In 1892, the Stanley Cup was reported at face value of 10 guineas, equal to approximately $50. This was the actual price of Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston and son of the 14th Earl of Derby, paid for the trophy. His plan: present it to the "the champion hockey team in the Dominion of Canada." The trophy would then serve as a reminder of Fredericks' time as Canada's governor general. The National Hockey Association, before the NHL, would then take possession of the trophy in 1910 – serving as the catalyst of "an interleague championship series at the end of the season." By standard math, the cup turned 126 this 2018 season. However, this 2017-2018 was a special season beyond just the cup's age.
This season the league introduced a new franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Without going into too much detail, the team's inaugural season landed themselves in first place in the Pacific division, with a record of 51-24-7. Not only did the Knights have a favorable set up in the expansion draft, but they also made several crucial decisions outside of that draft to enhance the team (i.e., grabbing Fleury as goalie from the Penguins and finesse forward, Marchessault, from the Panthers); as well as having players perform that no one could've expected. If anything, all of the pieces seemed to fit and perform incredibly, at every moment.
Now, let's look at the Eastern Conference representative, the Washington Capitals. The Caps finished their season at the top of the Metropolitan division with a record of 49-26-7, only a two-loss difference from the Knights. As any hockey player knows, your winning record in the regular season means "jack squat" to your performance in the playoffs. When the playoffs arrive, it is essentially a clean slate for everyone – a tournament to show the best of the best, compete to the grit, and hoist the cup in the end. For as long as I can remember, the Caps were a team who continually fell victim to a first or second round knockout, especially to the heavily dreaded, Pittsburgh Penguins. These two franchises have a very deep-seeded playoff history, with 11 total series coming head-to-head. Out of those 11, the Pens won every single series, except for the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. If you want the true statistics, Pittsburgh's reign of terror includes a record of 40-27 in the postseason over the Capitals. This year, the Capitals met the Penguins in the second round, leading the series three games to two, heading into game six. The hockey stars aligned for the hungry Caps as they managed a 2-1 win over the back-to-back defending champions, sending them home for an early offseason!
It's safe to say that some people flat out don't enjoy hockey. However, if you've ever managed to watch clips of hockey players hoisting the cup in the air in celebration, there's something about that scene that sends chills down your spine. Wayne Gretzky, former Edmonton Oiler, L.A. Kings, and New York Ranger, "The Great One," stated "There's so many good things about the game of hockey, but the greatest things about our sport are our history and our tradition and, without question, the Stanley Cup is probably the greatest trophy in all of sports." So, why root for a team, or more importantly these two particular teams?
Vegas will be the first, and very likely, only expansion team to ever win a championship in its inaugural season, in sports history. Point said, not if's, and's or but's. Washington will win its very first cup since inception in the league in 1974. I've got to say; these are two compelling reasons to root for these teams.
If you've made it this far into this article, it's time to share my hopeful winner. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, I firmly believe the Capitals have every sign of finishing this series in five games. Growing up and watching Ovechkin mature, develop, and excel in hockey has been a spectacle. He is hands down one of the best players in the game. When you come across players like him, you hope to witness a cup before they retire. Ovechkin is on the top 100 Greatest NHL Players' List, 19th in all-time goal scoring, three league MVPs, rookie of the year, and three players' MVPs; yet still no Stanley cup finish. The point here, when you grow up as a hockey player and see the talent of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne, Pavel Datsyuk, Jaromir Jagr, and plenty of others – you hope to see them hoist the cup; to celebrate a sport of true love. I know many have money and hopes for Vegas, but in the spirit of hockey – my hopes go to Washington and their conquest to win its first championship in franchise history.