Naturally the question is what might have been had there been no lockout, who would have won. What players - most retired by now - might now have their name on the Stanley Cup for the 2004-05 season? To name a winner for that non-season, how about we throw 2003-04 rosters, minus any free agents, into a computer and presto! - out pops the Stanley Cup champs. But who?
Stanley Cup Champs of 2004-05
I think about it every spring. Often if I see an interview with a player now retired who would have played that season, I wonder if maybe he'd have won the Cup were it not for the labor dispute. That NHL lockout was the first time labor unrest wiped out an entire season of a North American major pro sports league and some felt it the greatest offence from a league to fans ever. But for me the 1994 MLB season is a greater sin because, by playing half the schedule, they promised paying fans a World Series but failed to deliver when the August strike ended the season.
In 2004-05 the NHL did not take one cent of fan ticket money under the promise of a Stanley Cup that was not to be. However, as with baseball a decade earlier, no rings, not one Stanley Cup ring, was awarded in what should have been the NHL’s 88th season. Speaking of 88, number 88, Eric Lindros, he was still in the league back then. Maybe he'd have a Stanley Cup ring if not for the lockout. It's enjoyable playing 'what if.'
23 NHL Missing Stanley Cup Rings in 2004-05
The Red Wings finished with 109 points in 2003-04 before the lockout, so Steve Yzerman, who retired the year after the lockout with 3 rings, might have 4 if there had been a season. Joe Sakic with the Avalanche and Patrick Elias, Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur with the Devils all have multiple rings and might have another. So, too, Martin Lapointe with Boston and Tim Taylor with the Lightning, teams that had a legitimate shot had there been a 2004-05 season.
Steve ‘Stumpy’ Thomas didn't play on a Stanley Cup winning team but was with Yzerman on that strong Detroit team in 2003-04. When the lockout came he retired, his final chance at winning ending with the canceling of the season. Jason Wooley is another player now retired who was with the Wings at the time and who lost his last opportunity to carry the Cup.
Canucks Might Have Won Stanley Cup
Another club likely to have contended that spring is the team that failed in game 7 of the final last season, the Vancouver Canucks. They finished on top of the Northwest Division with 102 points in 2003-04 and would have had a strong team the year following, too. If they'd won there might not have been Stanley Cup riots when they lost last year.
But if they'd lost there might have been riots in 2005.
That version of the Canucks had many players who’ve since retired without a ring: Trevor Linden, Dan Cloutier, Markus Naslund, Geoff Sanderson, Martin Ruchinsky and the much-traveled Marc Bergevin. Bergevin played 1,191 regular season games without getting his name on the Cup and lost, like Steve Thomas and others, his last chance to win it. That team also had a young Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Could Toronto Maple Leafs have won Cup?
The St. Louis Blues were strong at the time so were it not for the lockout Keith Tkachuk might have retired with a ring. Other players on teams that may have contended in the season that never was, and who've subsequently retired without a ring, include Yanic Perreault, Sami Kapanen, Jeremy Roenick, Vincent Damphousse and Manny Fernandez.
There is also Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Tie Domi, long-suffering players who each were on a normally woeful Toronto Maple Leafs team that actually managed 103 points in 2003-04 and were poised for good things the next year. Sadly, the late Wade Belak was on that club and had they won it may have changed the trajectory of his life and he might still be with us.
And what if the Leafs had managed to win that year? If that franchise no longer had to look back to 1967 for their last Cup would they still be the brunt of so many jokes? And would Brian Burke, though he was with Vancouver at the time, still seem so desperate-seeming and angry at press conferences? And could Leafs fans take the paper bags off their heads?
Stanley Cup Winners of 2004-05
Players who have since retired without a Stanley Cup have more fodder to look back and wonder than those who retired with a ring. The non-winners will always have the thought that the 2004-05 season may have been the one. Of course there's no way to know who that winning team would have been but we do know that were it not for the lockout there would be 23 more names engraved on Lord Stanley's mug.
So I say we toss the rosters into a computer and hand out the rings.