This is the the beginning and end for more than just the two organizations playing in the finals. Teams that were eliminated in the first round, or never made it in will spend this last stretch of the marathon evaluating what works best for other teams, who might reach the free agent market, and of course looking at the draft. With the general managers meeting today, some trades will go down as well.
For the Los Angeles Kings, many of whom have never played in the second round before this year, this is a huge adjustment. It’s not just the size of the stage that may start pressing on them. It’s the duration of the season. The bulk of the roster hasn’t played extended NHL hockey. Yes, they are a pretty young group. They have also been lucky enough to have some short series. But this is still an extra two months of hockey, and the Phoenix series was certainly not a gentle one.
Back on the east coast the New Jersey Devils have a far wider span of age and playoff experience. Marty Brodeur has been to the top of the mountain three times. Ilya Kovalchuk had never seen the second round before this year. The Adam’s had never seen the NHL post season until this year. Marek Zidlicky doubled his playoff experience along the road to the finals. The Devils are also a noticeably older team than their opponents, with nine players over 30 to just four on the Kings.
We all know who the best players on each team are. The question is of course who will be the best players in the Stanley Cup Finals. The last two Cup clinching goals were a rarity. Both Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks were already players most hockey fans were familiar with. The two were key parts to their teams and if you were identifying weaknesses or needed changes they’d be on the short list of players titled must keep. That’s not always the case in the Stanley Cup. It isn’t even often the case.
So who will come up big this year? Will Dwight King and Jordan Nolan be the guys who tip the balance of this series? Will Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold finally make the hockey world stand up and take note of who they are? None of the four is even close to a household name today. The Stanley Cup finals can turn some from anonymous grinder to sensation in one flick of the wrist.
For the organizations as whole, the finals appearance is huge. The Devils started the year with ownership concerns. The Kings have spent more than four decades in the NHL and only put their hand on the gate to the promised land once. Tonight for both teams, win or lose is the confirmation that the organizations are build right.
The Stanly Cup Finals are also a beginning. Even wit the looming labor negotiations, someone has to decide what to do with the sixteen pending UFA’s between the two teams. Someone has to figure out which of the RFA’s to tender qualifying offers to by July 1. For team with college players, and prospects playing out contracts overseas, we’ve hit critical mass on inviting these players to camp. Then there’s the behind the scenes contracts for coaches and managers, and of course European, juniors and college free agents. There’s no off season in hockey, just a time when less hockey is played.