Thursday, November 7, 2013

What if the Pens had drafted Jonathan Toews instead of Jordan Staal?

By GTOG Staff

As we've said a million times, it's impossible to judge Ray Shero without discussing his first draft in 2006.  He took Jordan Staal with the second pick (Erik Johnson went first), and it's hard to argue that Staal didn't have a successful run in Pittsburgh.  But what can never be forgotten is that the three players drafted immediately after Staal were Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel, each of whom is a better player than Jordan Staal.

Would the Pens be in a better position today if they had taken one of those guys instead?  Would the Pens have more than one Cup?  These are legitimate questions that must frame every debate about Ray Shero, whose other first round picks include Angelo Esposito in 2007, nothing in 2008, Simon Despres in 2009 (looking more and more busty by the day), Beau Bennett in 2010 (could be good), Joe Morrow in 2011 (never played an NHL game; traded for a corpse), and Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta in 2012 (both promising).

So let's ask the obvious questions, after the jump...

What if the Pens had drafted Jonathan Toews instead of Jordan Staal?

We'll assume the Blackhawks take Staal, the Caps still get Backstrom, and the Bruins still get Kessel.

- The best third line in hockey would have been Jordan Staal, Dustin Byufglien and Andrew Ladd.  Nonetheless, Paul Steigerwald would have insisted that the best third line in hockey was Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, and Jarko Ruutu.

- The question is not whether the Pens have the best third line center in hockey, but whether the Pens have the three best centers in hockey.  Does Malkin move to Sid's wing?  Does Toews move to Sid's wing? Does Toews play center with Malkin on his wing?  In the 2008 playoffs, is it even legal when the Pens' power-play is Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Toews and Gonchar?  Do the Pens just pull Fleury on every PP, put Ryan Malone in front to go 6-on-4, and then score 80% of the time?

- Recognizing that they can't afford three #1 centers, and seeing Toews as slightly less expensive alternative to Malkin, the Pens trade Geno after the Cup in 2009.  Malkin is 22, coming off a Conn Smythe trophy, and nobody has scored more than Geno's 36 playoff points that year since Lemieux's 44 in '91.  In return, the Pens probably could have gotten any four guys they wanted who played in the 2009 NHL Youngstars Game.  Or maybe the Pens send him to the Rangers and get Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Ryan Callahan.  That's right.  All three. Plus a first round pick.  Or two.

We don't know who the Pens would have gotten, but suffice it to say that the Pens would have had enough to offer Anaheim to finally consummate the endless Bobby Ryan rumors.

- The Pens still narrowly lose to the Wings in 2008, but then win the Cup in 2009, 2010, and 2012.  All hypotheticals, sadly, still require us to assume Sid's concussion in 2011.

- The Pens never have to trade for Brandon Sutter.

Total Stanley Cup Count: 3

What if the Pens had drafted Nicklas Backstrom instead of Jordan Staal?

- The Hawks still take Toews, but the Caps end up with Jordan Staal.  Alex Ovechkin spends the next 6 years fishing passes from Staal out of his shin pads rather than one-timing the feathery biscuits he receives from Backstrom.

- With Backstrom, the Pens power play resembles Joe Thorton passing to Joe Thornton's reflection in the mirror.  Backstrom has the talent, but he just doesn't fit.  He's way too good for the third line, not good enough to replace Crosby or Malkin, and incapable of playing wing.

- Backstrom starts doing some local commercials, and by some we mean all.  #1 Cochran, Kenny Ross, Shultz, Baierl, you name it.  Instead of saying Paher a Bahser, he says Power of Bowser in a Swedish accent.  He gets caught having an affair with Debbie Flaherty from Day Automotive, which leads to a Tiger Woods-like parade of women revealing that they, too, are captivated by Backstrom's magnetism and charisma.

Voted "Least Awkward" among all boyish-looking Swedes hawking car insurance to American consumers.
- Ray Shero sees that three's a crowd and moves Backstrom after 2008.  Unfortunately, because he never fit in, the return is not good.  Without a horse like Staal, the Pens are just not deep enough to get by the Wings in '08 or '09.  The Crosby-Malkin tandem remains Cupless.  But it would have been worth it to hear Michel Therrien say "Nicky" in that French accent.

But at least ...

- The Pens never have to trade for Brandon Sutter.

Total Stanley Cup Count: 0

What if the Pens had drafted Phil Kessel instead of Jordan Staal?

- The first thing that comes to mind is that this list is very different.

You, sir, are no Dick Park.
But then again, who is?
- The whole "winger for Sid" discussion is never a conversation, and you're looking at ten years of the fastest and most lethal center-wing combo in the NHL.  As a right-handed shot, the Pens' PP never dips below 23%.  Mario Lemieux personally guides Kessel through his brief bout with testicular cancer.

- The Hossa trade still happens and he plays with Sid and Kessel, because Sykora and Malone just can't keep up.  Use your imagination.

- Boston ends up with Jordan Staal, who just isn't quite dynamic enough to land them the #2 overall pick that they used on Tyler Seguin.  But the Bruins shrewdly identify their target in the 2010 Draft as Jeff Skinner and send Jordan Staal to Carolina where he has always wanted to go, presumably to be irrelevant like he is now.  With Skinner instead of Seguin, the Bruins are exactly the same as they were with Seguin, but even slightly more obnoxious.

- Without the need for a winger, the Jonathan Filewich era never materializes.

- Long term, Kessel is the pick that would have ended with the Pens looking most similar to how the Pens look today.  The Pens could have locked him up long-term at a similar price, or slightly more, than they were prepared to offer Jordan Staal, but unlike Staal, Kessel likely would have relished the opportunity to have Sid and Geno as his centermen.  Maybe it means the Neal trade never happens, though it may also mean that the Pens let a guy like Kunitz or Dupuis walk.

- The Pens don't win the Cup in 2009, because the depth that Staal brought was essential to beating the Wings.  But a hungry Pens squad does eke out a Cup over Chicago in 2010.

- No Cups in 2011, 12 or 13, but with Kessel, Crosby, and Malkin locked up long-term, maybe the long-term outlook is better than it is now?

- The Pens never have to trade for Brandon Sutter.

Total Stanley Cup Count: 1


  1. The genius of your scenario is that the most likely trading partner for Malkin after 09 is none other than Chicago. Staal isn't the setup man Kane needs, so they trade Sharp, Seabrook, Brouwer, perhaps another player, and a 1st rounder for Malkin.

  2. This was fun to read. Good stuff.