With the Conference Finals set, it’s official that the NHL will have a team not named the Penguins, Blackhawks, Kings or Bruins win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2008. This is the first time in NHL history that the final four will have combined for one or fewer Stanley Cup wins. Out of the remaining four, the only team to have ever won a Cup is Tampa Bay, who did it back in 2004. With this new crop of teams fighting for the championship, let’s take a look at some of the best narratives that we can see unfold in front of our eyes.
Alex Ovechkin ticks off the final award on his list and hoists the Cup
Arguably one of the most prolific goal scorers of all-time, Alex Ovechkin has been playing with a chip on his shoulder ever since he started playing in the NHL. When him and Sidney Crosby entered the league at the same time in 2005, a rivalry between the two was instantly born. Constantly being compared and competing for hardware, it wasn’t until 2009 that people began to put Crosby ahead of Ovechkin. Crosby led the Penguins to the Cup that year, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history to win it. Crosby then led his team to repeat championships in 2016 and 2017, meanwhile Ovechkin hasn’t even been close to glory.
Ovechkin has no shortage of trophies, though. He beat out Crosby to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2005. He’s led the league in goals scored seven times, which is tied for the most of all-time with Bobby Hull. He’s been voted as league MVP three times. He has a handful of World Championship gold medals and a World Juniors gold medal. Apart from an Olympic gold medal, the only thing that separates him and Crosby is having his name on the Stanley Cup.
Until this year, Ovechkin and the Capitals have not been able to get by the Penguins, but they have also been unable to escape the second round of the playoffs altogether. Now that they’re in the Conference Final, the perennial goal scorer is as close as ever. Can Ovechkin and co. finally pull it off in D.C? I can’t imagine that there would be too many hockey fans out there that would be upset seeing him hoist that Cup in June with that beautiful, broken toothed smile of his.
The Vegas Golden Knights pull off the most improbable championship in North American sports history
If anybody tells you they thought that the Golden Knights would be this good at any point in the season, they’re lying. That’s all there is to it. Most experts and fans predicted at the start of the year that they would finish in the bottom-five of the standings, while there were some that had them finishing as maybe a borderline eighth-seed or middle of the pack team. Nobody thought they would finish first in their division or fifth overall in the NHL. Once they did that, nobody thought that they’d sweep the L.A Kings in the first round of the playoffs. We’ve been saying all year, “They can’t actually be for real?” but here we are, and I think that it’s finally time to admit that they are in fact the real deal.
There isn’t much more to say about the Golden Knights at this point. If they go on to win the Cup, there will surely be a movie made of them one day. The adversity they faced going into the season, and even once they were winning they were still constantly seen as underdogs and told that they couldn’t maintain their pace. They’ve proven the hockey world wrong since October, and they very well could continue to prove us wrong right until June. If they do win the Cup, I just hope they use Dave Lozo’s idea of having every player wear their jersey from the team that gave them up in the expansion draft.
Stamkos’ hometown discount pays off
In 2016 it seemed as though it was inevitable that Stamkos was going to hit the free agent market when he wasn’t signed two days before free agency began. The hockey world was preparing for one of the biggest free agents to hit the open market in years, until the Lightning announced on June 29 that they did in fact re-sign Stamkos to an eight-year, $68 million contract extension, which carries an AAV of $8.5 million. Considering Stamkos has been one of the best centers in the league since entering the league in 2008, it’s fair to put him in the same category as fellow centers Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin who all make between $8.7 million and $10.5 million per year. The only difference separating Stamkos from these four? A Stanley Cup ring.
It’s clear that if Stamkos were to test the free agency market he would’ve gotten more than he settled for with Tampa Bay. However, after making it to the Conference Final in 2011, then the Cup Final in 2015, the Conference Final in 2016 and now the Conference Final again in 2018, it’s clear that the Lightning have built something special around him. While he could have left for more money, he made the right choice in staying in Tampa Bay and has the chance to contend for years to come. After a few unlucky seasons ruined by injury, Stamkos returned to his usual self this year and has a great chance to finally join the other elite centers in the league in the Stanley Cup Champion club.
The Winnipeg Jets waste no time in bringing the Cup back to Canada
The original Winnipeg Jets team lasted from 1979 until 1996, with not much to celebrate in terms of success. Due to financial troubles, the Jets relocated to Arizona in 1996, leaving the city of Winnipeg without a hockey team. That all changed in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated to Winnipeg, bringing hockey back to the city. Despite the return of hockey, the future didn’t look too promising for the franchise, with a lackluster crop of players coming from Atlanta.
The Jets quickly made their return to the playoffs in just their second season, only to be swept by the Anaheim Ducks. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2016 or 2017 but have now found themselves in the Western Conference Final after finishing the season with the second-best record in the league. Locked and loaded with talent from top to bottom, the Jets look poised to be a threat for years to come. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck had a phenomenal breakout season earning him a Vezina nomination, and the recent additions of youngsters Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba have created a powerhouse in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg Jets fans are probably some of the most passionate and loud fans in the league, and they clearly want the Cup. With only a handful of players left on the team from the days of the Thrashers, including Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little, the Jets made it clear quickly that they are ready to contend for the Cup this time around. It would be awesome to see the group they put together hoist the cup, and the city of Winnipeg would probably implode if they bring it home. Considering the Stanley Cup hasn’t been in the hands of a Canadian club since 1993, I’m sure people from all over the country would be thrilled also.
The Washington Capitals finally make it to the Stanley Cup … and lose to Marc-Andre Fleury
The Capitals’ struggles against the Penguins over the last decade have mostly been built around the Crosby vs. Ovechkin narrative. But maybe all this time we were blinded by their rivalry and didn’t care to notice that it in fact had nothing to do with Crosby at all. When the Capitals defeated the Penguins in six games there was a huge sense of relief among the entire team and fanbase. Little do they know that Marc-Andre Fleury is lurking in the shadows, waiting to upset them once again. After allowing himself to be exposed in the expansion draft, Fleury surely didn’t picture himself lasting longer in the playoffs than the stacked Pittsburgh team he was leaving.
He has been lights out in the playoffs so far, posting shutouts in half of the games he’s appeared in. Fleury is a locked and loaded front-runner for the Conn Smythe if they pull it off. The Golden Knights winning would be an incredible story and if they end up doing it, it will likely be thanks to Fleury’s play. If they find themselves matched up against the Capitals, it would be a devastating and comedic blow to Ovechkin’s chance at a Cup.
Regardless of what ends up happening, it’s always a great time to see a new team hoist the Stanley Cup. There is a lot of good hockey left to be played over the next month, so sit back and enjoy it while it lasts.