The future is Swedish (but it could have been Russian)

I just wanted to share a weird thought experiment I've been going over in my head recently, just for the fun of it.

For good reason, everyone is talking about how the Senators are on track to become the Detroit Red Wings East, a powerhouse fuelled by the smooth two-way talents of Swedish hockey pros.  Daniel Alfredsson is the anchor to that -- the savvy veteran, the heroic Captain, the compatriot mentor -- but you can see it most in the next generation.  Our top goalie prospect (Robin Lehner), top young player (Erik Karlsson), one of our top two defensive prospects (David Rundblad), and several of our top forward prospects (Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Silfverberg, Andre Petersson) are Swedish.  Heck, you can imagine a time when we would sometimes be icing an all-Swedish 6-man unit.

But I've been thinking recently about how the Sens' future might just as easily have been Russian, had things gone a little differently in the past.

The biggest change you could imagine would be if Alexei Yashin hadn't held out, had stayed in Ottawa and maybe had some moderate playoff success, and had become as much a face of the franchise as Alfie (and others).  Obviousliy didn't happen, and -- given how badly things went -- pretty hard to even contemplate.

But here's another one -- what if the team had traded Alfie when many fans were clamouring for his head after the pre-SCF playoff disappointment?  Would the current Swedish direction have become a reality?  Maybe, given that a lot of this has to do with the scouting staff (especially Anders Forsberg).  But it might have affected the thinking behind how to build the team's future.

A Yashin-in-Ottawa and Alfie-gets-traded scenario are pretty unthinkable by now, even in the abstraction of historial what-ifs, so what about these more plausible scenarios:

  • What if Kaigorodov had worked out as our 2nd line centre (or, frankly, at all)?

  • What if some of our other Russian forward prospects had worked out (e.g., Nikulin, Zubov)?

  • What if we hadn't traded for Rundblad and had taken Vladimir Tarasenko instead?

  • What if we had re-signed Anton Volchenkov and traded Chris Phillips or Filip Kuba?
  • What if Alex Kovalev had done well here and been re-signed for another couple of years?
  • What if we hadn't taken the "surprise" pick of Zibanejad?

Basically, imagine a world in which our veteran core is actually dominated by Russians (Volchenkov, Gonchar, and Kovalev) rather than towered over by Alfie, our top forward prospect is a Russian (Tarasenko) not a Swede (Zibanejad), and, as is currently the case, our top active "potential" guy is Nikita Filatov.

It's not clear what the Sens' Swedish future holds (although I have high hopes), but it's a fun mind game to imagine what a Russian future might have been like.  Our future is Detroit, but it could have been more like Washington.  If nothing else, I wonder what that different environment might have meant for Filatov (and maybe Gonchar).  Filatov is already being dragged through the mud by some media-types with the usual pseudo-xenophobic stereotyping and slandering.  He seems like a good kid, and -- all the debate about his current demotion aside -- I hope he is treated fairly during his time in Ottawa.  And it's not just Filatov who is singled out.  When Kuba messes up, it's Kuba being Kuba.  When Gonchar messes up, out come the comparisons to Kovalev and other "lazy", "no effort/heart" Russians.

The Sens' future is Swedish, but it could have been Russian.  One thing is for sure -- certain media types would be having a fit.

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