Not to get too deep into the realm of Quantum Physics (because I wouldn’t know what I am talking about!) but apparently the idea that we are just one of many worlds is not only not ridiculous, but is actually a plausible hypothesis. Maybe this is so, or maybe it’s just another room in the Dark Tower, either way, I would just like to imagine a world where the Maple Leafs have been a successful franchise.
I theorize that this alternative world branches off from our reality sometime in the mid-nineties. March 5th 1996, to be exact.
The Leafs acquired Mats Sundin before the 1994-95 season, thinking that a Gilmour/Sundin combo would put them over the top after 2 straight Western Conference Final Appearances. Unfortunately, the lockout killed most of that season and the Leafs, an older team at the time, seemed to be regressing. I assume the Leafs figured the compressed season didn’t help them much, so they decided to give it another shot with the same group for the next season. Things started out fine, but as the calender turned to 1996, the Leafs found themselves struggling and ended up losing 8 games in a row.
This losing streak culminating with the firing of Pat Burns on March 5th 1996. In retrospect, the Leafs should have tore it all down at this point and rebuilt around Sundin, but if they did that, we wouldn’t need to play make-believe just to keep ourselves sane.
In the alternative version of reality, the world we wished we lived in, instead of calling a press conference to announce the firing of Burns, Fletcher announces to the world that because he has just turned 100, he will be stepping down as the GM of the Leafs. Pat Burns becomes the interim GM until the summer time when Scotty Bowman surprisingly steps down as coach of the Red Wings and takes the GM job in Toronto, retaining Burns as his coach.
With Fletcher gone, the Leafs do not make two of the worst trades in Franchise history.
At the trade deadline in 1996, they most assuredly do not trade Dave Andreychuck to the Devils for a 2nd and 4th round draft picks. They also do not trade Kenny Jonsson and a 1st round pick to the Islanders in order to get back Wendel Clark. They also choose to keep Mike Gartner for one more playoff run. Ultimately, they don’t win the Cup that season,but they do get by the Blues and lose to the Red Wings in the second round.
The 1996 season is off to a way better start because the Leafs don’t hire Mike Murphy and they aren’t wavering between a rebuild and trying to contend. With Burns back as coach, the Leafs are proving they aren’t too old. The players they bailed on in 1996, in real life, Andreychuck and Gartner, posted 27 and 32 goals for their new teams, respectively. Playing in Toronto, with Gilmour and Sundin, those could have been astronomical numbers. Unfortunately, even in the alternative universe, the Leafs are a team of aging vets and they succumb to injury and do not have a very successful season. Still, the fans enjoy watching the growth of Kenny Jonsson and Mats Sundin and with the fourth overall selection, things are looking up and they select Robert Luongo.
The Leafs still elect to sign Curtis Joseph so that they don’t have to rush Luongo, because in the alternate universe, the Leafs are known for being patient with their picks.
And their good drafting: at the 1998 draft, instead of Antropov, the Leafs select Alex Tanguay.
They still trade Felix Potvin to the Islanders for Bryan Berard. Only, in this universe, Berard has the Hall-of-Fame career that was denied him by a freak eye injury restored to him.
In 1999, the Leafs of the Alternative Universe acquire Darcy Tucker as well. It seems he was just meant to be a Leaf. They Sign Shayne Corson. The Leafs have a similarly excellent season as the real life Leafs did and, when drafting at 22, they select, instead of Luca Cerda, Martin Havlat. The team is getting pretty good. They do not, as they did in real life, trade away Danny Markov, Larry Murphy, Yanic Perreault or Adam Mair.
At the beginning of the 2000 season, the Leafs sign Gary Roberts and prepare to embark on the season of a lifetime.
The roster looks like this:
F Gary Roberts – Mats Sundin – Alex Tanguay
Andreychuck – Gilmour – Martin Havlat
Darcy Tucker – Yanic Perreault – Shayne Corson
Gary Valk – Adam Mair – Tie Domi
D Kenny Jonnson – Bryan Berard
Larry Murphy – Tomas Kaberle
Dimitri Yushkevich – Danny Markov
G Robert Luongo
Coached by Pat Burns, the Leafs take the best roster in the NHL first to the Presidents Trophy and then to the Stanley Cup. This stacked and totally plausible team goes on to three-peat and the Leafs become the model franchise for the early part of the new Century. In this world, Mats Sundin wins the Hart Trophy twice, the Con Smythe once and Bryan Berard wins four straight Norris Trophies. Today, if you speak his name, it is usually to compare him to Bryan Leetch, favorably. Also, due to the butterfly effect, for some reason Rap/Rock is never a thing and Kid Rock works as a mechanic in suburban Detroit.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.