An Alternate Rebuild

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big alternate history fan, and have posted a few hockey-related alternate history timelines here before.

The Athletic’s Max Bultman took a look today at what the Red Wings’ roster might look like if they had embraced the rebuild sooner. I think it’s a fun piece with a really solid premise and point of departure but I’d love a look that included alternate draft choices.

Bultman specifically mentioned that he left them out on purpose, which I get it as they’re a pain.  I’m going to spitball a little, anyway, and riff off his idea. I should note that this was originally going to be a comment at The Athletic but it got to be long enough that I didn’t feel like it was fair to dump there.


Let’s say the Red Wings not trading for David Legwand in 2014 and Erik Cole in 2015 costs them just a single win for the remainder of those respective seasons. Neither player did much for Detroit so I can’t see them being that much worse without them. Now they pick at #14 in 2014 and #16 in 2015.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think it’s safe to say they still take Dylan Larkin at #14, with Julius Honka on the board. The next year, though? You could be looking at Mathew Barzal at #16 instead of Evgeny Svechnikov.

And the streak stays alive even without those deals.

Assume it’s Larkin and Barzal and that Larkin debuts in 2015. The only difference on the roster at this point is that Justin Abdelkader has a shorter contract, so 2015-16 plays out as expected.

Summer of 2016, the Pavel Datsyuk contract trade still happens; the Red Wings don’t sign Frans Nielsen. I’d also say that the Wings don’t sign Darren Helm, giving his minutes to Andreas Athansiou, because that’s what I called for at the time and I don’t feel like I should go back on that.

The streak ends on schedule but the team is slightly worse for the 2016-17 season. This is where the butterflies really come in, though, because – for the first time in this scenario – the Red Wings are in the draft lottery and we can’t say the lottery will go the way it did in reality.  Wherever the Wings are slotted based on the standings, it’s harder to know exactly where they’ll end up. I’ll have Colorado win the lottery, Detroit pick seventh instead of ninth, and the Wings get Cale Makar instead of Michael Rasmussen.

Does Barzal still have his Calder-winning performance if he’s in Detroit? Not sure but these 2017-18 Red Wings might be better than ours were. Lets say, since the butterflies have pushed us pretty far off course at this point, by the 2018 draft the Wings aren’t in position to draft Filip Zadina but get Quinn Hughes instead. I can’t see Barzal making the Wings so much better that they’re out of that range but it might be a reach.

However the Wings do in 2018-19 doesn’t really matter because the players selected in the 2019 draft aren’t going to be on the roster today, unless they manage to win the lottery in this alternate world. That said, I question whether or not Taro Hirose would sign in Detroit in this scenario. I’ll assume that he does.

With Makar and Hughes in the fold, I don’t see Patrik Nemeth getting signed this summer. I also think the Wings would be less likely to have taken Madison Bowey back in trade for Nick Jensen, but I’ll allow it. However, I don’t see Oliwer Kaski signing in Detroit in this scenario.  Bowey and Kaski might be interchangeable for this exercise.

Bultman’s takeaway was that his alternate Wings would be simlar to the existing team, simply younger and cheaper. With these draft adjustments, they’ve got a better blue line as well. You’ve swapped out Svechnikov, Rasmussen, and Zadina for Barzal, Makar, and Hughes, giving a lineup that looks as follows:

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Andreas Athanasiou – Roope Hintz – Mathew Barzal
Mattias JanmarkCalle JarnkrokTaro Hirose
Justin AbdelkaderLuke GlendeningChristoffer Ehn

Danny DeKeyserFilip Hronek
Cale Makar – Mike Green
Trevor DaleyQuinn Hughes
Jonathan EricssonMadison Bowey

Jimmy Howard
Elvis Merzlikins

Livingstone Wins: A Hockey Alternate History

As I’ve noted before, I’m big fan of alternate history.  I’ve posted a couple hockey-related timelines here before and lamented via Twitter that the alternate history project on Puck Daddy earlier this summer generally focused less on the “What” and more on the “If.”

Last month, a user at AlternateHistory.com asked for good early-1900s sports-related points of departure, and I suggested Eddie Livingstone winning the legal battles around the founding of the NHL.  As I thought about it more, I decided to actually write that timeline.


November 1917
The owners of the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Quebec Bulldogs, and Ottawa Senators vote to suspend operations of the National Hockey Association.  Officially the reasoning is a shortage of players due to the Great War as the league lost one entire team the previous season when the 228th Battalion was sent overseas.

The truth is that the owners of four teams – and league president Frank Calder – were tired of doing business with Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone and had found that they could not force him out of the league.  They could, however, form a new league without him.

Just weeks later, the same four groups – joined by Calder and a representative of Toronto’s Arena Company, owners of the Arena Gardens – form the National Hockey League.  Calder is named President.  The Arena Company is given a provisional franchise in the new league with its roster stocked by players under contract to Livingstone’s Blueshirts, under lease from Livingstone.

The newborn NHL’s Quebec franchise, short on money, will not play the 1917-18 season.

January 1918
Montreal Arena is destroyed in a fire.  The Montreal Canadiens move to Jubilee Arena and continue but, already on shaky footing, the Montreal Wanderers disband.

March 1918
As a legal battle continues between the NHL, the Arena Company, and Livingstone, NHL champion Toronto defeats the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Vancouver Millionaires in a five game series to claim the Stanley Cup.

April 1918
The Arena Company suffers a blow when it is ruled that they had not given Eddie Livingstone his share of the revenues from the roster that they leased from him.  Those revenues had soared with the team’s Stanley Cup Championship.  The company is already on thin ice – as newspapers can’t help themselves from joking.  On the verge of collapse and after several months of negotiations, the Arena Company comes under the control of Livingstone.

Summer 1918
The National Hockey League – down to just the Canadiens and Senators – scrambles to come up with a solution for Toronto.  Livingstone remains oddly quiet as the Arena Company’s provisional franchise lapses.  The NHL is able to find other groups interested in owning a team but with Livingstone in control of Arena Gardens, there isn’t anywhere suitable for them to play.

The league’s Quebec franchise is provisionally sold to Percy Quinn, a former business partner of Livingstone’s.  It is quickly revealed that Quinn planned to use the franchise not in the NHL but in the National Hockey Association.  With that revelation, the sale falls through and the Quebec franchise is cancelled.

October 1918
Eddie Livingstone breaks his silence, announcing that he intends to operate his Toronto Blueshirts in the National Hockey Association for the coming season.  He reveals that he intends to resurrect his Toronto Shamrocks franchise as well, under the trusteeship of Percy Quinn.

The announcement is somewhat bizarre as Livingstone has no capacity to bring the Shamrocks into the NHA.  The league essentially exists only on paper but Frank Calder is still its president and restoring the Shamrocks would require the agreement of the teams that had bolted for the NHL.

The National Hockey League, meanwhile, also exists mostly on paper, with only two solvent teams.

November 1918
Despite the objections of Tommy Gorman, the Ottawa Senators announce that they will return to play in the National Hockey Association.  Over the previous summer, Ted Dey had come to control the team.  Never a part of the plot to blackball Eddie Livingstone, Dey – owner of the The Arena in Ottawa – was enticed by the idea of a league run by arena owners.

With Sam Lichtenhein of the Montreal Wanderers and Mike Quinn (no relation to Percy) of the Quebec Bulldogs out, Livingstone and Dey outvote George Kennedy of the Canadiens at a meeting of the National Hockey Association.  Frank Calder is ousted as the league’s President, replaced by Livingstone himself in a dual role.  Kennedy, one of the ringleaders of the plot to oust Livingstone, sees his NHA franchise cancelled.  The return of the Toronto Shamrocks is made formal, as is the league’s three-team schedule for the coming season.

