Thursday, September 7, 2023

Introducing the “they had him but he never played there” all-stars

With the season just over a month away, it will be time to get back to real content soon. It’s been a fun summer of time-wasting challenges and random rankings, but soon it’s going to be time get serious.

Soon, but not quite yet. So today, we’re going to get to a topic that shows up in a lot of your requests: Superstar players, and the teams they never actually played for. Specifically, we’re looking for players who belonged to a team at some point, be it a few years or a few hours, but never suited up for them. Along the way, we should run into some interesting stories.

But first, a few ground rules™:

- We’re going to be building a 20-man roster out of 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.

- We’re looking for overall star power. Normally this is the part where I give you the whole “only get credit for what a player did on your team” caveat, but… (gestures at entire concept). Full careers on this one.

- Finally, we’re limiting each team to one representative. Call this the Arizona Coyotes rule.

Sound good? Let’s do this. One full roster, full of stars who never played for the teams they were one.

We’ll start our squad with a Hall-of-Famer and all-time great, who’s also kind enough to be a simple example of what we’re looking for here. Six years before he arrived in Montreal and gave the Habs nearly a decade of Cup-winning goaltending, Ken Dryden was a Bruins third-round pick. Boston held onto him for all of three weeks before trading him to Montreal, and the rest was history. Unlike the Bruins, we’ll give him a chance as our starter.

The second goalie spot has a few worthy candidates. We could go with Tim Thomas, a Nordiques pick who never got a chance there. There’s also Olaf Kolzig, who was technically Maple Leafs property for a few weeks in 2009, or another not-quite-Leaf in Tuukka Rask. Or Mike Richter, a lifelong Ranger who was briefly a member of both the Predators and Oilers due to offseason shenanigans. Evgeni Nabokov was a Red Wing for a few hours before the Islanders sniped him off the waiver wire. The Canucks acquired John Vanbiesbrouck for a few days before the 1993 expansion draft. We could even dip back into very recent history to go with the Blue Jackets’ brief Jonathan Quick era. And the best of the bunch might be Henrik Lundqvist, who signed with the Capitals but was never healthy enough to suit up for them.

All else being equal, I’d go with Lundqvist here. But without giving too much away, I don’t want to use my Capitals slot this early. So instead, let’s go with Hall-of-Famer Eddie Belfour and his brief and forgotten two-day stint with the Nashville Predators in 2002. Yes, really.

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