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Two Trades that Almost Altered Red Wings History

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Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown published a piece today at Grantland called "Celebrating the NHL Trades That Weren't," and Detroit trades that never were inhabited the first two spots on the list. If you aren't familiar with how the Red Wings almost traded Steve Yzerman, and ten years later, Pavel Datsyuk, you may want to sit down.

Detroit trades Steve Yzerman to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin

Today, Steve Yzerman is a Red Wings legend, and the idea of him ever taking the ice in any other team’s uniform seems unimaginable. But as we’ve covered before, there was a time when Yzerman seemed to have worn out his welcome in Detroit. He was a great player, but he just wasn’t a winner, the thinking went, and it was time for the franchise to turn the page and move on. In 1995, the Red Wings almost did just that.

They found a willing trade partner in Yzerman’s hometown team, the Ottawa Senators. The deal would have reportedly centered around young center Alexei Yashin, and while they’d no doubt deny it now, plenty of Red Wing fans thought it sounded like a fantastic idea. One rumor at the time said the deal was actually agreed to, and fell apart only when Detroit ownership stepped in at the last minute and nixed it.

Yzerman went on to captain the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups, while Yashin’s endless holdouts eventually made him one of the most hated players in Senators history. (Luckily for Ottawa, they eventually found a sucker to take him off their hands.) Today, the idea that a team would want to address a of a winning culture by trading Steve Yzerman for Alexei Yashin seems almost too ridiculous to comprehend. But at one point, Detroit came very close to doing exactly that.

Alexei Yashin! Team wrecker extraordinaire and current eight-year absentia member New York Islanders payroll, Alexei Yashin! The links are the best part. You have to read the links. The first is another Grantland article, also by McIndoe, written following the conclusion of San Jose's soul-crushing playoff collapse of 2014. It describes how Joe Thornton is basically pre-Stanley Cup Yzerman.

The second link is to something surreal. It is what appears to be an archived forum from the infancy of the information system known as the World Wide Web. The thread consists of actual Red Wings fans debating the merits of trading Steve Yzerman (and/or Dino Ciccarelli). The posts are dated October 1995, a mere 20 months before Detroit would win its first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Make sure you thank the (allegedly) meddlesome Mike Illitch that they did.

Stevie Y wasn't the only generational talent the Wings thought about trading away, though. Little more than a decade after the (allegedly) nixed Yzerman trade, Detroit was deciding whether or not to deal Pavel Datsyuk and his expiring contract.

Detroit trades Pavel Datsyuk to New Jersey for Scott Gomez

. . .

Yes, more than a decade after almost trading Yzerman, the Red Wings found themselves contemplating another blockbuster in 2007. This time it was Pavel Datsyuk who was on the verge of a ticket out of town, thanks to an expiring contract and a lack of progress on negotiating a new deal. Rather than risk losing Datsyuk for nothing in the summer, the Wings considered moving him for another pending free agent they thought they’d have a better shot at signing: New Jersey’s Scott Gomez.

The two players were coming off of similar seasons; Datsyuk had put up 87 points in 2005-06, while Gomez had posted 84. They were of a similar age (Datsyuk is slightly older), and both could play a decent two-way game. And their contract demands weren’t far off. At that moment in time, swapping them made some sense.

Of course, in hindsight the Red Wings dodged a bullet. Datsyuk was about to take his game to the next level, posting back-to-back 97-point seasons, winning three straight Selkes, and generally working his way into the "best player in hockey" conversation. He ended up signing a seven-year, $46.9 million extension, and is still a key member of the Wings’ roster to this day.

Gomez didn’t re-sign in New Jersey, instead signing a seven-year $51.5 million deal with the Rangers that would eventually see him traded and later bought out. That contract is now generally viewed as one of the worst of the cap era, thanks to Gomez’s production falling off a cliff just a few seasons into it.

They say that sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. Next time you find yourself doubting that, think of the Red Wings without Steve Yzerman and Pavel Datsyuk.

This one wouldn't have robbed us of our iconic captain like the first deal, but on paper (and in hindsight) it's much worse. Despite making almost the entire continent of North America despise him, Yashin had some very productive years following the fall of 1995. Gomez, on the other hand, began an almost immediate and eventually steep decline. He has played for five teams during the nine seasons since the non-trade.

What do you think?

So where would the Wings be if they'd traded Steve Yzerman and/or Pavel Datsyuk? Without the Magic Man there almost certainly would not have been back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances (or a championship) in the late-2000s. But an Yzerman-less alternate reality is harder to peg. Would Nicklas Lidstrom be the more revered Red Wing in that world? Perhaps Yashin could have helped end the infamous Stanley Cup drought, hoisting it multiple times the way Yzerman did. Or what if both moves had been made? Would we be in year 60 without a Cup? That's a world I'm thankful we don't have to live in. That's even longer than the Leafs.