Refusing to let Livingstone get the best of them, Kennedy and Calder call in every favor they can to ensure the survival of the National Hockey League.  Lichtenhein’s Wanderers rejoin the league and the Mike Quinn gets the Quebec Bulldogs back up and running, with both teams mostly funded by Kennedy and the Canadiens.

March 1919
Unsurprisingly, the Montreal Canadiens are champions of what is essentially their house league.  The Toronto Blueshirts claim the National Hockey Association title and the two teams are set to play each other for the right to head to Seattle to face the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion Metropolitans for the Stanley Cup.  George Kennedy refuses to have his team play Eddie Livingstone’s, however, so the Blueshirts head west by default.

Toronto is unable to retain the Stanley Cup, falling to the Metropolitans in five games.  It marks Seattle’s second Stanley Cup Championship.

Summer 1919
Eddie Livingstone and Ted Dey spend the summer after the National Hockey Association’s first season back looking for like-minded arena operators.  They come up short.  While there are prospective ownership groups in cities with available arenas, none actually own the arenas.

Meanwhile, after a season of essentially funding an entire league, George Kennedy is looking for anyone who can field a team and pay for it themselves.  While the National Hockey League doesn’t have the same arena ownership requirement that the NHA is informally operating under, Kennedy finds that potential owners are hesitant to join up with a league where one owner is funding multiple teams.

November 1919
Both the National Hockey League and the National Hockey Association settle for returning as three team leagues.  Frank Calder and George Kennedy thought they had convinced an ownership group in Hamilton to join on but they decided that they wouldn’t be ready to start the season.

March 1920
Once again the Montreal Canadiens claim the National Hockey League championship and once again they refuse to play the National Hockey Association’s champion in a playoff.  As such, the Ottawa Senators host the defending Stanley Cup Champion Seattle Metropolitans.

The Metropolitans become the first repeat champions of the NHA/NHL vs PCHA era, defeating the Senators three games to one.

Summer 1920
The Quebec Bulldogs are folded by the National Hockey League.  George Kennedy simply can’t justify funding them any longer and the placeholder team isn’t expected to be necessary with new ownership joining the league before the start of the next season.

In a surprise move, the National Hockey Association awards a team to the Abso Pure Ice Company, to play out of Barton Street Arena in Hamilton.  Ted Dey gives up on his dream of an arena-controlled league.  Eddie Livingstone – more tied to the idea of stopping Kennedy than to having teams owned by their home arena – is thrilled at having blocked the NHL.

November 1920
Needing a third team to legitimize the National Hockey League, president Frank Calder finds a group in Kingston willing to field a roster.  The NHL will consist of the Kingston Frontenacs, Montreal Canadiens, and Montreal Wanderers for the 1920-21 season.  Additionally, the Montreal teams will move into the new Mount Royal Arena, constructed to replace the destroyed Montreal Arena.

The National Hockey Association is healthier by comparison.  The Hamilton Tigers join the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Shamrocks, making it a four-team league for the first time since the founding of the NHL.

March 1921
Returning to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Ottawa Senators claim the Cup for the East, defeating the Vancouver Millionaires in a five-game series

Summer 1921
The hastily-arranged Kingston ownership group backs out of the National Hockey League.  Luckily for the NHL, Eddie Livingstone has made a misstep, angering a potential National Hockey Association ownership group in Buffalo.  Frank Calder is able to persuade them to join the NHL instead, putting a team in that city’s Broadway Auditorium as the Buffalo Bisons.

Meanwhile, Sam Lichtenhein has finally had enough of owning the Montreal Wanderers.  Even with George Kennedy’s assistance, the team has become too much of a burden.  He sells the Wanderers to local businessmen Joseph Cattarinich, Leo Dandurand and Louis A. Letourneau.

To prevent the new owners of the Wanderers – who don’t share the animosity towards Livingstone that Lichtenhein had – from jumping back to the NHA, Kennedy works out a deal with the owners of Mount Royal Arena blocking any team from the rival league from playing there.

Even without Buffalo, the NHA still makes in-roads to the United States, convincing the owners of the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets to go fully pro and join the NHA rather than the barely-amatuer United States Amatuer Hockey Association.

December 1921
The National Hockey League and National Hockey Association begin their seasons.  The NHL remains a three-team league, made up of the Buffalo Bisons, Montreal Canadiens, and Montreal Wanderers.  The NHA includes the Hamilton Tigers, Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Shamrocks.  While the NHL will continue to use a split schedule, the NHA abandons it for the first time.

March 1922
The Montreal Wanderers are the champions of the National Hockey League and expect to play the National Hockey Association’s Ottawa Senators for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.  They are surprised to learn that the Stanley Cup trustees no longer consider the three-team NHL to be a top-level league.

The move is a largely political one masterminded by Eddie Livingstone, as the three-team Pacific Coast Hockey Association is still allowed to contend.

With the Wanderers out of the way, the Senators automatically move on to face the PCHA’s Vancouver Millionaires in a rematch.  The Millionaires get their revenge on the Senators, bringing the Cup back west.

Summer 1922
Embarrassed by the National Hockey League’s status as a second-tier league, the new owners of the Montreal Wanderers push NHL President Frank Calder and Montreal Canadiens owner George Kennedy to expand the league.  Both are open to the idea, with Kennedy looking for expansion dues to make up for years of funding three teams.  The NHL isn’t the only league looking to expand, however.

National Hockey Association President Eddie Livingstone sees his rivals on the ropes and, chastened by losing Buffalo to the NHL, pulls out all the stops to prevent it from happening again.

The NHA hands out three new expansion franchises over the summer.  Huntington Hardwick leads a group out of Boston in acquiring a team to play at Boston Arena.  A group of Detroit businessmen purchase a franchise and land to build a new arena.  Their team will play across the river in Windsor until the new stadium is built.  Finally, a team is given to Philadelphia, to play at Philadelphia Arena.

It is widely acknowledged that the NHA’s Philadelphia franchise is something of a consolation prize, as the NHL lands the biggest market available with bootlegger Bill Dwyer bringing a team to New York City.  Dwyer’s New York Americans will retrofit the Brooklyn Ice Palace with bleachers to make it a suitable arena for hockey as the city is lacking other options.

December 1922
The hockey season begins with the National Hockey League at four teams and the National Hockey Association at eight.  The Wanderers will not be surprised this year as the Stanley Cup trustees make it clear that the NHL is second to the NHA in the East.

The NHL consists of the Buffalo Bisons, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, and New York Americans.  The NHA is comprised of the Boston Braves, Detroit Olympias, Hamilton Tigers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Arrows, Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Shamrocks.

January 1923
The Western Canada Hockey League, founded just two years earlier, ends its season early due to financial difficulties and lack of players.  The expansion war in the East has caused a drain on the talent pool, leaving the Pacific Coast Hockey Association suffering as well (though the PCHA will finish out their season).

March 1923
The Hamilton Tigers defeat the Seattle Metropolitans to claim their first Stanley Cup Championship.  It will mark the last game played by a Pacific Coast Hockey Association team.

May 18, 1923
Montreal Canadiens owner George Kennedy is killed in a car accident at age 41.  The team falls under the control of his widow, Myrtle Agnes Pagels, who looks to sell the Canadiens to recoup some of her husband’s losses over the previous years.

Summer 1923
The National Hockey Association continues expanding, adding a team in Chicago to play at Chicago Coliseum.  Owned by coffee tycoon Frederic McLaughlin, the team will be known as the Chicago Blackhawks after the unit McLaughlin commanded during the Great War.  The team will wear a modified version of the unit’s insignia as a crest on their sweaters.

