Six years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise changed forever for the better. It was on July 22, 2005, that the then-struggling organization won a unique draft lottery that involved all 30 teams. Obviously, winning that lottery enabled the Penguins to draft a teenage phenom by the name of Sidney Crosby. You may have heard of him.
The rest has been history. Crosby has become the best player in the sport, as well as the face of the league. The Pens have made the playoffs in all but one season since Crosby arrived (his rookie season) and even won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
What if the Penguins hadn’t won that lottery, though? When Commissioner Gary Bettman opened the envelope that revealed who got the first overall pick, what if the (Mighty) Ducks logo had appeared instead? Impact on Pittsburgh
Before Crosby was drafted, the Penguins were struggling on and off the ice. In the three years leading up to the lockout, they missed out on the playoffs and were one of the worst teams in the entire league. Off the ice, the Mario Lemieux-led ownership could not get a new arena deal done. Thus, Lemieux explored the possibility of moving the team to Kansas City or Las Vegas (though it wasn’t a serious threat).
So when the Pens won the lottery in 2005, it was a huge shot in the arm for the franchise, though they were in better shape than most were led to believe. Previous draft picks like Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin were good, but none matched the impact Crosby, a generational player, was about to have on the entire organization.
Crosby wasn’t a ‘franchise-saver’ and the team wasn’t in danger of moving. That said, less than two years after he was drafted, a deal for a new arena was finally agreed upon between the team’s ownership and the city of Pittsburgh in March 2007. Most refer to CONSOL Energy Center, which opened in September 2010, as ‘The House That Sid Built’.
In his six years with the organization, Crosby has evolved into the face of the franchise and, arguably, the face of the NHL. He’s already well-decorated as far as accolades go, including his claiming of the Hart Trophy in 2007, and the unquestioned leader of the team. In 412 career games, Crosby has 572 points (a gaudy 1.39 points per game average). He was even on pace for 132 points in 2010-11 before missing the entire second half with a concussion.
The Pens made back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup final, which included the dramatic win in 2009, where Crosby became the youngest captain to ever raise Lord Stanley. As a result to the team’s overall resurgence, they are again one of the more popular teams in the NHL.
With all of this being said, a lot of the Penguins’ recent success wouldn’t have come without Crosby. Not only has he made the team better on the ice ever since he walked through the door, but his presence has given the whole franchise oodles of buzz. The TV ratings have been through the roof (for the past four seasons, the Pens have ranked No. 1 in the NHL for local ratings of U.S.-based teams) and the team has played in a pair of Winter Classics already (see below).
The new arena would be standing either way, but having No. 87 on board probably made it easier for the city to commit to it.
Even though Malkin won the Conn Smythe in 2009 and was the team’s best player en route to the Cup, none of it would have happened if Sid wasn’t on board. The Pens would probably be a playoff team without Sid, with Malkin and Jordan Staal being a solid one-two punch down the middle. But a back-to-back Cup finalist?
If the Pens hadn’t won the lottery, and selected second overall, Bobby Ryan would have been a nice coup. He and Malkin would have made for a nice top-line combo, but obviously, his impact on the franchise would have been far less than Crosby’s. Ryan didn’t become a full-time NHLer until the 2008-09 campaign, three years after Crosby (granted, Anaheim had no need to rush Ryan).
Crosby has meant anything and everything to the Penguins organization. He was a key springboard for the franchise’s renaissance, if you will, and the difference between the Pens becoming a good and great team, a playoff contender and Cup winner.
Impact on Anaheim
The look of the Ducks would certainly be different with Sidney Crosby if they had hit the jackpot in 2005. Bobby Ryan is a good player that isn’t close to his ceiling. He scored the best goal of the 2011 playoffs. But he’s no Crosby.
No one really knows how everything would have played out with Crosby in Anaheim; a lot of things could have gone differently. Would they still have won the Cup in 2007? Would they have won more than just the one title? None at all? Subsequent personnel/front office moves may have been a different story, as well.
