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What if the Washington Capitals Draft Joe Sakic? – Hockey Writers – Washington Capitals

During the NHL draft on June 13, 1987, a trade was completed between the Washington Capitals and the Quebec Nordiques. The Capitals received forward Dale Hunter and goaltender Clint Malarchuk for Alan Haworth, Gaetan Duchesne, and a first-round pick in that draft, which went overall pick, and Quebec used it to select center Joe Sakic of the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League (WHL).

That trade is arguably the most important in franchise history for the Nordiques and the Colorado Avalanche. But what if it doesn’t happen and the Capitals draft Sakic with that 15th perfect choice?

Sakic Joins Loaded List

For this hypothetical scenario, let’s assume that Sakic would have joined the Capitals the same season he made his Nordiques debut, which was 1988-89. At the time, the Capitals had an offense that included Mike Ridley, Geoff Courtnall, Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, Dave Christian, and Kelly Miller. On the blue line, they had Kevin Hatcher, Rod Langway, and Scott Stevens.

In his first season in Quebec, Sakic scored 23 goals and 62 points in 70 games, which means, with those marks, he would have finished sixth in scoring on the Capitals (which is where Hunter is ranked). Ridley (89 points), Courtnall (80), Gustafsson (69), Stevens (68), and Christian (65), would all finish with more points than Sakic with 62. But with the talent surrounding him in Washington, he may have surpassed those numbers in his rookie campaign.

Joe Sakic began his career with the Quebec Nordiques. (THW Archives)

In Sakic’s career-best statistical season in 1995-96, he would lead the Capitals with 120 points (51 goals and 69 assists). Washington’s top scorer that season was Michal Pivonka, who had 81 points (16 goals and 65 assists). Other top scorers in this team are Peter Bondra (80), Joe Juneau (64 points), Steve Konowalchuk (45 points), Keith Jones (41 points).

One of DC’s offensive juggernauts during this time was Bondra, but he probably wouldn’t have gotten as much attention if Sakic had been on offense. It is possible that Bondra and Sakic would have played on the same line, and Bondra would have finished with more than 80 points.

Revisiting the 1998 Stanley Cup Final

Considering Sakic was with the Capitals during their 1998 run, he had 63 points in 64 games during the regular season, which ranked third on the team, with only Bondra (78) and Adam Oates (76) having more. If Washington had reached the 1998 Cup Finals with Sakic, he would have been another weapon the Detroit Red Wings would have had to deal with.

The Red Wings may still have won the championship because of how loaded their roster was, but Sakic may have made the biggest difference in the series.

Related: Avalanche vs. Red Wings: Reliving the Great Rivalry

During his NHL career, Sakic posted the following stats in the playoffs:

  • 1992-93 (Nordiques): three goals and three assists for six points in six games
  • 1994-95 (Nordiques): four goals and one assist for five points in six games
  • 1995-96 (Avalanche): 18 goals and 16 assists for 34 points in 22 games
  • 1996-97 (Avalanche): eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 17 games
  • 1997-98 (Avalanche): two goals and three assists for five points in six games
  • 1998-99 (Avalanche): six goals and 13 assists for 19 points in 19 games
  • 1999-00 (Avalanche): two goals and seven assists for nine points in 17 games
  • 2000-01 (Avalanche): 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in 21 games
  • 2001-02 (Avalanche): nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 21 games
  • 2002-03 (Avalanche): six goals and three assists for nine points in seven games
  • 2003-04 (Avalanche): seven goals and five assists for 12 points in 11 games
  • 2005-06 (Avalanche): four goals and five assists for nine points in nine games
  • 2007-08 (Avalanche): two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 10 games

During his time in the league, Sakic was good in the regular season, but he was dominant in the playoffs. When the lights are too bright, you make a significant impact. He was a big reason why Colorado won their first two championships in 1996 and 2001. He would have been the offensive help Washington desperately needed in that 1998 Cup Final if he had been a Capital.

Capitals Might Look Very Different Today

Sakic spent his entire career with the Nordiques and Avalanche. He did not retire until the 2008-09 NHL campaign. If he had spent his entire career in Washington instead, would Alex Ovechkin have been drafted by another team? Would the Capitals still have drafted Nicklas Backstrom even if he had played somewhere else?

While it would have been nice to have Sakic on the Capitals roster, he probably would have canceled the Ovechkin Era. There may not be a Stanley Cup championship in 2018, and Ovechkin may be tying Wayne Gretzky’s record with another franchise.

Jaromir Jagr, Washington Capitals
Jaromir Jagr and the Washington Capitals. (Icon SMI)

The version Washington fans could have instead of Ovechkin-Backstrom would be Sakic and Jaromir Jagr. The Capitals acquired Jagr and Frantisek Kucera from the Pittsburgh Penguins before the 2001-02 campaign for Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschuk, Michal Siv and future considerations.

Jagr was only in DC for parts of three seasons and put up the following numbers:

  • 2001-02: 31 goals and 48 assists for 79 points in 69 games
  • 2002-03: 36 goals and 41 assists for 77 points in 75 games
  • 2003-04: 16 goals and 29 assists for 45 points in 46 games

If Sakic had been with the Capitals at this time, Jagr might not have been moved to the New York Rangers. Washington may have been in a position where they didn’t have to rebuild and trade players like they did with Jagr and Bondra, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, Mike Grier, and Konowalchuk. In the early 2000s, Sakic was scoring as many goals as he had ever done. While Jagr was with the Capitals, Sakic put up the following numbers in Denver:

  • 2001-02: 26 goals and 53 assists for 79 points in 82 games
  • 2002-03: 26 goals and 32 assists for 58 points in 58 games
  • 2003-04: 33 goals and 54 assists for 87 points in 81 games

This was after Sakic produced his second-best statistical campaign in 2000-01 with 118 points in 82 games (54 goals and 64 assists).

The Capitals organization might look completely different today if Sakic had been drafted by Washington in 1987. If he had stayed in Washington until he retired, the administration would probably have tried to stay competitive. Maybe they would have started rebuilding before the 2009-10 season and drafted Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin at the top of the 2010 Draft.

Hindsight Is Always 20/20

At the end of the day, as cool as it is to think about the possibilities of how Sakic would have done with the Capitals, it all worked out very well. The organization has a Stanley Cup banner hanging from the ceiling. They have had many special players wear their jersey in their 50 year history. It’s easy to look back in time with all the teams and point out decisions you should have made differently. Those types of situations will always happen in sports.

All that being said, the Capitals’ trajectory could have changed significantly had they drafted Sakic in 1987. It will show how one trade can change the fortunes of a franchise or two.

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