While hockey in the East is flourishing, in the West it is struggling.  The Western Canada Hockey League and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association merge to form the Western Hockey League, with teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, and Vancouver.

November 1923
The National Hockey Association opens its season earlier than ever before.  With the league up to nine teams, each team will play 40 games, nearly doubling the length of the season.  The season will be the first for the Ottawa Senators in the new Ottawa Auditorium.

December 1923
The National Hockey League begins its season in the traditional month.  Also beginning this month is a firesale of the Montreal Canadiens players.  With Myrtle Agnes Pagels having been unable to find buyers for the Canadiens as a team, she decides to sell the players individually instead.  By the end of the season the once-proud franchise is a laughingstock at the bottom of the NHL standings.

January 29, 1924
The Detroit Olympia, for which the city’s National Hockey Association entry is named, opens after roughly 18 months of construction, far longer than initial estimates.  The stadium is briefly the largest (by capacity) in North America and, along with the soon-to-open Montreal Forum, ushers in a new era of arena construction.

April 1924
The Toronto Shamrocks of the National Hockey Association defeat the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Tigers to claim the Stanley Cup.

May 1924
The awarding of the Stanley Cup sets off a flurry of activity, starting with the defection of the league champion Montreal Wanderers from the National Hockey League to the National Hockey Association.  With their new arena, the Montreal Forum, set to open in the fall, the team is no longer subject to Mount Royal Arena’s NHA ban.

Shortly after the Wanderers state their intentions, the Buffalo Bisons also jump to the NHA.  NHL President Frank Calder is left scrambling trying to add to a league that now consists of the decimated Montreal Canadiens, whose owner doesn’t even want them, and the New York Americans playing in a retrofitted community rink.

September 1924
National Hockey Association President Eddie Livingstone completes negotiations with the New York Americans and George “Tex” Rickard, owner of Madison Square Garden.  The Americans will join the NHA, effective immediately, and will move into the new Madison Square Garden upon its completion in 1925.

The National Hockey League, once rescued by the reckless spending of George Kennedy, is effectively gone.  Livingstone has triumphed over those who attempted to force him out in 1917.

November 1924
The National Hockey Association begins its season as a twelve-team league.  The somewhat-incorrectly-named Canadian Division includes the Buffalo Bisons, Hamilton Tigers, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Shamrocks.  The American Division is made up of the Boston Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Olympias, New York Americans, Philadelphia Arrows, and Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets.

December 19, 1924
National Hockey League President Frank Calder and Montreal Canadiens owner Myrtle Agnes Pagels announce that the NHL and the Canadiens will fold.

April 1925
The first all-American Stanley Cup Finals occur, with the National Hockey Association champion Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets taking on the Seattle Metropolitans of the Western Hockey League.  The country’s first Stanley Cup Champions are no match for the winners of the enormous league from the East, as the Yellow Jackets easily defeat the Metropolitans.

Summer 1925
With the National Hockey Association having emerged as the continent’s dominant league, the Western Hockey League admits that it can no longer attract top-level talent.  The league does not strictly fold but reorganizes into a lower-level organization, bringing back some of the cities that lost teams when the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the Western Canada Hockey League merged.  The WHL will no longer compete for the Stanley Cup.

October 1925
The trustees of the Stanley Cup announce that, with no other top-level leagues remaining, the Stanley Cup will be awarded to the champions of the National Hockey Association.

November 1925
The National Hockey Association begins it’s 1925-26 season after a relatively calm summer.  No new teams have been added and no teams have moved, though the New York Americans will begin play in the new Madison Square Garden, as was agreed to a year earlier.

April 1926
The Toronto Blueshirts finish atop National Hockey Association’s Canadian Division while the Philadelphia Arrows claim the top spot in the American Division.  Philadelphia wins the two-game total-goals series between the two to become the second American NHA team to win the Stanley Cup.

Summer 1926
After getting an up-close look at the New York Americans, Madison Square Garden owner George “Tex” Rickard decides he wants a team of his own, and National Hockey Association President Eddie Livingstone is happy to oblige.  In a pun off of Rickard’s nickname, the team will be known as the Rangers, though their red sweaters with blue diagonal lettering down the front inspire the nickname “Rickard’s Redshirts.”  Madison Square Garden joins Toronto’s Arena Gardens as hosting two teams.

November 1926
With the New York Rangers added to the American Division, the National Hockey Association begins the 1926-27 campaign at 13 teams.

February 1927
Although the Toronto Shamrocks and Toronto Blueshirts have been operated independently for nearly a decade, some of the National Hockey Association’s newer owners have concerns about Eddie Livingstone owning two teams.  As such, he sells the Shamrocks to Conn Smythe, who immediately renames the team the Maple Leafs and replaces their shamrock sweater crest with a maple leaf in the style of Canada’s Olympic hockey teams.

April 1927
The Toronto Blueshirts defeat the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, 5-2, in a two-game total-goals series to claim the Stanley Cup.

Summer 1927
As long as there are markets interested in National Hockey Association teams, league president Eddie Livingstone is interested in expansion.  Cleveland adds a team to play at Elysium Arena – seating only 2,000 – as the league’s 14th team.  They will be known as the Cleveland Falcons and play in the league’s Canadian Division.

Summer 1928
The Buffalo Bisons move across the Niagara River to the newly-constructed Peace Bridge Arena in Fort Erie, Ontario.  Much like when the Detroit Olympias were in Windsor, the team retains the Buffalo name.

The Bisons aren’t the only team moving into a new stadium for the coming season. The Boston Braves have their new arena, Boston Madison Square Garden.  Locals quickly drop the “Madison Square” part of the name.  Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks are set to open Chicago Stadium.

With these moves, half of the league now resides in stadia constructed as part of the building boom that started with the Montreal Forum and Detroit Olympia in 1924.

Summer 1930
In debt following the Black Tuesday stock market crash of 1929 and playing in by far the league’s oldest arena, the owners of the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets sell the team to a group that includes the owners of the American Hockey Association’s St. Louis Flyers and James E. Norris.  The team relocates to play in St. Louis Arena, taking on the AHA team’s name.

Summer 1931
Conn Smythe begins construction on a new arena for his Toronto Maple Leafs.  It is expected to be ready for the 1931-32 National Hockey Association season.  Spurred on by this development, Eddie Livingstone fast-tracks a replacement for Arena Gardens, though it will not be ready for the new season.

November 1931
Just before the start of the season, the Cleveland Falcons suspend operations.  Playing in a 2,000-seat venue proves to be unsustainable in a league where new stadia regularly seat over 10,000.  The owners hope to construct a new arena in Cleveland, thus avoiding the relocation that befell the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets a season earlier.  That hope is kept alive by a team in the Canadian-American Hockey League replacing them at Elysium Arena.

The National Hockey Association season begins with the league made up of thirteen teams.  The Canadian Division includes the Buffalo Bisons, Hamilton Tigers, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Maple Leafs (now playing out of Maple Leaf Coliseum).  The American Division is made up of the Boston Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Olympias, New York Americans, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Arrows, and St. Louis Flyers.

February 13, 1932
The Toronto Blueshirts open their new arena, Toronto Gardens, with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Summer 1932
The Ottawa Senators, playing in one of the National Hockey Association’s smallest markets, are failing to make ends meet despite residing in a relatively new, large arena.  The team requests to suspend operations, as the Cleveland Falcons did the year before, but NHA president Eddie Livingstone has other ideas.  Instead of suspending the franchise, it is temporarily transferred to a group in Minneapolis.  While Minneapolis arena is significantly smaller than the Ottawa Auditorium, the population of the Twin Cities is higher, and this move will prove as a test for it as a hockey market.

