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On Thursday, two days after turning 40, Joe Sakic, the storied center of the Colorado Avalanche and Team Canada, announced his plans to retire from hockey. In light of this announcement, which will have an extensive impact on the entire National Hockey League, let’s journey back into history. This trip is not to recount all of Sakic’s statistics or retell every anecdote highlight his leadership, but to know how things might have been different for Sakic and the Boston Bruins. In short, to understand what could have been.
In 1987, the Boston Bruins finished the regular season with a 39-34-7 record and were swept out of the playoffs by the rival Montréal Canadiens for the third time in four years (the other year losing to them in five games). In that year’s NHL Entry Draft, which included Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, and locals Ted Donato (Catholic Memorial High School), Chris Marshall (Boston College High School), and Joe Sacco (Medford High School), the Bruins, by order of league standings, had the 14th overall pick. To this they added the third overall selection in the draft by trading Barry Pederson to the Vancouver Canucks for Cam Neely and the pick.
The Bruins used their first first-round pick on Glen Wesley, a defenseman from the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL). By the time their second first-round pick arrived, Joe Sakic still remained undrafted, despite posting incredible statistics in the juniors. Thirteen teams had passed on the player who, in two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos (WHL), played in 136 regular season games, scored 138 goals and dished 155 assists. Passing on the opportunity to draft the stellar center for the second time, the Bruins instead drafted Stéphane Quintal of the Granby Bisons (QMJL), another defenseman.
Immediately following the Bruins’ pick, with the 15th overall selection (which was also their second of the draft), the Québec Nordiques chose Sakic, who became one of the greatest centers to ever play hockey. In the pros, he scored at an incredible rate, compiling 1,641 points, a figure composed of 625 goals and 1,016 assists, in 1,378 games. These statistics rank him 8th in points, 11th in assists, and 14th in goals in NHL history.
During his career, which spanned twenty seasons (all of which were spent with the Nordiques/Avalance franchise), the 16-season captain won the Stanley Cup twice, in 1996 and 2001, was named to the NHL All-Star Game 13 times, and earned various individual trophies, including the Conn Smythe Trophy (NHL Playoff’s Most Valuable Player), the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (NHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player), the Lester B. Pearson Award (Most Outstanding NHL Player in the Regular Season), and the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL’s Most Valuable Player). In addition to the above accolades, Sakic won a gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was also named the tournament’s MVP.
How do the careers of Glen Wesley and Stéphane Quintal, the players the Bruins drafted instead of “Burnaby Joe,” compare?
Wesley, who retired last year, notched 307 points in seven seasons with the B’s and was named to the NHL All-Star Game in 1988. In 1994, Wesley was traded to the Hartford Whalers for three first round picks, who turned out to be Kyle McLaren (drafted in 1995), Johnathan Aitken (1996), and Sergei Samsonov (1997).
Wesley eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, for whom he now works as director of development for defensemen. The No. 2 jersey was retired by the Hurricanes this past February in his honor.
Quintal split his four season with the Bruins between Boston and their AHL affiliate at the time, the Maine Mariners. In 1992, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues along with Craig Janney in exchange for Adam Oates. Before retiring in 2004, Quintal also played for the Winnipeg Jets, the New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Montréal Canadiens. (Note: Quintal wore the No. 5 jersey for the Canadiens, a number they retired in 2006. Unfortunately for Quintal, they did so in honor of Bernard “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion.)
So, Sakic or Wesley & Quintal? The numbers illustrate the obvious answer.
They say – Orwell, forgive me for the cliché – that hindsight is 20/20. Indeed, it is. As a result of decisions they made in 1987, the Boston Bruins will forever be known as the only organization in the NHL to have had two chances to draft Sakic, yet failed to do so.
If they had drafted him, who knows what may have happened. Maybe the Bruins wouldn’t have been swept by the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals the next season. Maybe they wouldn’t have been beaten by the Canadiens in the quarterfinals in 1989. There’s even a chance that Ray Bourque could’ve handed off the Stanley Cup to Sakic in a Bruins uniform in 1990 instead of in an Avalanche uniform in 2001. No one will ever know for sure.
Unfortunately, we, the Boston Bruins faithful, are left to only wonder…what could have been.