It was just a few days before the trade deadline in early March and the hockey world was waiting. Carolina Hurricanes winger Ray Whitney, the hottest commodity available as a rental, would surely be traded to a contender. Whitney held the cards because of a no-trade clause in his contract, but the rumor was that he wanted to go to an East coast team who had a good shot at winning the Cup.
Enter Pittsburgh, last year's Stanley Cup Champions and favorites to go deep in the playoffs again this year. The Penguins were missing a couple of pieces though and one need that had to be addressed was their weakness at left wing. General Manager Ray Shero was shopping for a skilled left winger to play alongside superstar Sidney Crosby.
Supposedly, they could have acquired Whitney, if they wanted to pay the price. The veteran winger was not going to be cheap though. Since Dominic Moore and Matt Cullen were previously traded for second round draft picks, surely Whitney was worth more.
But Shero went in a different direction and traded prospect Luca Caputi to Toronto for Alexei Ponikarovsky.
How did that work out for the Pens? Ponikarovsky was a non-factor, so much so that he was healthy scratched by Pittsburgh in game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. In game 7 he chipped in with an assist but finished the playoffs with just one goal and four assists for five points in 11 games played.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but one must wonder what Shero was thinking if he truly could have acquired Whitney, a veteran with a Stanley Cup ring and 18 career playoff goals along with 25 assists, instead of "Poni", who has a total of 2 career playoff goals and 6 assists.
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford reportedly wanted a first round and a second round pick or equivalents for his star left winger. Would he have turned down an offer of Caputi and a second round pick? We will never know. But it seems certain that an offer of Caputi and a first round pick would have been enough to make a deal.
Now all fans can do is wonder what it would have been like to see Whitney and Crosby on the same line. It might have been magic.
Could "The Wizard" have helped the Penguins get over the hump in their tight seven game series and losing effort against the Canadiens? Well, quoting Whitney himself, "they don't call him "The Wizard" for nothing."