With the Senators off to far-flung Minneapolis and travel costs already high, the league restructures itself to limit those expenses, splitting the teams into three geographical divisions.  The four-team Western Division features the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Olympias, Minneapolis Millers, and St. Louis Flyers.  The Eastern Division is made up of the Boston Braves, New York Americans, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Arrows.  The Canadian Division is the Buffalo Bisons, Hamilton Tigers, Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The three division champions will play a round-robin series at the end of the season to determine the Stanley Cup Champion.

March 17, 1936
The roof of Peace Bridge Arena in Fort Erie collapses after heavy snowfall.  Thankfully, the arena is not occupied at the time.  The Buffalo Bisons have one remaining game on their schedule, a road game in Montreal, so they will be able to finish out the season.

Summer 1936
While the Minneapolis market has shown support for their National Hockey Association team, travel costs and the small Minneapolis Arena are enough to force the Minneapolis Millers to fold.

Meanwhile in Hamilton, the Tigers are suffering.  Playing in the smallest city in the league and in the league’s oldest arena has forced them to sell some of their best players.  With the Buffalo Bisons temporarily homeless, a deal is reached between the two teams.  The Bisons and Tigers will merge and play in Hamilton until a new arena is built in Buffalo, at which point the team will move there.

Summer 1938
With the completion of the new Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, the Hamilton Tigers move to Buffalo and resurrect the Buffalo Bisons name, as agreed upon in 1936.

Another returning market is Cleveland.  Albert C. Sutphin, owner of the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Barons, built Cleveland Arena for his team in 1937.  Upon acquiring the city’s dormant National Hockey Association franchise, he brings the Barons into the NHA, to play in the Western Division.

With new arenas in Buffalo and Cleveland, the Philadelphia Arrows are left in the league’s smallest stadium, as Philadelphia Arena was built just before the construction boom that started in 1924.  As such, the team begins looking for opportunities to build a new arena, determined not to become the next Hamilton.

Summer 1940
The Philadelphia Arrows complete construction of a new arena – Philadelphia Auditorium – on the site of the former Baker Bowl, abandoned by Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies in 1938.  Like Buffalo’s new stadium, the arena is completed in part as a public works project.

Summer 1941
Despite being the first team in the market, the New York Americans have been played second fiddle to the New York Rangers since the Redshirts joined the National Hockey Association.  It doesn’t help that the Rangers have been run well, first by Tex Rickard, then John Reed Kilpatrick, while the Americans have been operated on a shoestring budget by Red Dutton.

Dutton requests to be allowed to move back to the Brooklyn Ice Palace.  NHA President Eddie Livingstone recognizes the move as a horrible idea and rejects it outright.  Citing the success of the strategy in Cleveland, he recommends that the Americans suspend operations while attempting to build a new arena in Brooklyn.  Dutton agrees and the Americans go dark for the 1941-42 season.

Summer 1947
The rechristened Brooklyn Americans return to the National Hockey Association, playing out of their newly-constructed Veterans Memorial Arena.

With the league back to an even number of teams and rationing lifted due to the end of the Second World War, the NHA takes the opportunity to go back to two divisions.  The East Division is made up of the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Americans, Buffalo Bisons, Montreal Wanderers, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Arrows.  The West Division includes the Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Barons, Detroit Olympias, St. Louis Flyers, Toronto Blueshirts, and Toronto Maple Leafs.

November 9, 1947
One month into his thirty-first season as President of the National Hockey Association, Eddie Livingstone dies at age 63.


The summer and fall of 1917 remains the same as it did in our timeline, but we begin to depart with the note that the legal proceedings between Eddie Livingstone and everyone else are still going on in March of 1918.  In our timeline, the initial judgement had already been passed by then and Livingstone had moved on to appealing it.  The judgement finally comes down in April and that’s the big switch, with Livingstone winning rather than losing.

Honestly, I have no idea how feasible that is.  It’s been a long time since I read Deception and Doublecross so I don’t know what would need to change to impact the outcome there.  Maybe Livingstone hires a better lawyer or it’s a different judge or something.  For the sake of this, the details don’t matter, just the outcome.

The Arena Company was already in financial trouble in our timeline but the added pressure of having lost the lawsuit and needing to appeal (rather than simply fight off an appeal) gives Livingstone leverage to simply take over the company.

I imagine that Livingstone and Quinn would make their play for Quebec regardless of what was happening in Toronto but that the NHL – already scrambling to figure out what to do – would clue in on Quinn’s intentions pretty quickly.

As I recall it, Ottawa’s participation in the coup against Livingstone was led by Tommy Gorman.  With Ted Dey gaining full control of the team, he’s able to be lured to join Livingstone with the prospect of a league controlled by arena owners.  Livingstone doesn’t actually care about that idea but uses it as bait for Dey, which gives him the voting bloc he needs to take over the NHA.

Frank Calder and George Kennedy aren’t going to take their loss lying down, hence propping up dead teams to keep the NHL alive.  These are teams run on a shoestring budget, hence the Canadiens dominating the league.

Come spring of 1919, the Canadiens don’t go West for the Stanley Cup, which means the team doesn’t get the Spanish Flu.  Joe Hall lives and the Cup is awarded as scheduled.

After a chaotic year, the two sides are still trying to figure out where they stand, which is part of why the NHL fails to close the deal with Hamilton.  That gives Livingstone time to steal the market out from under them (as the NHL did to Livingstone’s stillborn CHA in our timeline).  Going back to Quebec isn’t financially viable for the NHL.  Neither is Kingston, really, but for the NHL, giving up Quebec for Kingston looks better than giving up Quebec for Hamilton, losing out on Hamilton anyway, then being forced to go back to Quebec.

Unsurprisingly, Kingston fails but now the NHL gets to take advantage of a Livingstone mistake, picking up Buffalo.  The NHA still gets Pittsburgh.  We’re seeing cities that didn’t have teams in our world get them sooner because the two leagues are pushing harder for expansion to muscle each other out.

Meanwhile the Montreal Wanderers get bought up by the group that bought the Canadiens in our timeline.  No longer run as a placeholder, the team makes an immediate turnaround.

The fight for markets becomes most visible in 1922.

Huntington Hardwick, who got the Chicago NHL franchise in 1926 in our timeline (before flipping it to McLaughlin), is four years earlier in his career here, so he partners with other interests in his hometown instead of going to Chicago.  This cuts out Charles Adams, who didn’t get interested in hockey until our 1924 Stanley Cup Finals, and results in the team being the Boston Braves instead of the Boston Bruins.

In Detroit we find a relatively generic group of local businessmen and a plot of land.  Are they the same businessmen who brought the NHL to Detroit in our world?  Is the plot of land where our Olympia was?  Doesn’t matter.  The new arena is still named after the Olympia in London, though, and without the associated purchase of the Victoria Cougars, the team is named after the arena (as a real-world minor league team was).

Livingstone was holding out for New York but there’s simply no good arena there in 1922.  Madison Square Garden II doesn’t have ice, so he backs off and goes to Philadelphia instead (where “Arrows” was a minor-league team in our timeline).  That’s not how it looks as it happens, though, as the more-desperate NHL goes to New York anyway.

In our world, the Brooklyn Ice Palace is where the Americans practiced after changing their city name to “Brooklyn.”  In this world, they played there under the “New York” location name.

We get a look out West and see that with the influx of teams in the East (twelve in this timeline compared to four in ours) is wrecking the western leagues sooner.

