Another prediction: There will be people dressed as Elvis in Las Vegas, and Capitals fans will create a collection of lame “has left the building” jokes on poster board, perhaps in correlation with Marc-Andre Fleury stickers placed in urinals. Another prediction: A hockey writer on press row will literally shriek when an empty netter in Games 1 or 2 gets him the over he wagered on. Hey, it’s a Vegas Cup Final and we’re degenerates. Brave new world.
One more prediction, and I’m fairly confident about this one: Someone is going to lose.
Being the runner-up for a championship is a conundrum. In some cases, teams can take solace in the fact that they accomplished more than could have been expected from them. In other cases, teams are driven mad by getting so close to the Stanley Cup that they can feel the fizz of the champagne bubbles, but then falling through a closing window.
Here’s a look back at the last 20 Stanley Cup Final losers, in which we rank them based on their quality on paper and on the ice. Because there’s no shame in being second best. You still get to raise a banner. Or, if the Capitals lose, a second banner next to their new “Beat The Penguins 2017-18” one.
Agree? Disagree? Hit me in the comments.
Before an expansion team made the Stanley Cup Final, the 2006 edition might have been the NHL’s weirdest championship round: A rookie goalie leads Carolina against a No. 8 seed, albeit one that would have been seventh in the East. Forever remembered for Chris Pronger‘s Herculean effort to lift a middling team in the postseason, and then leaving town under a cloud of intrigue.
Speaking of the Hurricanes, this was a hard-working if not exactly overwhelmingly talented group that lost in five games to Detroit. Granted, four of those games ended in overtime, so they earned their participation trophy.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, the latter of whom was in his last year with the team, led the offense, but it was 39-year-old Martin Brodeur‘s playoff renaissance that led them to a defeat at the hands of the Kings in back of a Bryce Salvador-led defense whose success still defies logic. OK, Larry Robinson had something to do with it.
The perfect time capsule of Domink Hasek’s career with the Sabres: He posted a .939 save percentage and led Buffalo to the Final after just three losses in the previous three rounds … a Buffalo teams whose two leading playoff scorers were Jason Woolley and Alexei Zhitnik. They lost to the Stars in a series that I understand (from an unending parade of Brett Hull jokes) ended in some controversy.
16. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (2003)
Jean-Sebastien Giguere became the fifth player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe in a losing effort, because the Mighty Ducks made the Final (losing to the Devils) with an offensive effort led by [checks notes] Steve Rucchin‘s seven goals? Wow.
The last Final before Our Cancelled Season, the Flames lost in seven to the Lightning. Jarome Iginla had 13 goals and punched Vincent Lecavalier in the face. Miikka Kiprusoff was incredible. A slightly above-average team that just jelled in the playoffs.
They won two Games 7s en route to losing to Los Angeles in the Final. Sneaky good offensive group, what with Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis doing their thing in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Rick Nash had three goals in 25 playoff games.
Another team that rolled through the conference playoffs, losing just three games before getting rolled in five by the Ducks. They got 22 points apiece in 20 games from Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. They got to the Final despite a .907 save percentage from Ray Emery.
12. Washington Capitals (1998)
Now relegated to being the Capitals’ “other” Stanley Cup finalist, this was a fascinating combination of franchise stalwarts (Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter, Sergei Gonchar, Olaf Kolzig) and big-name imports (Adam Oates, Phil Housley, Joe Juneau, Brian Bellows). And it worked! Before they became cannon fodder for the Red Wings, like so many others.
This team gets demerits because we just saw a better version of it fall to the Capitals in the conference final, but this was a heck of a team: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, the Triplets and some outstanding goaltending from Ben Bishop. Alas, not enough to get past the Blackhawks.
This was a tough one to slot. It was Peak Canucks: The Sedins at the height of their twin magic powers, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows with their unique brand of whimsy, some really solid defenders in front of Roberto Luongo. But the Boston Bruins exposed so much about them, and that’s burned into our memory like a Vancouver storefront set ablaze after Game 7.
Let’s be honest: They probably win the Stanley Cup over the Penguins if Ryan Johansen doesn’t get injured in the conference final. But they were also the beneficiary of a Pekka Rinne playoff run that was so good it won him the Vezina Trophy the following season (we assume).
