Congratulations Anaheim Ducks.
I realize if you reside in Sharks Territory it's tough to say it, but it must be said. The best team won the Stanley Cup. They were the best team at the beginning of the season when they exploded out of the gate. They were the best team in the Pacific Division all year long. And after taking care of a very good Ottawa Senators club in five games it's clear that in 2007, the Anaheim Ducks are the class of the National Hockey League.
Aside from winning the Cup, the Ducks also accomplished some other things with their victory that will have much longer lasting positive effects on the NHL. First off, by winning the championship, Anaheim becomes the third straight franchise to win a Cup for the first time. Carolina did it last year and Tampa Bay the season before that. It's important for fans in every city in the League to know that their club has a fair shot at winning a championship. It's also the third straight season that the Cup has gone to a "non-traditional" hockey market. That's important for the long term health of the NHL too. Canadian hockey fans will grouse that they deserve a cup north of the border again. And they're right. It's now been 14 years since Lord Stanley was hoisted in the Great White North by the Montreal Canadians in 1993. But with Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa making it to the finals the last three seasons, at least a Canadian team has been near the finish line.
Anaheim became the first West Coast based team ever to win. Vancouver and Los Angeles have been to the Finals before, but they couldn't get over the hump. It proves once and for all that even though western based teams get the shaft from the schedule maker and have to travel umpteen more miles than their eastern brethren, it can be overcome. All you need is a superior team with a tough mental approach. That's what Anaheim had. They faced a much tougher road getting to the fourth round than Ottawa did, but it didn't matter. They were bigger, nastier and just flat out better than the Senators. Give full credit to the Ducks players, their coach Randy Carlyle and their General Manager Brian Burke.
But perhaps the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks greatest legacy will be their impact on the sport of hockey in the most populated place in North America - California. It's a fact that more people live in this state than live in the entire nation of Canada. Even though the Los Angeles Kings were born out of the NHL's first expansion in 1967, all three teams in California are still fighting for recognition and credibility in a crowded sports and entertainment marketplace. Nothing helps accelerate progress like success. Anaheim entered the League after the Sharks, and much later than the Kings back in 1967. Yet they won the championship first. It's a kick in the gut for hockey fans and hockey team owners in San Jose and Los Angeles, but I think that's a good thing. Anaheim's Stanley Cup championship will intensify the in-state rivalries with the Kings and Sharks and it will also push those organizations to get even better than they already are.
I think Anaheim's championship will also stimulate the growth of hockey in California. Just imagine how many people who might not normally have cared about the sport are now interested in hockey, or maybe even hooked on it, because of what the Ducks did. More kids will play the game, the footprint gets a little bigger, and the sport flourishes. Not just in the O.C., but throughout the state.
It was bittersweet watching Anaheim's players twirl around the Honda Center with the Stanley Cup hoisted above their heads. I was happy for the players, especially Teemu Selanne, one of the finest people I've ever met in the game. But it was also a reminder that the Sharks are still chasing the dream. The ultimate goal is still unfulfilled. And now that a team from California has won it all, the stakes are even higher.
For Seagate Technology’s “In The Crease,” I’m Randy Hahn.