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, which would turn out to be Ilya Kovalchuk.
He came awful close!
Savard had offered a package of 5 players that included the team's two first round picks that year, which they'd eventually use to select Mike Komisarek and Alexander Perezhogin.
At the draft table, after Atlanta selected Kovalchuk, Thrasher's GM Don Waddell admitted that the Canadiens had come closest in luring him into a deal. He later confided that had the Habs included goaltender over another he would have gone for it. Savard, at the time, never admitted who the deal included, but it was later reavealed that the player he refused to part with was goaltender Mathieu Garon. Savard was offering prospect Jose Theodore instead.
Over time, it has slipped out that the other players on the table included Richard Zednik for certain, and surprisingly Andrei Markov, who was just beginning to round out and was said to be having adaptation problems to North American lifestyle at the time.
Incredibly, future Hart Trophy winning goaltender Jose Thoedore was the stumbling block in it all!
Forward 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.
Hindsight is beauty ain't it?
Imagine what the Thrashers might have done as a team with the likes of Theodore, Markov, Komisarek, Zednik, Perezhogin and Brunet?
The following season, the Thrashers would likely have passed over Keri Lehtonen and selected Jay Bowmeester in the 2002 draft. Wow?
And Garon, well he starred for awhile in a few cities for short spells and stuck around long enough to be considered a serviceable journeyman goaltender.
As with many Canadiens fans, I ended up adoring the player Jose Theodore became, but for awhile I strongly considered the possibility that Garon, due to his size, might have the better upside.
Remind you of any present scenarios?
Hindsight does blur the perspective some, with Theodore going on to win the Hart Trophy winner the very next season. At the time, it must have made Waddell second guess himself some.
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 single game.
Montreal in that time, have never quite had a sniper near the prowess and repute 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 bad 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 back steps before turning things around. Those back steps might have led to better draft picks, and then again maybe not.
We will never really know.