In a weeklong series, The Post is looking at alternate realities in New York sports. Today’s edition looked at what would have happened had the Rangers acquired a 19-year-old Eric Lindros in 1992. Here are some Devils and Islanders What-ifs:
The fate of the franchise would have turned on its head had arbitrator Judge Edward Houston awarded Rod Brind’Amour and Curtis Joseph to the Devils rather than Scott Stevens as compensation from the Blues for the signing of free agent Brendan Shanahan in July 1991.
Back in those days, arbitration decided compensation for signing what was then a Group I free agent if the clubs could not agree. The Devils and Blues could not agree. St. Louis offered the 19-year-old center and the 22-year-old goaltender, each of whom had been in the NHL for two seasons. New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello requested Stevens.
Forget, for a moment, the complications that might have arisen in nets if Joseph had been added to the organization that in 1990 had drafted Martin Brodeur, who still had another year of junior and one full season in the AHL before breaking into the league with his Calder-winning 1993-94. Forget, too, that for whatever reason, Brind’Amour was hustled out of St. Louis shortly thereafter the decision, sent to the Flyers with Dan Quinn in exchange for Ron Sutter and Murray Baron.
Consider only that Stevens was indispensable on and off the ice through the Devils’ three championships in the nine years beginning with 1995.
No Stevens, no Stanley Cups.
No what-if’s about it.
Maybe the Islanders would not have beaten the Canadiens in the 1993 conference finals if Pierre Turgeon had been at full strength and maybe the Islanders would not have then defeated the Kings in the final to win the Stanley Cup even with a healthy No. 77, but we’ll never know, will we?
That is the what-if that hangs over the franchise that was deprived of having its most dynamic player at the height of his powers after Dale Hunter’s cowardly hit from behind on Turgeon while the center celebrated the goal that gave the Islanders a 5-1 lead midway through the third period of what would be the clinching Game 6 of the first round.
Hunter was suspended for the first 21 games of the following season, but that was hardly salve for the Islanders or Turgeon, who had recorded 132 points (58-74) during the year but would miss the next round against the Penguins with a separated shoulder. That was the series in which the Islanders prevailed in seven over the two-time defending champion Penguins on David Volek’s Game 7 overtime goal.
Turgeon did return for the final four games of the conference finals, and though he recorded five points (2-3), he was compromised throughout. Those charismatic Islanders of Steve Thomas, Derek King, Benoit Hogue, Ray Ferraro, Pat Flatley, Vlad Malakhov, Glenn Healy and Co. fell short, losing in five to Patrick Roy and the Montreal team that would conquer the Kings in five in the Cup final.
Could the Islanders have beaten the Great Gretzky for Cup No. 5 with a healthy Turgeon? They’d sure have had a pretty darn good shot. They’d sure have liked to know.