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Hockey What If? The Dale Hunter Hit

The saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. When people look back over their lives, they always question what might have been. For fans of any sports team it's no different. From the Mets trading Nolan Ryan, to the Flyers trade for Lindros fans have always imagined what if? When it comes to asking what If, it's not about a single event. Instead it is more about how the dominoes fell due to that event.

The event we're looking back on today is the infamous Dale Hunter cheap shot, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. In the playoffs that year the Islanders upset two time defending champ Penguins before being taken out by Montreal. You can argue if Turgeon had been in the lineup the Penguins might have taken the Islanders a bit more seriously. In the long term, Turgeon's struggle to return to form ended up being a factor in his being traded for Kirk Muller. Muller's holdout and Don Maloney's inability to trade him (along with some other poor decisions) led to Maloney being fired and replaced by recently hired head coach Mike Milbury. The rest is history, but after the jump I imagine what might have been.

Following their first round victory over the Capitals, the Islanders prepare for the two time defending champs the Penguins. The series goes as everyone expected, and despite some great showings by Ray Ferraro, the Islanders are knocked out in five games. Turgeon was locked down on hard by the Penguins.

In the 93-94 season, Turgeon put up another 100+ point season and the Islanders finish with the seventh seed. They are quickly bounced in the first round. Al Arbour announces his retirement and Lorne Henning takes over the head coaching position. The Islanders struggle in the 94-95 season, but it's obvious that the goalie struggles held the team back. One of the bright spots for the team was the short term pairing of Turgeon and Ziggy Palffy towards the end of the year hit quite a spark. In the offseason though, Henning is let go and Mike Milbury is brought in as the new coach by ownership.

Milbury Vs Maloney

The rumor immediately is that Milbury is the future replacement for Maloney. While the Islanders struggle during 95-96, Milbury continually takes his arguments to the press. He claims that the struggles are due to the talent on the team and especially targets youngsters Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and Tommy Salo. Newly minted Captain Pierre Turgeon struggles too despite an 80 point season and helping Ziggy Palffy to a 95 point season.

While Milbury continued to fight his wars in the press, Maloney stays quiet for the most part. During the 96-97 season the Islanders stay within reach of a playoff spot, but Milbury continues his bashing of the younger players on the team. He makes it known that his opinion differs from Maloney and that some players are still on the roster because of Maloney. The team slowly fades out of playoff contention. Milbury decides to make his move, as he refuses to show up to coach the team with 12 games left until a move is made. Maloney promotes Milbury assistant Rick Bowness to take over the team. He announces to the press that he refuses to be bullied, while most of the press believes Maloney will be fired. But the Islanders respond with an 8-2-2 run which very nearly gets them into the playoffs. While Palffy and Turgeon had long been quite the scoring duo, Todd Bertuzzi comes alive with 9 points in his final 12 games. Tommy Salo was almost a brick wall over the last few games. All sorts of rumors and unidentified sources come from the locker room claiming that they all hated Milbury. Milbury is let go of in the offseason and Butch Goring is promoted to take over the team.

Butchie & Maloney

For the next few years the Islanders youth continues to improve while Turgeon and Palffy turn out to be one of the top duos in the league. Although never good enough to win the Division, the Islanders make the playoffs for six straight seasons. Unfortunately playoff success alludes the Islanders as they only get past the first round twice, and never get beyond the second round.

The Islanders begin to falter as they get closer to the lockout year. Turgeon decides to sign with the Stars for a chance at the Cup. Tommy Salo begins to fade, despite improving defense in front of him. Bryan McCabe takes over the Captainship from Turgeon, hoping for a continued bright future. The Islanders miss the playoffs for the first time in the 03-04 season. Maloney steps down from the GM position and eventually moves to Phoenix to help Wayne Gretzky run the Coyotes.

Other Thoughts

Just because this puts together a pretty cheery picture of how everything turns out, here's some other ideas of what could have been.

  • The Islanders Ownership was ready to dump Maloney the second they signed Milbury, no matter if there was or wasn't Mueller hanging over the team.
  • Maloney would have traded Turgeon in an attempt to turn the team around even if he hadn't been hurt.
  • Despite Maloney's progress as a GM over his Islanders tenure, he still would have kept screwing up the team.

I want to know what you guys think about this. What are your own takes if Don Maloney had a longer stint as GM? Is What If? an interesting idea? Also if you guys liked this, I'd be more then willing to take recommendations for future What Ifs. I'd just prefer ideas that had long term ramifications. EG: What if Torrey traded Potvin is a lot more fun then what if Milbury didn't trade Luongo.