybe not.
I guess it all comes down to which team one would rather have. One currently resembling the Thrashers - all punch and no pile, or the Canadiens, whose future has a future!