George Kennedy dodged the Spanish Flu in this timeline only to die in a tragic car accident two years later.  This puts the Canadiens in the hands of his widow, who promptly sold them in our world.  Here, no one wants to be the second team in Montreal in a second-tier league, so there are no buyers.  Kennedy also burned through more cash keeping the league afloat so she’s more willing to sell the team piece by piece to get money back.

Meanwhile, with the NHA having gone to Detroit already, Chicago is closer to the league’s footprint, close enough to reach out to to gauge interest.  So the Blackhawks come in with McLaughlin the owner (he already had money in 1923 so the change in timeframe doesn’t matter so much there).  With the Boston Braves already in the league, the Blackhawks never go with their Indian-head branding, which is part of why the spelling is “Blackhawks” instead of “Black Hawks” from the start.  Maybe this means my Blackhawks fauxback concept gets used in this world.

The Montreal Forum still gets built and the Wanderers jump there, then jump to the NHA.  You have to imagine that move had been in the works for a while, given how the Wanderers chafed at being in a second-tier league but were hamstrung by the NHA ban at Mount Royal Arena.  They’d probably talked to Buffalo about it as well, which is why they jumped so quickly, too.  The Americans still have arena issues but Livingstone is able to negotiate a deal for them.

The NHL is dead.  The WHL follows soon after.  None of the WHL teams’ rosters are purchased as a whole but the top players find their way east pretty quickly.  It should be noted that at this point, team rosters are nothing like what they were in our timeline, so there’s simply no comparing the 1926 New York Rangers of our world with their alternate counterparts.

Speaking of the Rangers, with the Toronto Blueshirts already in the league, blue sweaters with red lettering aren’t going to work so well.  Hence the red sweaters with blue lettering.  There are no Montreal Canadiens to worry about matching, after all.

Cleveland getting a team is a stretch.  The arena is ridiculously small compared to the new stadia going up at the time but Livingstone isn’t one to say no to an interested ownership group.  They’re not helped by having to play in the Canadian Division with the league already imbalanced.

As previously mentioned, rosters are nothing like they were in our timeline, so this is where I stop making note of Stanley Cup Champions on an annual basis.

Boston Garden goes up as in our timeline while Chicago Stadium is built a year early, as the team started earlier.  Buffalo goes to Peace Bridge Arena, which is constructed exactly as it was in our world.

The owners of the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets hit the same financial problems as they did in our timeline and Duquesne Gardens is ancient even by 1930 standards.  With Philadelphia already taken (and not competing with the C-AHL, therefore healthier), it’s not available as a relocation target, so the team is sold to the same group that would attempt to acquire an expansion team in 1932 in our world.  That group is led by James E. Norris and with his money behind them (and the NHA’s upcoming travel-friendly realignment), the Flyers are in better shape than the Eagles.

Cleveland fails quickly, as playing in such a small venue will do to a team.  But the venue is suitable for a C-AHL team so we see the market live on.

The Maple Leafs build their new arena, but with Livingstone (informally, if nothing else) owning the “Garden” brand in Toronto, Conn Smythe builds “Maple Leaf Coliseum.”  Not willing to be a tenant to the Leafs or play in the city’s now-second-class arena, Livingstone builds Toronto Gardens.  Neither of these are strictly analogous to our Maple Leaf Gardens but you have to think that MLC is pretty close to MLG given that the same people are building it at the same time.  Perhaps Toronto Gardens are based more on Chicago Stadium and the Detroit Olympia.

With Norris owning the Flyers, he doesn’t buy the Detroit team, but because the Olympias are not the Cougars/Falcons, they don’t have the same problems anyway and never go into receivership.  This means they don’t become the Red Wings.

While Detroit is better off, Ottawa still has trouble, because they’re small-market.  Livingstone sees an opportunity in Ottawa’s failure and gives Minneapolis a shot (since St. Louis isn’t available for the Senators to relocate to anyway).  Minneapolis Arena isn’t much smaller than Philadelphia Arena but with the Millers having to travel so much further than the Arrows, it just doesn’t work out there.

Peace Bridge Arena still collapses, as it did in our timeline.  Rather than going back to Broadway Auditorium, though, the Bisons go to Hamilton.  Despite the merged club initially taking the Tigers’ name, this is really the Bisons temporarily moving to Hamilton and adding some of their players.  Future histories will probably show the Bisons as on hiatus during their time in Hamilton.

Buffalo Memorial Auditorium gets built two years earlier than in our world, with the Bisons stuck in Hamilton waiting for it.  Cleveland Arena gets built on schedule but it takes another year before Albert C. Sutphin gets the NHA franchise from its original owners.

The Philadelphia Arrows build a new arena as a public works project.  That wouldn’t have happened in our timeline because there was no team to build an arena for.  The location is one that would be proposed several years later by the people who wanted to reactivate the Montreal Maroons franchise in Philadelphia in our world.

As happened in reality, the New York Americans look to move to Brooklyn.  Having actually played there in this timeline, they try to go back to their old venue.  Livingstone, backed by the success of Cleveland having taken a hiatus to build an arena, suggests that the Americans do the same, so the season of the Brooklyn Americans playing at Madison Square Garden doesn’t happen.  Post-war, though, the Amerks get their arena, named in honor of the war’s veterans, and successfully return to the league.

Readmitting the Americans and realigning the league is the last thing Eddie Livingstone does as league president.  More successful in this world than in ours, he lives two years longer, but even his time runs out.


The timeline is really Livingstone’s story so it ends there but I have thoughts about the NHA’s future.

The league has basically been run as a benevolent dictatorship for thirty years, so it’s going to take some time to figure out how things work without Livingstone.  Once that’s sorted out, I think you’ll see another push to go out west.  While our NHL was conservative with awarding teams, to the point of blocking the return of the Americans and keeping the Cleveland Barons out, this NHA takes chances and has been rewarded by getting to markets first, in the case of St. Louis and Philadelphia (though they don’t have the hindsight that we have to know that).

There is no “Original Six” era, no “Great Expansion” to delineate things.  The Livingstone Era and the modern era, perhaps.

At this point, you can’t count on any of the arenas constructed in our world to exist in this one, but there will probably be analogues.  I see someone building a new arena in Minneapolis/St. Paul in the early- to mid-1950s and the Minneapolis (or Minnesota) Millers making a return.  Possibly Kansas City gets a team around the same time but I’ll assume not.

In the early 1960s there would be a jump to the Pacific coast.  Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver.  Throughout that decade some holes in the footprint would be patched up.  Denver, Baltimore, Pittsburgh.

By 1970, every city that had an NHL team in our timeline has one, with two in New York and Toronto, plus Cleveland, Seattle, Baltimore, and Denver.  Twenty teams instead of fourteen.

This probably means there’s no World Hockey Association, or if there is one it’s not as successful.  The NHA is just too big to challenge, entrenched in too many markets.  That means there’s no battle for players (though this NHA is bigger than our NHL so they’re still fighting amongst themselves).

If Atlanta builds the Omni, I see the NHA going there.  Would Uniondale even build a Nassau Coliseum analogue with Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Veterans Memorial Arena already?  I’m going to say no, or at least it’s going to be smaller than the NHA would be interested in, so there are no New York Islanders.

The Baltimore team probably moves to Washington, much like the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets did, if Capital Centre gets built.

Kansas City probably gets their team in the 1970s sometime to put the league at 22 teams, at which point the league starts expanding in pairs to keep things even.  Without a battle for players, Kansas City is better in their expansion year, which might save them.

