In its first year of existence, the Vegas Golden Knights are heading to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s unprecedented. It’s unbelievable. It’s … awesome!
Listen, I don’t think I need to say it but I will anyway. I love the Flyers. They’re clearly my favorite hockey team in the entire world and there’s nothing I want to see more than my team winning sports championships. However, when my team is out of the race, I can’t just shut my entire sports fandom off. I have to watch the playoffs. I just have to. It’s why I’m still watching the NBA Playoffs even though we know how it’s going to end. Call me a sports junkie. Call me a die-hard sports fan. Just don’t call me Shirley.
So when I don’t necessarily have a dog in the race – no, I don’t gamble – I root for what I feel is the feel-good story. Hell, I want to see Alex Ovechkin win the Stanley Cup if the Flyers can’t. Sorry, I just can’t hate the guy. Yeah, it’s easy to hate Sidney Crosby… but I just can’t muster up the same hate for Ovechkin. And I think he deserves the Cup because we’ve seen him give it his all year after year just to fall short. [And, yes, I’m rooting for the Caps to come back and beat TB, too.]
Let’s take a look at the whole expansion angle. No expansion team in professional sports is ever supposed to be good their first year. Hell, even their second year. That’s what we’ve been accustomed to in the expansion era. So, much like everyday life, when we’re presented with a change we didn’t ask for, we automatically block it out at something good and have to trash every aspect of it.
Granted, there are many people that I’ve seen enjoy this VGK run. They’ve been one of the best teams the entire season. This isn’t a team that caught lightning in a bottle in March and rode that all the way to the Cup Final. It’s a team made up of guys who were unprotected by their former teams in last year’s expansion draft and Vegas draft picks of their own. Now suddenly because the expansion rules were loosened [other teams could only protect seven forwards, three defensemen, one goalie OR eight skaters and one goalie] so Vegas could come into the league in a competitive nature, it’s a bad thing. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. If anyone out there thinks Vegas would’ve been fine with a team that sucked right from the start, then I don’t know what to tell you. In fact, every league that tries expansion should do exactly what the NHL did and help make that team as competitive as they can. Vegas has people at the helm who wanted this team to compete right from the start – and nobody bought it! They were a 500-1 shot to even win the Cup. Given the loosened expansion rules, many still thought Vegas would struggle from the start and not even sniff the playoffs. Now, almost an entire season later, it’s a bad thing that they overcame all the odds?
Miss me with that bull.
Vegas embarrassed the Los Angeles Kings, soundly defeated the Sharks in six games and dispatched of the Jets in five. They’ve only lost three games all postseason. The Jets defeated the Nashville Predators in seven games – the best team in the league this season. Would Nashville have been a tougher matchup for Vegas? Maybe. But we’re not dealing with hypotheticals here. Vegas is for real.
Is it a bad thing that Vegas is a better run franchise than some of the most historic ones in league history? Or is it sour grapes from fans of those teams that can’t say the same thing about their team being as well run as Vegas has been. I always thought expansion teams should be as competitive as possible, otherwise why introduced a new team to a league that sucks? It doesn’t matter if Vegas doesn’t have “real fans” [oh, and they do], and no, it doesn’t make the league look like a joke that an expansion team could very well win that league’s championship in their first season. These are takes from those “traditional sports dudes” who think nothing should change. Ever. God forbid a team that’s fun to watch and has a great home crowd do well in its first season.
THE FUN POLICE SAY IT’S NOT ALLOWED!
Does anyone else see how ridiculous that is? We’re witnessing history, and if it can’t be my team that’s got a chance to win the Stanley Cup, I’m completely fine hopping on that Vegas bandwagon… if they’ll have me. It doesn’t mean I love the Flyers any less. It may mean I’m a little embarrassed at how the team’s been run from the top down the last few years, but that’s something I’ll get over in September when training camp starts.
To the people who look at Vegas being in the Cup Final: it’s not a joke. I’ve even seen some people compare that to the NBA in terms of the whole parity argument. Hey, I love watching the NBA Playoffs and will continue to do so, even if I know the outcome. I’m not going to say it’s better or worse than the NHL Playoffs because I’m entertained by both. I just can’t take an argument from someone who doesn’t watch the NHL Playoffs as having any kind of credence to make that comparison. But, I probably shouldn’t be surprised. I see it every April and May. We’ve got basketball die-hards vs. hockey die-hards every single year and it’s simply becoming exhausting. We don’t need the either or. We don’t need the comparison every single year. But, hell, baseball and football pundits do the same thing. Maybe it’s just a alpha male my sport is better than yours! thing.
Today, there’s always got to be somebody bitching about something. But the Vegas Golden Knights have given me something to cheer for. Hopefully others are a little less blinded by the ride heading into the Final. For those that are on that ride with me, enjoy it.
You can follow Nick Piccone on Twitter (@nickpiccone) and Instagram (@picconenick), and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to The Straight Shooters Podcast (@ShootersRadio) on iTunes here and listen every Friday afternoon at 2:00 P.M. on Wildfire Radio. Click here to read his pro wrestling articles on PhillyVoice.