It’s also not even something Ducks fans think about often with Ryan on board. They still may be bummed out over losing out on Crosby if GM Brian Burke had drafted, say, Benoit Pouliot or Gilbert Brule over Ryan and the team has been struggling since the lockout. But that’s not the case.
There’s no doubt, though, that the Ducks would have had one of the best groups of top-six forwards in the league (not that they don’t already have a good one). Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne would be pretty hard for opponents to slow down. (Can you imagine that power play? Holy smokes.) Not to mention Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz and Dustin Penner, who were with the Ducks in what would have been Crosby’s first couple seasons with Anaheim. And that’s not to say Burke wouldn’t have gone out and picked up even better help for Crosby.
A lot of people forget that Anaheim advanced to the conference final back in 2006, Crosby’s rookie year. Assuming he would have made the team out of the chute, that team could have easily made it to the Cup final. At the same time, rookies like Getzlaf and Perry may not have gotten that valuable playoff experience that helped them win it all in 2007.
It’s hard to imagine that Crosby’s presence with the Ducks would not have boosted the popularity of hockey in Southern California. The Ducks accomplished some of that by going to the Cup final in 2003 and 2007; but having the face of the NHL in Anaheim would increase it even further, especially coming out of the lockout and finishing 12th in the West in 2004.
Something else to consider in all of this is that Mario Lemieux has been a great mentor to Crosby early on in his career; Sid even lived with Lemieux and his family in his first few years in Pittsburgh. He wouldn’t have had that in Anaheim, so would Crosby have experienced the same success right away with the Ducks as he did in Pittsburgh? It’s easy to assume, but hard to say, really.
Bobby Ryan is a great talent and will be a quality goal-scorer for years to come. It’s not like he’s to Sidney Crosby what Sam Bowie was to Michael Jordan (sorry for the NBA reference). For Ryan, putting up three straight 30-goal seasons in the first three full years of his career is pretty impressive. The future with him alongside Getzlaf and Perry is scary to think about.
All in all, if the then-Mighty Ducks had won the lottery back in 2005, Crosby would have done wonders for that franchise. However, with a Stanley Cup banner hanging in Honda Center, and Ryan a star in the making, I’m sure they aren’t too disappointed in coming up short in the 2005 lottery.
Impact on NHL
Conspiracy theorists still believe the league fixed the 2005 lottery to make sure Pittsburgh got Crosby, as well as to keep him away from a smaller market club. More people feel the Pens tanked on purpose to get an abundance of high draft picks to lead to a winning product. Believe what you want to believe.
It’s not a knock on Anaheim, but the NHL was assumedly pleased when Crosby went to Pittsburgh. Not only did he go to a franchise where he could follow in the footsteps of fellow a once-in-a-generation player in ‘Super Mario’, but from a marketing stand-point, the league has benefitted from having Crosby on the east coast.
On an almost-weekly basis, you can find the Penguins on NBC and/or VERSUS. Even with Crosby out late last year, the Pens raked in huge national TV ratings. In two of the first four Winter Classics, Crosby and the Pens have participated. He has led the NHL in jersey sales in each of his first six seasons. Additionally, contrary to Anaheim on the west coast, No. 87 plays the majority of his games before fans go to bed. Crosby is also all over NHL commercials and has countless endorsements.
I’m also sure the NHL doesn’t mind having Crosby and Alex Ovechkin facing off four times a year in what has grown into one of league’s top rivalries in recent years between Pittsburgh and Washington.
Does all of this happen if he’s in Anaheim? I don’t think so. A superstar like Crosby is a lot easier to market in Pittsburgh, a big city with in the east with hockey history, than in Anaheim.
Crosby being in Pittsburgh has been a perfect marriage for all parties. Plus, it’s not like the Ducks, who have also made the playoffs in five of six years, haven’t been fine without him. The league has definitely benefitted from ‘Sid the Kid’ going to the Steel City, which makes you think twice about those conspiracy theories.
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