That puts the NHA in every market that our NHL was in by the mid-1970s.  With no WHA, does the league go to Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford?  I don’t think so, which probably means the NHA never goes to the Canadian prairies at all, leaving it for the CHL.

That means further expansion is in the American Midwest and South, looking a little bit more like NBA expansion.  Dallas and Phoenix in 1980.  Milwaukee and Houston make noise but always seem to fall short.  As does Oklahoma City, with some significant hockey history.  The new Meadowlands Arena seems like a landing spot for a team in the early 1980s but no one really wants to be the fourth team in the market, behind the Rangers, Americans, and Arrows.

By the 1990s the league is still going to want the big national TV deal the NHL chased in our reality. If Disney and Blockbuster come knocking, they’re going to go to Anaheim and Miami (and if the owners are the same, the team names are probably going to be the same).  Tampa Bay doesn’t make it, with Oklahoma City edging them out in the 1995 expansion and the league going back to Ottawa.

Our NHL aimed to be at 28 teams by 2000 but expanded to 30.  This NHA is at 28 teams in 1995 so there’s no late-1990s/early-2000s expansion.

With the Toronto Blueshirts and the Montreal Wanderers facing off in the NHA Centennial Classic on January 5, 2010, the league is as follows:

Anaheim Ducks (1993)
Atlanta Flames (1972)
Boston Braves (1922)
Brooklyn Americans (1922)
Buffalo Bisons (1921)
Chicago Blackhawks (1923)
Cleveland Barons (1927)
Dallas Texans (1980)
Denver Spurs (1967)
Detroit Olympias (1922)
Florida Panthers (1993)
Kansas City Scouts (1976)
Los Angeles Stars (1962)
Minnesota Millers (1952)
Montreal Wanderers (1909)
New York Rangers (1926)
Oklahoma City Blazers (1995)
Ottawa Senators (1995)
Philadelphia Arrows (1922)
Phoenix Roadrunners (1980)
Pittsburgh Hornets (1965)
San Francisco Seals (1962)
Seattle Totems (1962)
St. Louis Flyers (1930)
Toronto Blueshirts (1912)
Toronto Maple Leafs (1912)
Vancouver Canucks (1962)
Washington Eagles (1974) / Baltimore Clippers (1967)

More NHL Alternate History

I posted an NHL alternate history timeline a little while ago.  I’m a big fan of alternate history in general, so when I saw a thread at AlternateHistory.com earlier this week asking how the NHL could have been prevented from expanding outside of the Northeast, my interest was piqued.

Short of being surpassed by another league early on, I think it’s inevitable that the NHL would eventually stretch across the entire continent.  There’s too much money to be made from a national TV contract and team owners won’t turn that down out of some kind of solidarity with the Northeast.  If it wasn’t about money, Winnipeg and Quebec and Hartford would never have lost their teams.

But I do think there’s a way that the NHL could remain somewhat regional for a little bit longer.  It requires a change in direction that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s theoretically possible.


It’s the early 1970s and the NHL has just expanded to Buffalo and Vancouver.  For whatever reason, the league decides not to try to compete with the newborn WHA.  Maybe it’s been too much stress on the league, expanding from six teams to 14 in just a handful of years.  Maybe they don’t see the WHA as a threat (which is odd just a few years removed from seeing the WHL as one).

Whatever the reason, this means that they don’t go into Long Island in an attempt to deny the NYC market to the WHA, and with their expansion partner gone, the Atlanta Flames disappear as well.

The NHL still goes to Kansas City and Landover in 1974. There’s prestige to being in the US capital so they won’t pass up the new arena there and they need another team to balance it out. The Scouts don’t last and move to Denver in 1976.

With their own rink in New York, the WHA has stability there. With the Omni in Atlanta available, the Miami Screaming Eagles move there instead of Philadelphia (and then Vancouver, and then Calgary).

By 1976, the leagues have something of a handshake agreement to not compete with each other for markets, driven mostly by the WHA’s failed attempts to do so everywhere except for Long Island and the NHL’s general lack of interest in the WHA’s locations.

With a stronger WHA, the Cleveland Crusaders (for one) are solvent, so the Gunds keep the Golden Seals in Oakland.  Come 1982, the Rockies stay in Colorado rather than unbalancing the New York market.

In 1985, the WHA kind of sandwiches the NHL geographically. It’s anchored in the south, with Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Southern California (San Diego). Then they’ve got Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary in the Canadian prairies. Quebec, New England (Hartford), and New York are what’s left of their intrusions into traditional NHL territory, while Cincinnati and Cleveland make Ohio a WHA state.

The NHL, meanwhile, is as follows: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, California (Oakland), Minnesota, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Vancouver, Colorado (Denver), and Washington (Landover, MD).

Competition for players is taking its toll on both leagues. Both leagues want a big TV contract but can’t get it without the other’s territory. In the WHA, Southern California and New England are barely hanging on, basically propped up to keep the league relevant in Boston and Los Angeles (both of which are a stretch anyway).

Though the late 1980s the two leagues cooperate on interleague exhibitions and all-star games. A four-team “champions tournament” (made up of each league’s conference champions) is scheduled in 1988 and 1989, but both years the Stanley Cup Champions find an excuse for backing out (the NHL refuses to risk their champion losing to someone from the upstart league).

Finally, after years of negotiations and rumors, the two leagues merge in 1992. As part of the merger, the New England Whalers are sold to H. Wayne Huizenga and moved to Miami while the Southern California Mariners are sold to Disney (on the heels of their hit kids movie, “The Mighty Eagles” [in the movie, the team’s benefactor’s name is Eagleston, as Disney wasn’t going to have their team share a name with the WHA’s Long Island Ducks]) and moved to Anaheim.

The 1992 NHL is as follows:

Mighty Eagles of Anaheim
Atlanta Blazers
Birmingham Bulls
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Cowboys
California Golden Seals
Chicago Blackhawks
Cincinnati Stingers
Cleveland Crusaders
Colorado Rockies
Dallas Texans
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Houston Aeros
Long Island Ducks
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars
Montreal Canadiens
New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Philadelphia Flyers
Phoenix Roadrunners
Quebec Nordiques
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

Technically, the NHL didn’t expand much, they just merged with a league that did.


Follow-up thoughts…

I imagine Birmingham, Cincinnati, Quebec, and Winnipeg would be at risk through the 1990s. With Denver and Phoenix already taken, relocation wouldn’t look the same.  Who even knows what cities would be building arenas then?

Hamilton might be an option with their then-new arena. Ottawa or Tampa could build an arena, as they did for expansion. East Rutherford is probably out, though, with their arena outdated by then.  Nashville and Raleigh are possible landing places by the late 1990s but Columbus won’t be as long as one of Cincinnati or Cleveland survives.

An Alternate NHL (Revisited)

Way back in 2006 I posted an alternate history timeline to the now-defunct DH.N forums.  The idea was a world where the Quebec Nordiques never relocated to Denver and looking at what relocation and expansion might have taken place after that.

I was going to pull that out of the archives and re-post it, but, after giving it another look, I think there was a different direction to take.  This is my re-visit to that idea.


Spring 1995
A possible deal involving COMSAT Entertainment Group purchasing the Quebec Nordiques falls through when a small, eleventh-hour financial bailout is granted to the Nordiques by the government of Quebec. The Nordiques pledge to remain in Quebec for at least three more seasons, continuing to ask for a new arena.

December 3, 1995
Patrick Roy demands a trade from the Montreal Canadiens. The Nordiques inquire but Montreal refuses to trade Roy to a division- and province-rival. Roy eventually goes to the Dallas Stars with Mike Keane for Manny Fernandez, Guy Carbonneau and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Spring 1996
The Stars just miss the playoffs after surging since picking up Roy.