The Legion of Doom! Eric Lindros had 26 points in 19 playoff games before the Flyers became (once more, with feeling) cannon fodder for the Red Wings. Rod Brind’Amour was a beast, the defense could skate and score. The less said about the .892 goaltending of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow, probably the better.
7. Philadelphia Flyers (2010)
Top to bottom, a slightly better group than the 1997 team, what with Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. James van Riemsdyk played 12 minutes per game! But they mostly get the nod for Pronger, who was as impactful on this team in three rounds as Eric Lindros was back in 1997, before this team lost to the Blackhawks in the Final. And they did it all with the stellar, nearly unbeatable goaltending of [checks notes] Michael Leighton?
It’s basically the perfect symbolism for the Sharks as a franchise: an incredible assemblage of talent, from the forwards back to the blue line, that just falls short of a championship, this time courtesy of the Penguins. It’s a shame that Joe Thornton didn’t get his Cup here, and will have to wait to win one with John Tavares. (Jokes … maybe.)
5. Boston Bruins (2013)
Damn those 17 seconds! This Bruins team was almost as loaded as the one that captured the Cup two years earlier (although Tim Thomas is better than Tuukka Rask), but lost to the Blackhawks in a flash. Luckily, the team didn’t overreact and do something like trade a brilliant 21-year-old center for Loui Eriksson. Wait …
This team was basically one Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin away from the team that flipped the script and beat the Red Wings for the Cup in 2009. Remember when Marian Hossa went nWo and left the 2008 Penguins for a Red Wings team they beat the next season? Good times.
3. New Jersey Devils (2001)
Essentially the team that won in 2000, minus Claude Lemieux, plus the unbeatable ‘Ray Bourque gets his Stanley Cup’ angle they couldn’t overcome in the Final vs. Colorado. But a very stacked team, with the Scotts (Stevens and Niedermayer) and Brodeur as the backbone.
Again, essentially the 2008 Stanley Cup champions, but with Marian Hossa added as a mercenary to ruin the karma, hence the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh. But the gang was all here: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Brian Rafalski. Just stacked.
Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Sergei Zubov, Joe Nieuwendyk, Derian Hatcher, Jere Lehtinen, Jamie Langenbrunner and a fantastic veteran supporting cast in front of Ed Belfour. If they had gone back-to-back after winning in 1999, where does this group rank in NHL history? Alas, they lost to the Devils, and have to settle being the best of the rest.
Jersey Foul of the Week
Shoot your shot, Flames fans. pic.twitter.com/O4CkqX5Eg3
– Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) May 20, 2018
From our own Emily Kaplan. Look, there’s something wonderfully vile about shattering the Winnipeg White Out with bright red Calgary Flames jerseys. But this is an attention seeking Foul of Fouls for a team that didn’t even get invited to this dance.
Listen to ESPN On Ice
Really terrific podcast for you this week, as Emily and I break down the Stanley Cup Final matchup. We also have interviews with new Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton and Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery. Stream it here and grab it on iTunes here.
Hockey returns to Quad City in the form of an SPHL team. Alas, the ECHL owns the Mallards, so the team is asking fans to name it. Perhaps the Milkshake Ducks, given these times we live in. [SPHL]
Larry Brooks with the Alain Vigneault shade: “Attention to detail, work habits and sound defensive structure are the tenets by which the Rangers will live and breathe playing for Quinn. This will mark a dramatic and refreshing change from the previous regime, under which practices became fewer and farther between (and less constructive) and the papier-mâché structure eroded as Alain Vigneault’s tenure reached five years.” [NY Post]
The headline is “91-year-old man still plays hockey” — and yet not a single photo of Jaromir Jagr. [Fox 43]
Reinventing the hockey stick. [KARE]
I wish I loved anything as much as Alex Ovechkin loves the Prince of Wales Trophy:
– NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) May 24, 2018
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
A deeper dive on Gary Bettman than you probably ever wanted. “What if God forbid I get hit by a bus?” Bettman said. “Well, I’ve built an organization that, if need be, I’d hope they’d miss me somewhat, but if need be could carry on.” [AP]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Emily and I break down how the Golden Knights were built, and the pitfalls they avoided.