For a third consecutive year, an Eastern Conference team has won the Stanley Cup. The road that brought the Washington Capitals to this moment, to their first-ever Cup win, has been nothing short of wild. With a first-ever Cup on the line for whoever won, the Capitals or the Golden Knights, this Cup Final felt bigger than ever. That makes the lessons learned from this series all the more important for the future of the game.
1. Washington’s reputation for choking can be put to bed.
Even if Washington hadn’t won in Game 5, if any other team had put up the fight they put up against Vegas, there’s no way they would be labeled chokers. The Capitals’ reputation has preceded them for far too long. Two years in a row before this one, they won the Presidents Trophy as the league’s top regular season team, and now they’ve got a Stanley Cup. That’s a lot of winning over the last three years.
While we’re at it, Conn Smythe winner Alex Ovechkin has proven he’s capable of leading a team to a title, so that drag on his reputation can take a permanent rest, too.
2. Goaltender interference is going to continue haunt the league.
The momentum of Game 5 shifted with a challenge for goaltender interference in the second period. David Perron and Christian Djoos crowded Braden Holbty’s crease. Perron fell and kicked Holtby’s leg out from under him. The call on the ice stood, and Vegas was awarded a game-tying goal.
There are a lot of layers here. Djoos pushed Perron, and the contact between Perron and Holtby seemed incidental, but Perron undoubtedly impeded Holtby’s ability to make a save. When players are roughing each other up that deep in the crease, it seems irresponsible to let play continue. The league has work to do when it comes to goaltender interference. That call could’ve drastically changed a game with a championship on the line. Despite attempts to minimize those kinds of calls, there’s still work to be done.
3. Some of the series’ key players are about to get paid in free agency.
The Golden Knights have 11 players who are up for contract extensions. Five of those players — James Neal, David Perron, Deryk Engelland, Clayton Stoner and Ryan Reaves — are over 30 and may not be seeking or getting major extensions with Vegas.
But breakout star William Karlsson is up for a new deal, and as Vegas’ top center, he’ll see a pretty pay raise. Defenseman Shea Theodore will also be one to watch.
For the Capitals, they’ve got 10 players to consider new deals for. The most important is defenseman John Carlson, an unrestricted free agent who will make lots of money. Others include Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Michal Kempny and Jay Beagle.
4. There’s a lot of pressure on Seattle expansion.
A team in Seattle is a few years away, at least. Seattle will hopefully benefit from the same expansion rules that were meant to make Vegas immediately competitive; but Vegas’ success may make it difficult for the Seattle GM to make as much headway in swindling the way to a competitive roster. There’s likely some unresolved animosity across the league in seeing players teams gave up for nothing — and in several cases, paid Vegas to take — playing in the Stanley Cup Final. If Seattle can’t replicate Vegas’ success, that new team (which wouldn’t start play in 2020) might be seen as a disappointment. That wouldn’t quite be fair, given that Vegas is a historic outlier as a first-year expansion team.
5. Hockey won’t be able to avoid politics for much longer.
While the Capitals have yet to announce a decision on visiting Donald Trump in the White House, Devante Smith-Pelly has made it clear he has no interest, calling some of President Trump’s views “straight-up racist and sexist.”
Hockey fans and players haven’t needed to confront political protest in the sport, largely due to the lack of racial diversity in its players. The Pittsburgh Penguins visited President Trump, citing tradition for their decision last year. And last fall, as political protests swept across multiple sport leagues, J.T. Brown, then of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was the only NHL player to protest, raising his first during the national anthem in a preseason game.
Smith-Pelly has made his stance known, so it won’t be long before a decision has to be made across that locker room; and it could mark something big for a league that doesn’t like to rock the boat. The Washington Capitals are going to continue making history.
Trump’s already talking about the Capitals:
Congratulations to the Washington Capitals on their GREAT play and winning the Stanley Cup Championship. Alex Ovechkin, the team captain, was spectacular - a true Superstar! D.C. is popping, in many ways. What a time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2018
6. Hockey has a home in Vegas
The Golden Knights are here to stay. Time and again, they’ve had to prove that hockey can not only survive in the desert, but thrive there, as well.
Losing in the Stanley Cup Final gives Vegas something to fight for next season, and this team has shown that having a reason to fight brings out its best. Too many people had been waiting in that city for a team to call their own. Now,they have one.