Quebec endures a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Philadelphia to advance to face Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Detroit wins the series in six close games. Goalie Chris Osgood is the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Summer 1996
The Winnipeg Jets are sold to COMSAT Entertainment Group and relocated to Denver, Colorado. They become the Colorado Avalanche.

The Quebec Nordiques look to upgrade their goaltending, trading Stephane Fiset and Andrei Kovalenko to the Chicago Blackhawks for Ed Belfour. Belfour had previously demanded a trade, ripping into his teammates and insulting fan-favorite backup goaltender Jeff Hackett after his team’s second-straight loss to Detroit in the Western Conference Finals.

The Hartford Whalers trade the disgruntled Brendan Shanahan to Detroit for Mike Vernon and Keith Primeau. Vernon was deemed expendable by the Red Wings with the younger Chris Osgood in net.

Spring 1997
The Quebec Nordiques best the Hartford Whalers in an Eastern Conference Finals goaltending duel. Mike Vernon and Ed Belfour combine for five shutouts in the series, won by a Joe Sakic goal in the final moments of Game Seven.

The defending champions lack the motivation they had the previous season and the Dallas Stars take advantage of that in the Western Conference Finals, eliminating Detroit in five games, including three shutouts by Roy. Osgood is unspectacular, leading Red Wings fans to complain about the trade of Vernon and making Shanahan a scapegoat.

After few thought the goalie matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals could be matched, Belfour and Roy create a series for the ages. The Nordiques defeat the Stars in six games, all decided by one goal and four in overtime. Belfour is the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

June 25, 1997
With the Hartford Whalers and the defending champion Quebec Nordiques still looking for new arena deals, the NHL announces that they will put off expansion at this time.  This leaves several markets on the table for those two teams to use as leverage against their current homes.

Quite a bit of backroom dealing is required to pacify the prospective owners who feel like they’ve been led on a wild goose chase.  For some, just being unofficially notified that they were a near-shoo-in is enough.  St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, is so certain that they’ll be awarded a team that they move forward with plans to demolish the St. Paul Civic Center and replace it with a new arena.  On the other hand, lack of a decision essentially kills both public- and private-sector support for an arena in Columbus, Ohio.

August 7, 1997
After losing Mark Messier to the Vancouver Canucks via free agency, the New York Rangers make the bold move of signing Quebec captain Joe Sakic to a offer sheet as a restricted free agent.  The deal includes a $15 million signing bonus, intended to dissuade the cash-strapped Nordiques from exercising their right to match the contract.

It’s a plan that works.  The defending champions have leverage in arranging a new arena but they’ve lost their captain.

Spring 1998
Defending champion Quebec Nordiques are led into the playoffs by new captain Peter Forsberg and a dominant season in goal by Ed Belfour.  The Nordiques’ reward?  A first-round matchup with Joe Sakic and the New York Rangers.  Sakic and Wayne Gretzky prove too much for Quebec to handle as the Rangers advance in a four-game sweep.  Particularly bitter for Quebec fans is Sakic scoring the game-winning goal at Le Colisee late in Game Four.

The Rangers move on to make quick work of the Philadelphia Flyers, then Mike Richter outduels Olaf Kolzig and the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals as New York advances to face the Dallas Stars.

Patrick Roy dominates the Western Conference for the Stars, getting through the first three rounds of the playoffs with a 1.78 goals-against average.  The Rangers, particularly Gretzky, are able to get to him in the Stanley Cup Finals, but Richter’s spectacular run ends as well.

Mike Modano scores seven goals in the six-game series, leading the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Championship and claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP.

Late June 1998
A series of announcements shake up the structure of the NHL.

On June 19, just days after the close of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Hartford Whalers announce their intent to relocate to St. Paul, Minnesota.  For two seasons they will call Minneapolis’ Target Center home until the new arena in St. Paul is complete.  Team owner Peter Karmanos had intended to move a year earlier but the Whalers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997 led him to hold off.  In the end, an agreement to keep the team in Connecticut couldn’t be reached, though Hartford fans and officials accused him of negotiating in bad faith.

“Proof” of that bad faith is demonstrated three days later, with the NHL announcing it’s delayed expansion plan.  Though no one formally submitted an expansion application on its behalf, Raleigh, North Carolina, is named as one of the league’s new cities, to be owned by Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson.  Raleigh had attempted to woo Karmanos and the Whalers and many view their expansion franchise as a consolation prize.  Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; and Houston, Texas; are also granted expansion franchises.  Portland and Houston will begin play for the 1999-2000 season while Phoenix and Raleigh will join for 2000-2001.  A new league alignment is not announced, fostering theories that another shoe is yet to drop.

On June 26, rumors begin to swirl that the Quebec Nordiques will join the Whalers in relocating.  No arena plan has been announced for the team and Nashville, Tennessee, had been conspicuously left out of the league’s expansion plans.  The next morning, hours before the start of the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, the rumors are confirmed: The Nordiques will be sold and moved to Nashville.  This leads to an awkward position where the team drafts as Quebec while everyone knows the players will never wear a Nordiques sweater again.

July 20, 1998
The NHL belatedly announces new divisional alignments that feature three five-team divisions in each conference.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs will make up the Northeast Division; the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins will play in the Atlantic Division; the Southeast Division will be made up of the Carolina Hurricanes (entering 2000-2001), Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals.

In the Western Conference, the Midwest Division will be the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Houston Aeros (entering 1999-2000), and St. Louis Blues. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Northmen, Portland Navigators (entering 1999-2000), and Vancouver Canucks will make up the Northwest Division while the Pacific Division will consist of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Arizona Scorpions (entering 2000-2001), Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks.

For the first season under the new alignment, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play in the Midwest Division to help even out the conferences until expansion evens out the number of teams.

Spring 1999
The Detroit Red Wings head back to the top of the NHL, with the strong defensive triumvirate of Nicklas Lidstrom, Vladimir Konstantinov, and a resurgent Paul Coffey helping make up for the average play of goalie Chris Osgood in a relatively weak Midwest Division.

The defending conference champion Dallas Stars claim the third seed for the playoffs (behind Detroit and the Colorado Avalanche, who won their division for the first time) and sweep the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the first round. Unfortunately, Patrick Roy suffers a hand injury and is unavailable as the Stars fall to the Avalanche in the second round.

Game Six of the New York Rangers’ second-round series with the Buffalo Sabres is the last of Wayne Gretzky‘s legendary career.  The Rangers are shutdown by Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek while Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine and free-agent signee Brett Hull carry their team past the defending conference champions.

In what’s technically a rematch of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, the Red Wings eliminate the Nashville Predators in five games, then the St. Louis Blues in six games.  They go on to defeat Colorado and advance to face the New Jersey Devils, who knocked out the Sabres in the Eastern Conference Finals.

As it was in the regular season, Detroit’s defense is the difference in the Finals. Even boosted by the trade deadline acquisition of Chris Chelios, the Devils can’t stop the Red Wings, who win the series in six games with captain Steve Yzerman leading the team in scoring and claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Following his team’s championship, Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom announced his intent to return home to Sweden, ending his NHL career on top.

June 24, 1999
Ted Turner buys the bankrupt Pittsburgh Penguins, beating out an offer by former player Mario Lemieux. The team will play one final season in Pittsburgh before relocating to Atlanta to play alongside Turner’s Atlanta Hawks of the NBA. After some legal trouble, the team is christened the Atlanta Thrashers.  The Thrashers will play in the Southeast Division, swapping places with the Washington Capitals.

