The year is 2006. The Flyers had just come off of a relatively successful season in which they made the playoffs as the #5 seed, ultimately losing in 6 games to the Buffalo Sabres. Their top line of Simon Gagne, Peter Forsberg (who was named Captain following the 2005-06 season following Keith Primeau’s retirement), and Mike Knuble was on fire, earning the nickname of the “Deuces Wild” Line. There was cause to be optimistic. However, as many already know, the following season was catastrophic for the Flyers. They finished with the worst record in the entire NHL for the first time in their history. Peter Forsberg’s chronic foot injury oft kept him out of the lineup, and he was traded mid-season to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, and a 1st (#23 overall in 2007) and a 3rd round pick. As the worst team in the league, there was a high likelihood the Flyers would have obtained the 1st overall pick (along with the 23rd they had from Nashville) however that pick would end up going to the middling Chicago Blackhawks, who selected Patrick Kane. But, what if the Flyers got that #1 pick as they deserved?
Understandably this opens up a huge can of worms. Before the draft, the Flyers sent that #1 pick from Nashville back to them, in exchange for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. That would leave the team with a solid top pair (or at least high second pair) defenceman, who was Predators Captain the previous year, and a promising, scrapping power-forward. The Flyers already had Mike Richards and Jeff Carter at center, meaning the team would have been looking to address wing and goaltending in the offseason. The only name selected in the draft at goalie that stands out is Scott Darling and to this point he has never won an NHL starting job, so they would have been looking for a forward. Now, in the NHL draft rankings from the NHL central scouting bureau, Kyle Turris was ranked as the #1 North American skater, Patrick Kane was #2, and Van Riemsdyk was listed at 3. Back in those days, the Flyers rarely drafted European skaters, and knowing their strength at center during this time, I think the Flyers would have selected Patrick Kane at #1 overall. I will assume none of the other draft picks change.
Now Kane almost certainly makes the team this year, and armed with the Calder trophy winner at RW, the Flyers feel no need to sign free agent Danny Briere to a massive 8 year contract. Instead, they call up young center Claude Giroux (a year early) to fill out the roster. Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul, however, still become Flyers, and they still sign Martin Biron to play in net. Instead of Briere, the Flyers sign high profile free agent Paul Kariya, saving him from a miserable season with the St. Louis Blues. The top line of Gagne-Richards-Kane lights up the league, and propels the Flyers into the playoffs. Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell come into their own, playing together with Kariya, and the Flyers end up with the #4 seed, as it is my belief that having Kane would make them better than the Rangers and Devils. This means they play the Rangers and not the Capitals. I think the Rangers challenge the Flyers, but they ultimately lose to Philly in 6 games. That leaves the Flyers with a 2nd round matchup against the Capitals (it must have been destiny) who they still beat in 7. Therefore the Flyers still make it to the Eastern Conference final against the Penguins, and unfortunately they still lose to the Penguins.
2008-09 goes the same way as expected (losing to the Penguins), except now with an additional season under his belt, Claude Giroux hits peak form a year early, meaning the Flyers now have Giroux, Richards, and Carter at centre. Wow. Claude takes over at 1C, placing him with Kane and…somebody. See at this point because they never signed Briere, the Flyers don’t run into cap trouble. They never have to trade picks and wind up with a lower first rounder due to their success. They land at 24 in the 2008 draft, where the Devils would have been, and sensing that the last piece to a cup run is a solid defence core, they draft John Carlson. This means they no longer feel the need to pick up Chris Pronger the next year, and later, can instead spend the money elsewhere. Theoretically they would have improved, and so they land at the 26th spot in the 2009 draft after losing to the eventual champion Penguins, and take Kyle Palmieri (who won’t play in the NHL until after 2009-10). And now because they have a top pair of Timonen-Carlson (meaning they don’t pick up Pronger), they instead splash for Marian Gaborik to play wing on the first line, and sensing the need for a goalie, pick up Nikolai Khabibulin. This makes the top line Gaborik-Giroux-Kane in 2009-10. Therefore the Flyers easily win the Atlantic division, and take the #2 seed, and the seeds look like this:
- Washington Capitals
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Buffalo Sabres
- NJ Devils
- Ottawa Senators
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Boston Bruins
- NY Rangers
The Rangers manage to sneak in after not losing to the Flyers to take themselves out of the running. The Flyers, instead of having to come from behind to beat the Bruins, do so easily, and also beat the crumbling Rangers (the Capitals are still choke artists at this point). The Devils manage to win against Ottawa and Pittsburgh dispatches Buffalo. New Jersey rides Martin Brodeur into the Eastern Final where the Flyers beat them as they did in the real world round 1, and set up a meeting with the Western Champion….San Jose Sharks! See, without Kane, the Blackhawks never have their talisman to rally around, and are never quite THAT level of good. As the Sharks won the Regular Season that year, they would clearly have never been swept by Chicago in the Western final, and would make it to the big shot against the Flyers. Now, that year the Flyers were a team of destiny, and only lost to the Blackhawks because of goaltending. Assuming Khabibulin gives the Flyers decent goaltending, the Flyers beat the Sharks in 6 games to capture the Cup for the first time since the 70’s, and capture our hearts in the process. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter never get traded, and Richards therefore stays captain. The Flyers then get the 31st pick in the 2010 draft, where they select C Brock Nelson, who anchors the Flyers’ 4th line for years to come.