Miami–the lesser of two evils?
For the most part, I have been disgusted by this year’s edition of the tournament to determine the winner of the Stanley Cup, which, in case you might know, is the large silver trophy presented to the champion of the National Hockey League
The playoff system which has been in effect since 2013-14 SUCKS. IT SUCKS! Beavis and Butt-Head would be having a field day ridiculing this format, one which places way too much emphasis on so-called rivalries and fails to reward regular season excellence.
The Montreal Canadiens were nowhere to be found in this year’s playoffs. On the other hand, I realized how bad Les Habitants would be, and that hockey’s most storied franchise is undergoing a massive rebuild, the likes of which it has never undertaken. Montreal has won the Stanley Cup 23 times, by far the most of any franchise, but not since 1993, the last time a Canadian franchise won it.
The only good thing about the 2023 playoffs? The Maple Leafs won their first playoff series since 2004, defeating the odious Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the first round. Sadly, the Leafs laid an egg in the next round, losing in five to the Florida Panthers, including three losses in Toronto.
For some reason, road teams win a lot more in the NHL playoffs than they do in the NBA or NFL.
The Panthers won the Eastern Conference last night, completing a four-game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.
I can’t stand any NHL teams which play in southern states. I would have been opposed to the NHL placing a team in New Orleans (even if I would have gone to a few games), because hockey doesn’t belong in cities where you can wear shorts to games year-round.
However, the Panthers playing for the Stanley Cup instead of the Hurricanes is by far the lesser of two evils. Here’s why:
The Florida Panthers have always been the Florida Panthers since their entry into the NHL in 1993.
The Carolina Hurricanes were once the Hartford Whalers, a team which was strongly supported even though the franchise was usually one of the worst in the NHL after they joined the league from the World Hockey Association in 1979.
I can (begrudgingly) accept a team which has been in Miami (technically, Sunrise) since day one. At least they didn’t rob another city of the NHL, besides taking a spot which could have been put to better use than to have a second team in Florida (the Lightning debuted the year before the Panthers).
I cannot, and will never, accept a franchise which moves from a city which loves hockey as much as Hartford and move to a place where you cannot play hockey outdoors at any point of the year.
Worse, the franchise moved from Connecticut to a place where basketball will always be king. The Hurricanes share the RBC Center with North Carolina State, which may not be thought of in the same breath as Duke and North Carolina, but true students of college basketball know just how important the Wolfpack have been to the growth of the game. Anyone who doesn’t know the story of Jim Valvano and the 1983 Wolfpack which came from nowhere and slayed the mighty Phi Slamma Jamma, the Houston team which featured (H)Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexel, needs a refresher course.
The Whalers, who began life as the New England Whalers when the WHA formed in 1972, played in Boston during their first two seasons, but struggled to find available dates at the Boston Garden, where the Celtics and Bruins were obviously a much higher priority, and other small arenas around the Hub. The franchise moved to Hartford in 1974, but was forced to return to Massachusetts–this time, Springfield–when the roof of the Hartford Civic Center collapsed from a heavy snowstorm in early 1978.
When the NHL and WHA finally agreed to a “merger” in 1979, the Bruins were vehemently opposed to the Whalers joining the NHL, but president John Ziegler insisted the franchise be part of any agreement, since the Whalers were the only remaining WHA team in the United States which was on sound financial footing. Boston was given a concession when the Whalers were forced to drop “New England” and change to “Hartford”.
The Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets were the other three WHA teams taken into the NHL. The Birmingham Bulls and Cinicnnati Stingers were forced to disband.
The “merger” was more like the NHL holding the four WHA teams hostage. Each WHA team could protect only four players, with all other players’ rights reverting to their original NHL teams. Also, the Whalers, Oilers, Jets and Nordiques were placed at the bottom of the 1979 NHL entry draft.
Fortunately for the Oilers, they were able to protect Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, two of the cornerstones of their dynasty of the 1980s.
The Whalers created some excitement in their first NHL season when Mister Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, played with sons Mark and Marty. Also, former NHL standouts Dave Keon and Bobby Hull were part of that 1979-80 club, one which finished below .500 and was swept out of the playoffs in three games.
Hartford soon sank to the bottom of the NHL, where they had a permanent lease alongside the equally pitiful Colorado Rockies (New Jersey Devils starting in 1982-83), and later, the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the Jets, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and two of the NHL’s Original Six, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, rotating in from time to time.
The Whalers won one playoff series in their 18 NHL seasons in Hartford, sweeping the Nordiques in the first round in 1986.
The beginning of the end for the franchise was a one-two punch.