June 26, 1999
In a messy and public ordeal, the Red Wings and Paul Coffey part ways as Coffey is traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Detroit gets Toronto’s second and third round draft picks in that day’s NHL Entry Draft, using them to select local forwards Adam Hall and Mike Comrie.  With Lidstrom and Coffey gone, alternate captain and Norris Trophy winner Vladimir Konstantinov is left as the leader of the Red Wings’ blue line.

July 1, 1999
Though he was initially hesitant to enter free agency at all, defenseman Chris Chelios is convinced by US Olympic teammates Pat LaFontaine and Brett Hull to sign with the Buffalo Sabres.

March 6, 2000
The Dallas Stars acquire future Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque from the Boston Bruins for Brendan Morrow and two draft picks.  The longtime Boston captain had requested a trade to a contending team in an effort to end his career with a Stanley Cup Championship.

Spring 2000
The Dallas Stars return to the Stanley Cup Finals, surviving a grueling Western Conference Finals matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.  Dallas’ Patrick Roy and Colorado’s Nikolai Khabibulin deliver a goaltending duel for the ages while the series also showcases a physical matchup between the two teams’ captains: Derian Hatcher of the Stars and Keith Tkachuk of the Avalanche.

While the Western Conference feature an epic goalie showdown in its final series, the Eastern Conference is full of them.  With names such as Curtis Joseph in Toronto, Olaf Kolzig in Washington, Mike Richter with the New York Rangers, Dominik Hasek in Buffalo, and Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, this should have been expected.  Brodeur’s Devils emerge from the East, having shut down the Sabres’ mini-Team USA of Pat LaFontaine, Brett Hull, and Chris Chelios in the conference finals.

For the second consecutive season, the Devils fall short in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Down 3-2 in the series, a double-overtime goal by Jason Arnott forces Game Seven and keeps New Jersey alive, but Roy cements his clutch status with a shutout in the deciding game as Dallas earns a 2-0 win.

As expected, Ray Bourque announces his retirement immediately following the game.  The image of Hatcher handing Bourque the Stanley Cup becomes iconic.

Spring 2001
The Colorado Avalanche knock off the Dallas Stars as Western Conference Champions.  While Dallas’ Patrick Roy generally outplays Colorado’s Nikolai Khabibulin, the depth of the Avalanche is just too much for the Stars to handle.  It’s a team effort from Colorado, with the blue line led by Teppo Numminen and summer free agent signing Gary Roberts easing the load on Keith Tkachuk and Shane Doan up front.

In the Eastern Conference, the Team USA reunion in Buffalo would not be denied.  Pat LaFontaine and Brett Hull combine with Miroslav Satan for a dominant forward unit.  Chris Chelios anchors the Sabres’ blue line.  To say nothing of Dominik Hasek.  The Sabres blow through the first three rounds with hardly a speedbump presented by the defending conference champion Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Stanley Cup Finals games are close but not many of them are needed.  The Avs simply can’t solve Hasek and the Sabres end the series in five games, claiming their first Stanley Cup Championship.

July 19, 2001
After months of rumors, Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux returns from retirement, signing with his hometown Montreal Canadiens.  Two months later, Saku Koivu relinquishes the team captaincy to Lemieux while announcing that he would miss the season recovering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.


Some notes…

As I said when I originally posted this, it’s pretty general and has some faults but I still think it’s interesting.

I had to cut it off in 2001 because it’s just too hard to see what players would be where by then.  It’s easy to assume that each team would mostly have it’s core intact six years after the point of departure but what draft picks would they have made?  I originally had a comment about Jiri Fischer learning from Vladimir Konstantinov but would the Red Wings have even picked Fischer in a 1998 where they have a higher draft pick?  Can I count on Maxim Afinogenov being part of the 2001 Stanley Cup Champion Sabres?

Additionally, by delaying expansion the entire 1998 draft is thrown into flux.  How would things look without a 27th team in 1998 impacting trades and free agency?  How would it look without that year’s expansion draft?  Do we have Vincent Lecavalier of the San Jose Sharks and David Legwand of the Tampa Bay Lightning?

With completely different organizations joining the fold in 1999 and 2000, who can say who they would pick?

We start seeing “butterflies” pretty quickly.  With no Roy-led Avalanche in 1996, there’s no one to stop the Red Wings.  With Osgood leading the Wings, Vernon becomes expendable and Coffey isn’t needed in the Shanahan trade (which, I admit, I mostly included because I still want Shanahan on the Red Wings).  Having won in 1996, the Red Wings have less motivation in 1997, and because they’re not celebrating a Cup that spring there’s no limo accident for Vladimir Konstantinov.

I don’t think you can prevent the Jets or the Whalers or the Nordiques from moving.  The original version of this timeline did but I don’t think the butterflies are that strong.  Karmanos wanted out of Hartford, one winning season on the back of Mike Vernon isn’t going to change that.  Meanwhile, losing Joe Sakic just proves to emphasize that there’s not enough money in Quebec to support the Nordiques.

Would the NHL actually delay expansion?  I think that might be the second-biggest stretch in this.  I imagine a lot of back-room handshake deals.  The delay enables Houston and Portland to improve their positions while Columbus drops out.

The biggest stretch is Raleigh getting an expansion team without bidding, especially with Turner in Atlanta denied.  This is akin to St. Louis getting the Blues in the Great Expansion.  My thought is that with no Raleigh-based bid, the league recruits Bill Davidson to own the team, preempting his efforts to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Would he want to do that without controlling the arena, though?

With butterflies to the schedule, Pat LaFontaine never suffers his concussions, leading him to continue as a dominant force.  The Rangers get Sakic so they don’t trade for him and the Sabres build around him with his Olympic teammates.

Another player who might be profoundly impacted by butterflies in this timeline is Steve Chiasson.  He won’t be playing for the Carolina Hurricanes in 1999, so the accident that killed him doesn’t happen.  That said, given his actions prior to that incident, it’s entirely possible some other event comes along.

The rise of the Jets/Avalanche comes on the back of Nikolai Khabibulin, who doesn’t hold out and get traded to Tampa Bay.  In fact, the Lightning are probably in a bad place since Bill Davidson owns the Hurricanes in this scenario.  Or maybe at some point Davidson pulls a Craig Leipold (who’s probably a co-owner of the Minnesota Northmen in this universe) and swaps the Hurricanes for the Lightning since he really wanted that arena.

Other teams in a bad place?  Without local ownership, the Hurricanes will probably have difficulty.  Assuming Atlanta’s ownership takes the same path it did in real life, the Thrashers won’t last long.  I see two of Winnipeg, Quebec, and Pittsburgh getting teams back, eventually.

One thing that could save the Thrashers: Captain Jaromir Jagr.  Theoretically these Thrashers don’t have to sell off their players like the Penguins did, so they should be able to rebound more quickly.  Would a better team in Atlanta have gotten more support?

The Scorpions?  Someone submitting an expansion bid for Phoenix with the Jets having gone to Denver.  Their future is tied to whoever that new owner is.  But they’re “Arizona” from the start because by the time they come into existence, the Arizona Diamondbacks are around and “Arizona” has become the place-name for Phoenix teams.

Is there a lockout in 2004?  I’m sure of it.  Do we get a Las Vegas expansion for 2017?  Probably.

Jaromir Jagr of the Atlanta Thrashers.  Joe Sakic of the New York Rangers.  Keith Tkachuk of the Colorado Avalanche.  Peter Forsberg of the Nashville Predators…  in 1998.  Alternate history is weird.

Anyway, this was fun to revisit.  If you’ve got any thoughts, feel free to post them in the comments.