Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup run unlike anything we’ve seen
One of the most fascinating sports stories is one that’s going to get a minimum of play in New York, and most American cities where hockey turned its lights out for summer a long time ago. The Winnipeg-Las Vegas Western Conference showdown in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs is a remarkable thing to ponder.
For one thing, there is the presence of the Jets, the erstwhile Atlanta Thrashers, who are on the doorstep of playing for Canada’s first Cup in a quarter century. That’s almost hard to believe, that it’s been since the ’93 Montreal Canadiens for our neighbors to the north to skate around a rink on the season’s last game with the Cup in their possession.
I detailed in this space a few weeks ago why I was rooting for the Maple Leafs to end their 51-year drought and, well, that quest died an ugly death in the first round, the Leafs falling to the Bruins, extending that city’s hockey hunger strike at least another year.
Still, the fact that Canada as a whole has been shut out for 25 years is in its own way that much more amazing. Consider: Starting with the first time the Cup went to the NHL champion, the 1927 Ottawa Senators, Canadian teams won 40 Cups in 63 years, including teams that no longer exist (the original Senators and Montreal Maroons), the two alternating dynasties in Toronto and Montreal, the Edmonton Oilers who won five in a seven-year stretch from 1984-90 and the 1988 Calgary Flames.
Followed by one in the next 28. And counting.
So there is that.
But even more amazing is the instant rise of the Vegas Golden Knights, who a year ago didn’t exist and now have become, if they don’t win another game, the greatest expansion team ever, in any sport, and by a distance that would put Secretariat’s win in the ’73 Belmont Stakes to shame.
Look, the ways of modern sports makes it almost impossible that expansion teams will ever again rival the 1962 Mets, who went 40-120 (and, if you talk to people who watched that team, it seems almost a miracle they won that many) or the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 0-14 in their first season and actually went 0-26 for their first 26 games before beating the Saints and Cardinals in the last two games of their second season.
And hockey was always a place where expansion teams got beaten up and slapped around, too. It may have only taken the Islanders eight years to win a Cup, but that first season of 1972-73, the Isles scratched out just 30 points in a 12-60-6 slog. And those Isles were the Red Army Team compared to the Washington Capitals, who opened for business two years later by going 8-67-5, good for all of 21 points.
Modern perks like free agency and a scaling back of formerly onerous expansion drafts have meant that expansion teams haven’t been historically awful — the Rockies made the baseball playoffs in their third year, the Diamondbacks in their second, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars each made the NFL conference championship games in 1996, their second years of operation.
But nothing compares to this.
Nothing has ever compared to the Golden Knights’ 51-24-7 first-year record, to their 109 regular season points (fifth most in the league), to their first-place finish in the Pacific Division, to their 8-1-0 start in their first nine games.
How amazing is that?
The Maple Leafs — I swear, we aren’t picking on them — have been in business since 1917 and have never won as many as 50 games and this year cracked the 100-point barrier for just the fourth-time ever (105). Even if you consider that the NHL didn’t play as many as 70 games in a year until 1950 … that’s still amazing.
But not as amazing as the Golden Knights, assembled by George McPhee and coached by Gerard Gallant and led by Wild Bill Karlsson. An expansion team doing all of this? What kind of crazy looking glass have we passed through, anyway?
The depressing thing, if you are a Knicks fan, is that even if they do everything right over the next few years, they aren’t only in the same conference but the same division as the Celtics and the 76ers, who are going to be awfully good for an awfully long time. It feels like 1980 all over again.
It’s easy to dismiss the mania that surrounds Tiger Woods, except when he torches a course the way he did Saturday morning at TPC Sawgrass, it is impossible not to pay attention. Still.
The last few episodes of “The Americans” have actually approached the very best of “Breaking Bad” in terms of tension, drama and storytelling, and that’s about the highest praise you can possibly offer a television show.
The NHL playoff system is a disgrace that needs to be fixed, now. You can’t keep having the best teams in a conference face each other before the conference finals. When that happens, something is broken. Badly.
Whack Back at Vac
Timothy Foster: How long will it be before the Mickey (Mouse) Callaway Mets attempt a suicide squeeze without a runner on third base?
Vac: At the start of the week, if someone asked you, “What could be worse than losing two out of three to the Reds?” you would’ve had a hard time coming up with the answer, right?
Doug Miller: Mike, the article on the Mets batting out of order was brutal. Mickey Calloway made a bonehead move, but he owned it. Why rub salt in the wound. Praise the accountability, which has rarely been a Mets staple.
Vac: Call me crazy, but I admire the profound loyalty that allows a true believer to take such body blows in stride.
@gregschneider: I’ll take my chances with David Fizdale over Dwane Casey. All day, every day. Took Casey years to figure out the NBA.
@MikeVacc: I’d agree with that. But that would also mean that Casey HAS figured it out by now, no?
Jack Beglane: The “Fat Lady” has to sing twice before the Yankees are done.
Vac: It does seem they sometimes require a degree of difficulty before declaring their workdays done.
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