Monday, June 8, 2020

Not all Cups count the same. Where will this year’s rank?

The NHL has made it official: They’re going forward with a plan to finish the season with 24 teams, and they’re going to do everything they can to make sure we see a team win the Stanley Cup in 2020.

Great. Will it count?

You’re going to hear a lot of talk about asterisks this summer. Some fans are going to insist that any results from here on out don’t count because the pandemic and the pause have left us with something completely different than anything we’re used to. Others will argue that hockey is hockey and of course it counts. Others will want to wait and see.

Time will tell which side wins, but the reality is, that’s always been the case. Not all Cups carry the same historical weight and some are viewed differently than others. Fans can always find a reason to diminish a particular championship if we look hard enough. So maybe the right question here isn’t “Will it count?” but rather “Just how much will it count?”

Let’s see if we can sort this out. Today, we’re going to start at the very top of the Stanley Cup scale with the championships that not even the most cynical fan can dispute, and work our way down to the ones that are easier to discredit. Along the way, we’ll try to figure out where exactly history will end up viewing this year’s championship.

Tier 1: Any Stanley Cup that your favorite team won, obviously

We need to start here because otherwise, everyone is going to read this post and just get madder and madder as they go, and I’d certainly never want that to happen. So let’s be clear: this whole piece is entirely about everyone else’s Stanley Cups. Those are the ones that are on shaky ground. Any that your favorite team has won? Those are exceptions. Perfect, impeccable exceptions.

Tier 2: The dynasty

Hockey fans tend to be caustic and jealous, especially when we see somebody else being happy, so we’ll jump at any opportunity to hand-wave away some other team’s glory. But that’s just about impossible to do when that glory keeps repeating itself year after year. By the time a team has won four or five Cups in a short span, there comes a point where even the most embittered rival fan has to go: “Yeah, fine, they might be OK.”

Examples: The 1970s Canadiens, the 1980s Islanders and Oilers.

Tier 3: The quasi-dynasty

Similar to the above, this team won multiple Cups, although maybe not quite as many and there was enough space in between them that we can argue over whether they deserve full-fledged dynasty status. Still, at a certain point, that feels like splitting hairs — these teams are good.

Examples: The 90s/00s Red Wings, Avalanche and Devils. Probably the cap-era Blackhawks and Penguins too, unless you think the parity era has lowered the bar.

Tier 4: The two-time winner

Not quite a dynasty, not quite a one-and-done. These teams are confusing and need to pick a lane. Stop doing this, everyone. Either stop at one and let someone else have a turn or go all out and win three or more. Shoot or get off the point.

Examples: The 1974 and 1975 Flyers, the 1991 and 1992 Penguins, 2012 and 2014 Kings

Tier 5: The dominant one-and-done

OK, so this team didn’t win multiple Cups. But they were very good, in both the regular season and playoffs. Ideally, they won a Presidents’ Trophy along the way or at least came close.

The proper way to deal with a fan of one of these teams is to acknowledge how stacked the roster was and how well the team came together at the height of their powers. Then pause just long enough for them to let their guard down, before adding “I guess it’s kind of disappointing that they didn’t win more than one” and then immediately exiting the conversation.

Examples: The 1994 Rangers, the 1989 Flames, maybe the 2018 Capitals if we grandfather in those three Presidents’ Trophies from the Ovechkin era.

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