What if Bob Gainey had traded for Vincent Lecavalier? What if Gainey and Pierre Gauthier had never traded Ryan McDonagh? These questions can never be answered because these events never happened. No one knows for certain what the Montreal Canadiens would look like today if events did not unfold the way they did.
The purpose of this exercise is to not live in the past, but to look at how one single event can change the course of a franchise for years. If the Montreal Canadiens had not traded Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez, there is no knowing what would have happened in the lost season of 2011-2012. If Vincent Lecavalier had been traded to the Montreal Canadiens, there would probably be no Scott Gomez, and maybe Koivu retires a Montreal Canadien. The future is influenced by events and decisions of the past.
In this game of Pick Your Own Adventure Trade, you can pick a franchise-changing trade that never happened to see where the team may be today.
Scenario 1: Vincent Lecavalier is traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, and Josh Gorges
This one is fun because the trade that former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Brian Lawton tells everyone was nixed by ownership was for Carey Price, P.K. Subban, and Max Pacioretty. Instead, the rumoured trade was for Plekanec, Higgins, and Gorges; players that would have left a hole, but not one of the same monstrosity that Lawton alleges he almost made. If this trade had occurred, the Montreal Canadiens would have been saddled with a contract more atrocious than that of Scott Gomez and a player that was no longer very good in the NHL. Instead, Tomas Plekanec remains a quiet figure and wearer of turtlenecks for the Canadiens, while Higgins was traded to the New York Rangers for Gomez, and Gorges was traded to the Buffalo Sabres this past offseason.
This trade is still one of the most talked about non-trades in NHL history because Brian Lawton has a gig with Sportsnet and every year at the trade deadline he talks about the almost-trade. Of course, it involves Price, Pacioretty, and Subban, and not the actual group of Plekanec, Higgins, and Gorges.
This trade may mean that Saku Koivu never leaves Montreal. This trade may mean McDonagh is never traded and Alex Galchenyuk is not a Montreal Canadien today. This trade very possibly means Montreal's future upfront looks bleak and not nearly as sunny as it does right now.
Scenario 2: Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, and Mike Busto are not traded for Ryan McDonagh, Chris Higgins, Pavel Valentenko, and Doug Janik
Hey, this is a fun trade to remember, only because Ryan McDonagh is a good defenceman now and the last memories many have of Scott Gomez is his year-long goalless drought and the amnesty buy-out rule being changed so the Montreal Canadiens could buy him out immediately after the lockout. The Scott Gomez experience was not all bad though. It was only at the end of his time in Montreal that his offence started to fail. Early on, and as late as the 2010-2011 season, he was a solid player who partnered well with Brian Gionta and, for a brief while, Pacioretty.
The thing with this trade is it quite possibly led to drafting Galchenyuk. If McDonagh had not been traded, then he would most likely still be a Canadien and the Habs would have been slightly too good to fall all the way to third worst in the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens were unlucky that season in one-goal games and had the health of a kindergarten class in the middle of flu season.
The trade made Gomez a questionable person with the Montreal faithful, especially as it became evident that Ryan McDonagh is good at this hockey thing. The problem with this train of thought is Gomez was villified for something he did not deserve. Bob Gainey made that trade. Pierre Gauthier had major influence at that time. The trade was not on Gomez and the contract was not his doing either. When you have a limited earning period, you sign for the most money possible in a place where you feel comfortable.
The Gomez trade was admittedly bad, but in a roundabout way it led the Canadiens to Alex Galchenyuk, who is decidedly good. The reward for that painful season of Gomez is a rather wonderful gift to the future of the Canadiens.
The Alex Galchenyuk Scenario
Hindsight is fun. You are able to reflect on what might have been and what is today. What is often forgotten when looking back on an isolated event is how one event can influence a team for years down the road. The Canadiens have made some terribly questionable trades and have been involved in trade talks that would have led to others, but because those events unfolded the way they did, the Canadiens are the team they are today.
I mention Galchenyuk often in this game of Pick Your Own Adventure Trade and him being a Canadien is probably owed to some bad luck on his part: his torn ACL in his draft year. This potentially enabled him to fall to third overall behind Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray, meaning he was available to be drafted by the Canadiens. Marc Bergevin showed enormous faith in Trevor Timmins who in turn showed enormous faith in Galchenyuk when he was drafted in 2012.
Sometimes, luck is used to explain a season. Other times, luck should be used to describe a series of moves that did and did not happen that allowed a team that is good at drafting to come to a player that would set them up nicely for the future. The Canadiens got that. They found a player that they needed at the centre position. They lucked into him in a lot of ways, but that is what hockey often comes down to: luck. A bad trade and a terribly unlucky season for the Canadiens, combined with a terrible knee injury for Galchenyuk resulted in a match made in heaven. Never mind the trades that did and didn't happen that contributed to where the Canadiens are right now. Hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes when you have to choose in the present versus what might have been, you take the present because it is still pretty damn good.