Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?
After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)
The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.
On April 18 the NHL will hold its annual draft lottery. This year, however, it comes with a welcome twist. Any of the 14 teams that miss the playoffs could win the first-overall pick, giving them the right to draft Connor McDavid, arguably the best prospect since Sidney Crosby, who many are calling the next Sidney Crosby.
Provided they continue to stink the rest of the season, the five bottom feeders – Buffalo, Arizona, Edmonton, Toronto and Carolina – will have the best odds to win the lottery. Taken together, however, they only have a 63 percent chance to draft McDavid. The other nine non-playoff teams collectively have a 37 percent chance, better than 1-in-3 odds.
Imagine if the Boston Bruins and/or Los Angeles Kings miss the post-season and win the lottery. If you’re the Bruins, with an aging Zdeno Chara and a roster built to win now, wouldn’t you consider reloading with Crosby instead of rebuilding with McDavid? If you’re the Kings, wouldn’t you be salivating at the possibility of a Crosby-led Kings club that could become the first dynasty since the 1980s Edmonton Oilers?
Then there are Dallas and Colorado. If you’re the Stars and Avs, doesn’t adding Crosby make you a Cup contender next season?
But it’s not only these teams that could be tripping all over themselves to land Crosby. Columbus, Florida or New Jersey would instantly get a superstar to sell to a struggling market. Calgary, Minnesota and Winnipeg may be hockey-mad markets, but the opportunity to become immediately maniacal might be too tempting to pass up. And you got to think Ottawa and San Jose would kick the crap out of these trade tires if either held the No. 1 pick and Pittsburgh came calling.
Then there’s that other Pennsylvania team. Now, this would be like Derek Jeter playing for the Boston Red Sox, but Crosby in a Flyers uniform could end the franchise’s four-decades-long championship drought as early as next season. There’s no other hair-trigger owner in the NHL like Philly’s Ed Snider, and just imagine the Stanley Cup scenarios that would be swirling in his white-haired head at the thought of a Crosby-Claude Giroux 1-2 punch down the middle. Even if GM Ron Hextall weren’t onboard, Snider gets what Snider wants.
For each of these teams, as currently constituted, trading for Crosby is just as, if not more, tempting than drafting McDavid, even if he does turn out to be the next Crosby. An 18-year-old Crosby can’t win them the Cup now, but a 28-year-old Crosby sure could. Besides, Crosby is a proven superstar, McDavid only potentially one. However small the likelihood, there’s a chance he doesn’t reach Crosby’s heights.
Would Pittsburgh actually trade the world's best player for the No. 1 pick?
Well, there’s the Captain Obvious argument that if Wayne Gretzky can be traded, then anyone can be dealt, but that’s not the only reason for the Penguins to deal Crosby. Assuming McDavid comes as advertised, they would be getting a potential Crosby for an about-to-pass-his-prime Crosby who will remain one head hit away from retirement for the rest of his career.
A recent study showed that forwards peak in scoring at 28 years old then begin to decline. For a rebuilding team, an appreciating asset like McDavid makes more sense to build around than a depreciating one like Crosby will soon be.
If Pittsburgh gets punted in the first or second round, as looks likely, co-owner Mario Lemieux might finally come to the conclusion that this core can’t win another Cup for the city. If he does, he should move heaven, Earth and the other seven planets to do this deal.
Even among the bottom five teams there are possibilities for the Penguins.
Should the Sabres win the lottery, they’re smart enough to hold onto the No. 1 pick, but the others might be more shortsighted. What if you’re the Coyotes, with one of the NHL’s poorest attendances? Crosby instantly gives that money-bleeding franchise a packed arena on a regular basis at higher ticket prices. And what if you’re the Maple Leafs, who haven’t had a player of Crosby’s stature since, well, never? Could Brendan Shanahan and Co. resist the citywide cacophony from fans demanding the trade if word ever leaked out that Crosby was on the block?
Similar arguments could be made for both the Oilers and the Hurricanes, too.
Of course, all of this is moot if Crosby wouldn't waive his no-trade clause. (His contract has 10 more years left at an annual cap hit of $8.7 million.) But if Pittsburgh decides its done with its current core and wants to start afresh, it’s at least as likely that Crosby would welcome a fresh start, too, and be open to a trade.
Gretzky was traded August 9, 1988, when he was 28 years old. Crosby turns 28 August 7. The logic isn’t ludicrous, even if the scenario is surreal. And stranger things have happened.