As many of you know by now, the local hockey team here – the Tampa Bay Lightning, made the semifinal round of the Stanley Cup. They’re playing the very able Washington Capitals to see who represents the East in the finals.
Another team that’s made it this far – the Vegas Golden Knights. What’s unusual about the Knights is this is their very first season, yet they could make the finals as well.
It should be noted that the NHL has had an odd history with expansion. In 1967, they expanded from their long-standing lineup of six teams – Toronto, Montreal, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit – to twelve teams, they put all of the expansion teams in the same division, which assured an expansion squad would make the Stanley Cup. The St. Louis Blues made the finals three straight years in 1968, 1969, and 1970 – but were swept each year, by Montreal the first two seasons, and by Boston in 1970 with Bobby Orr scoring a famous goal to clinch the Cup for the Bruins.
What Vegas has been able to do all season as a first-year club has been nothing short of phenomenal. First-year clubs in major North American sports usually get the scraps of other teams, and thus usually don’t contend. Most teams don’t think about winning games fresh out of the box – instead, they focus on being contenders in subsequent seasons. For example, in the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 26 straight regular-season games in 1976 and 1977. In 1979, they made the playoffs and missed the Super Bowl that year by a mere nine points.
As I type this, the Winnipeg Jets won the first game of their series with Vegas. I’m sure all of Canada, the home of hockey, will root for the Jets to advance so they can take on either Washington or Tampa Bay. For selfish reasons, I’m pulling for a Tampa Bay-Vegas final, because they are my two favorite teams – and either way, it’d be a good story.