Alternative Reality: The Brad Richards Trade

What would have happened if Tampa Bay had agreed to send Richards to the Canucks at the 2008 trade deadline? 

Read past the jump to find out.

After several weeks of negotiation leading up to the 2007-08 deadline, the Canucks and Lightning made a deal that involved Vancouver acquiring star center Brad Richards. Tampa Bay was rumored to be sending Richards to the Dallas Stars, but the Canucks upped their offer at the last minute, as GM Dave Nonis knew that Richards could be the missing piece to propel the Canucks to the postseason (and likely save his job, too).

The Canucks initially offered prospect goalie Cory Schneider, defenseman Luc Bourdon, and a 1st round pick. However, the Lightning asked for Ryan Kesler and Alexander Edler in return. The two teams eventualy agreed on a trade that involved Richards going to the Vancouver in exchange for Schneider, Bourdon, Edler, and a 1st.

Richards arrived in Vancouver to much fanfare, recording 15 points in his final 12 regular season games. However, his presence wasn’t enough to get the Canucks into the postseason, as they ended up finishing ninth in the Western Conference. That summer, the Canucks ownership fired GM Dave Nonis, and brought in unproven former player agent Mike Gillis.

Richards wasn’t enough to save Nonis his job.

Gillis came into a situation with a lot of upside – he had arguably the deepest group of centers in the league with Richards, Kesler, and Henrik Sedin, and Roberto Luongo was regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the league, too. The Canucks didn’t bother to pursue free agent center Mats Sundin that summer (although there was some speculation that they would), and instead they focused their money and efforts on free agent defenseman Mark Streit. The club hoped that Streit would replace some of the future offense they lost with Edler and Bourdon.

Vancouver quickly emerged as a team to beat in the Western Conference, and they captured three straight Northwest Division titles from 2008 to 2011 thanks in large part to the play of Richards. He earned a spot on Canada’s Olympic Team, where he skated on a line with former teammates Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The trio was an effective one for Canada, who defeated the American team in the Gold Medal game.

The Lightning struggled for a few years with Schneider as their starting goalie, but he started to find his way during the 2010-11 season. We all know about Bourdon’s tragic motorcycle accident, and his loss was a big one for the Lightning. Alex Edler, however, recorded consecutive 40-point seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11, emerging as one of the best young defensemen in the league. The Lightning used Vancouver’s 2008 1st round pick to draft forward Jordan Eberle from the Regina Pats.

Vancouver breezed through the first two rounds of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and they squeaked by the San Jose Sharks in five games during the Western Conference Final. Tampa Bay stunned the favorite Washington Capitals in the second round, and they did the same against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, backed by a 55-save shutout performance from Schneider in his hometown of Boston for Game 7.

Entering the Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks were heavily favored against the Lightning. Tampa Bay was led by Stamkos, St. Louis, and Eberle up front, while the Canucks had the best second line in hockey with Richards centering Kesler and Alex Burrows.

Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider were once teammates, and now the faced off as rivals. The two teams each won their first three home games, sending the series to Vancouver for Game 7. Schneider and Luongo had been relatively even throughout the series, except for a Luongo meltdown in Game 3 in Tampa Bay. The Canucks were banged up on the back end, and they were missing Aaron Rome, who was suspended for the rest of the postseason for receiving three delay of game penalties in a single period.

Richards had earned every penny of his inflated $7.8 million contract, and he scored both Vancouver goals in Game 7. The two teams were locked at 2-2 after 60 minutes. Tampa Bay’s top pairing of Edler and Ohlund stymied the Sedin twins, along with their winger Victor Oreskovich (the rugged winger had been a surprise fill-in on the top line during the second round, and a few timely goals allowed him to stay there). Vancouver’s only healthy defensemen were Streit, Kevin Bieksa, Keith Ballard, and Andrew Alberts, but the team played strong defensive hockey and Luongo bailed them out when he needed to.

Only two minutes into the extra frame, Edler received a penalty for elbowing. The Lightning were able to kill off the penalty, and just as it was expiring, goaltender Cory Schneider whipped a quick pass up the ice in hopes of catching Edler coming out of the box. Schneider’s pass went much further than anticipated – it was still in the air as it crossed the Vancouver blueline. Roberto Luongo skated out to play the puck, but it caught a stanchion between the glass, and bounced off at an unexpected angle.

A helpless Luongo watched as the puck slid into the vacant net. Cory Schneider became the first goaltender in league history to score a Stanley Cup winning overtime goal, and Alex Edler was awarded the Conn Smythe for his consistent and inspired play against his former club. Vancouver lost Richards to free agency that summer, and the club spent millions of dollars replacing all of the stanchions in Rogers Arena.

Dave Nonis made a bold move to bring Richards in – it didn’t save his job, and it shortened Vancouver’s window to win, too. And the Canucks had to watch two of their former young prospects star in another organization, something they have become all too familiar with.

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