As we all know, which team wins the Stanley Cup isn’t important. No, no. Only two questions matter once the Stanley Cup is awarded:
1. Who gets to hoist it first?
2. Who does that person pass it to?
With only four teams remaining in these playoffs, we’ll find out our answer in about one month’s time. Until then, let’s figure out our perfect storybook answers.
For teams that have a captain, especially ones who have been with their team for a long time, the answer to “Who gets it first” is obvious. Perhaps no candidate is more obvious than Alexander Ovechkin with the Washington Capitals.
The story is good in and of itself. One of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history finally makes it past the second round and he wins the Stanley Cup. After years of people saying the Caps couldn’t win with him — that he’s not a playoff performer, he’s not a student of the game – there he is, taking the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman and hoisting it above his head for all to see. He even knocked out Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins to do it!
Now, who does he pass it to first…
Nicklas Backstrom seems like the most obvious choice to me. He has played the perennially underrated Robin to Ovechkin’s Batman for his entire career, and in the process, become one of this generation’s premier playmakers. The announcers can say “And Ovechkin passes it to Backstrom for a change!”
Ovechkin and Backstrom have played their entire NHL careers together. Even during the 2012-13 lockout, they were on the same line with Dynamo Moscow in the KHL along with Leo Komarov. Underrated Backstrom story: He wore 99 in the KHL, people got mad, so he changed his number to 69. Nice.
Another candidate could be Evgeny Kuznetsov. After all, Kuznetsov is Ovechkin’s countryman and Ovechkin set up Kuznetsov for the OT-winner that finally finished off the Penguins, and it would be somewhat of a metaphorical torch-passing of the old guard to the new. Then again, Ovechkin is only 32 and Kuznetsov is about to turn 26, so that’s a stretch.
In terms of “the old guy”, Brooks Orpik could be a decent pick, although he already has a Cup ring. Braden Holtby also makes some sense based on tenure and his resurgence after half-losing his job this season.
The ultimate troll pick: Tom Wilson. I can already see the memes. Tom Wilson, Cup held high over his head, photoshopped onto the Free Willy movie poster. Oh, the salt that will be spilled.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
So yeah, this isn’t looking so good at the moment. Then again, teams have come back from 2-0 series deficits before. In terms of deciding who gets the Cup when, the Lightning are in a similar position as Washington.
Steven Stamkos obviously gets it first as the team captain. Like Ovechkin, he’s the former first-overall pick, goal-scoring machine captain of a team he’s been with his whole career, through thick and thin.
Who gets the first pass?
The Lightning’s “old guy” situation is interesting. Their oldest player is Chris Kunitz at 37. This would be his fifth Cup with his third different team. Actually, this would be his third straight Cup. Typically, the first pass is reserved for someone who hasn’t won it before, but that’s so incredible you kind of have to give it to him, don’t you?
Also in the mix is Twitter punching bag Dan Girardi, backup goalie Peter Budaj, and former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. Remember, Callahan was acquired for Martin St. Louis straight up.
The obvious choice might be Nikita Kucherov with the monstrous season he has had. As Jesse Blake pointed out on the Steve Dangle Podcast however, Victor Hedman is a great choice, too. Remember when the Lightning sucked? Well, they used to. As a result, Stamkos went first overall in 2008 and Hedman second overall in 2009. Steve Yzerman has built an excellent team around them but those two are the foundation the Lightning are built on. Hedman would be a perfect first pass.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Well, well, well.
Every time I write about Vegas in the Cup picture I just have to laugh a little. How on earth is this even happening? Usually expansion teams stink for a while, which helps fans adjust to them even existing. My brain is still getting used to the fact that the Golden Knights are an actual NHL team that plays games that count. The fact that they’re in Cup contention? It just looks like it’s a movie and not real life.
Being the only team in these playoffs without a captain, who gets the Cup first?
Is it breakout goal-scoring monster William Karlsson? Is it the undrafted, undersized Jonathan Marchessault? Is it James Neal, who was only two wins away with Nashville last season?
I think I got it.
Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup to… Deryk Engelland.
He’s a Las Vegas resident and the team’s oldest player at 35 years old. He played five seasons with the Penguins but didn’t join until after they won in 2009 and left before they won again in 2016. Not to mention the impassioned speech at the Golden Knights’ first-ever home game following the horrific shooting in the city.
Engelland has to get the Cup first. After a raucous lap, he hands the Cup to the player the Golden Knights were probably best known for heading into this season: Marc-Andre Fleury. It would be his fourth Cup and third straight. Third, Fleury gives it to…
Hopefully the suitcase he left the Panthers with has room for the Cup and Jack Adams Trophy.
Fourth, it goes to General Fanager himself, Tom Poraszka. I can dream.
The fans in Winnipeg have been so loud and energetic in these playoffs that they might just jump on the ice and grab the Cup before Bettman even picks up the mic.
In the event the whiteout doesn’t completely engulf the arena, who should get the Cup first in Winnipeg? The obvious answer is captain Blake Wheeler.
He was on the 2010-11 Bruins squad that went on to win the Cup, but was traded to Atlanta before the playoff run. Since then, he’s been with a team that didn’t have a playoff win until a month ago. Now they have the Cup and he was far and away the leading scorer on an offensive juggernaut.
Who gets the first pass?
There doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer in Winnipeg. You would think someone who has been with the team since the Thrashers days makes sense. Dustin Byfuglien would be a great pick. This would be his second Cup, winning his first in 2010 with Chicago.
At 36 years old, Matt Hendricks is Winnipeg’s designated old guy. Connor Hellebuyck is their Vezina-calibre saviour in net. Patrik Laine is the star of the present and future, plus there’s the whole “Laine Better” thing. Brian Little, Mark Scheifele, Tyler Myers, even Paul Maurice after an eternity – there really isn’t a wrong answer here.
When you win the Stanley Cup, I’m not sure there ever is a wrong answer. When you’re a champion, you pass that trophy to whoever you want.