The first was the NHL’s hiring of Gary Bettman as commissioner in 1993. Bettman was a high-ranking NBA official, and helped guide David Stern’s grandiose plans to turn the league into a global powerhouse, which it has become.
In 1988, the NBA expanded for the first time under Stern to Charlotte and Miami.
Bettman soon followed Stern’s lead, placing expansion teams in San Jose, Tampa, Miami and Anaheim from 1991 through 1993, plus allowing the Minnesota North Stars to move to Dallas and become the Dallas Stars.
Hartford’s second gut punch came during the 1994 lockout, when Peter Karmanos bought the franchise. Soon thereafter, Karmanos demanded a new facility from the state of Connecticut, or he would move the team to a southern locale.
Bettman had to be salivating over another southern city getting the NHL.
Sadly for Whaler fans, Connecticut’s governor at the time, John Rowland, deluded himself and many others in Hartford the state could attract the New England Patriots away from Foxborough, where they had played since 1971. Therefore, Rowland was focused only on the NFL, not on the NHL.
Prior to the 1996-97 season, Karmanos screwed Hartford good by demanding fans buy 11,500 tickets or else lose the team. Karmanos made this next to impossible by (a) raising ticket prices 20 percent, (b) eliminating all partial season plans, meaning it was all 41 home games or bust, and (c) raising the deposit required to hold the season ticket by 750 percent.
Karmanos’ strategy from day one was to go south, and he announced the Whalers were leaving in the summer of 1997, even though there was no agreement with a new location.
North Carolina turned out to be the new home of the Whalers. The team would be renamed the Hurricanes, play two seasons in Greensboro, then move into the new arena in Raleigh under construction for NC State.
Hockey in a state where basketball, NASCAR and the NFL (thanks to the Panthers) would always be the most popular sports was, and still is, very stupid.
I vomited when the Hurricanes defeated the Oilers for the 2006 Stanley Cup. I was queasy when the Hurricanes made the 2002 final, but thank God the Red Wings stopped them. I will throw up again when the Hurricanes make it back to the final.
Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that this year. The Panthers are far from my favorite, but they’ve never been anywhere but South Florida, and they didn’t take away a team from someone else, so they’re much more palatable than the Hurricanes.
The Panthers did the right thing Wednesday by picking up the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champion.
This bullshit about not picking up a conference championship trophy has to stop. I find it asinine a team wins 12 playoff games, is rewarded for it, then says “nah, we don’t want the award” because supposedly “the Stanley Cup is all that there is”.
I was disgusted when the Blues reached the final in 2019 and refused to handle the Clarence Campbell Bowl, given to the Western Conference champion. Your first final in 49 years and you don’t give a damn? That trophy was quite an accomplishment, given the Blues had the worst record in the NHL at Thanksgiving 2018 and fired coach Mike Yeo.
Thankfully, in recent years, more teams have seen fit to handle the conference championship trophies.
Sidney Crosby has been captain of four Penguin teams to reach the final. He didn’t pick it up in 2008, and his team lost to the Red Wings. He picked it up in 2009, and the Stanley Cup was soon back in Pittsburgh for the first time in since 1992. Crosby repeated this in 2016 and 2017, and each time, the Penguins ended up winning the grand prize.
(Mario Lemieux picked up the Prince of Wales Trophy each time the Penguins won the Wales Conference championship in 1991 and ’92. Pittsburgh won the Cup each time.)
As much as I can’t stand Alex Ovechkin, at least he didn’t treat the Prince of Wales Trophy like it had a deadly disease when the Capitals reached the 2018 Finals. He picked it up and skated it with his happy teammates. Washington went on to defeat Vegas for the Cup.
When the Lightning won the East in 2015, captain Steven Stamkos didn’t even LOOK at the Prince of Wales Trophy. Tampa lost in the Finals to Chicago.
Stamkos reversed course each of the previous three seasons, electing to pick up the trophy after the Lightning clinched a berth in the Finals. Tampa won the Cup in 2020 (vs. Dallas) and 2021 (vs. Montreal) before losing in 2022 vs. Colorado.
The Golden Knights and Stars are going to overtime in Dallas. The home team must win or Vegas hosts Florida to open the Finals next week. If Vegas wins in Dallas, it will be interesting to see if it picks up the Campbell Bowl. If Vegas has to go home and win a Game 5 Saturday, I’m sure it will pick the trophy up in front of the home fans, much like the Panthers did.
Again, sorry for going so long without posting and going on and on about a hockey team which hasn’t existed since 1997. Don’t give me the bullshit about the Hurricanes being the current incarnation of the Whalers. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a lie.
Posted on 2023-05-25, in NHL and tagged Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Hartford Whalers. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
Leave a comment