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Every time a team lifts the Stanley Cup, a different emotion runs through my body.
When the Ducks won in 2007, it was happiness for Chris Pronger, who was my favorite player growing up and had finally won his first (and now, seemingly, last) championship.
When Detroit won in 2008, it was relief that the Penguins had not.
When the Penguins and Bruins won in 2009 and 2011, respectively, it was disbelief and anger, pure jealously for archrivals.
But when the Kings won on Monday night, it was something completely different. It was sadness. Not jealousy, just sadness.
Don’t get me wrong. I was thrilled to see the Kings win the Stanley Cup and see players like Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick celebrate on the ice like ten year olds. It was an unbelievable moment, just like it always is. The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in all of sports to win, and winning it is the crowning achievement for any hockey player. You walk together forever with the men you win it with.
Watching that moment, however, made me think of the Capitals more than I have in years past. Of course, I was sad because for another year, a team other than the Caps are popping $200 bottles of champagne in their locker room. But also because I think the Caps are not closer, but farther away, than last season and in seasons past, when good, deep teams had come unglued in the playoffs for whatever reason.
Coming off another season in which they fell woefully short of preseason expectations, the Capitals are in a state of turmoil. Currently without a head coach, whoever is pegged to be the next bench boss is likely to be a rookie, based on George McPhee’s track record; those rarely win the Stanley Cup. In addition, having so much turnover among head coaches often does not lead to success. Since 1994, more than half of the teams to have three head coaches in two years since did not make the playoffs in the first year under their third coach and only one hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Moreover, the Kings have the pieces to set up a dynasty at important positions. They have three of the very best centers in the NHL in Mike Richards, Kopitar, and Jeff Carter. The Capitals have one center of that quality – Nicklas Backstrom. The Kings have Doughty, a top-five defenseman on both sides of the puck, and a deep defensive corps that blends youth and experience. The Capitals may have that soon, but they don’t now. The Kings have Quick, who is now undoubtedly the best goaltender on the planet, while the Capitals have not had a true bona-fide number one goaltender in ten years. They are a favorite every year now.
When looking at this past year’s Capitals team, you just didn’t see that. The Capitals had a below average regular season, and they never really looked like a bona fide Stanley Cup contender to me. Yes, they came together and won seven playoff games to match their deepest plunge into the postseason in 14 years. But I never really got the feeling that they were good enough, really good enough, to bring it all home. I sure wanted to, but I never saw it.
It sucks. Especially with the way the three seasons before this past one played out. You knew that the Capitals were a very good team after those seasons. Now, you wonder, while watching a great team like the Kings win it all.
And that, friends, is why Monday night made me sad. We all know how badly all of us want it as fans, and in that moment, success and achievement seem so far away. But at the same time, it also gave me hope. Because eventually, it will come. It may not come next year, or the year after that, or any time in the next decade. But it will come.
One day, we will get our damn parade. We will get the champagne and the raucous celebrations. We’ll get to celebrate like little kids while watching our team do the exact same thing. We will all stand and cheer when the captain of the Capitals receives Stanley from the commissioner.
And all of this? Well, all of this will be worth it.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals and the 2012 Stanley Cup Final for RtR. Follow him on twitter here.