Quite a title isn't it? Now that I have your attention, what does this title really mean in terms of this time of the season? The answer is comparing last season's successes to this year's expectations. Specifically, the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and why this battle of "underdogs" is in existence and what could come from it from either side; and what each team has to do to achieve the Stanley Cup.
Starting with the higher ranked Washington Capitals, they were last season's President Trophy winners. They were simply the best team in the league. They had the right players and chemistry meshed together, but ran into the Penguins, in the second round... postseason format is a different story for a different blog.
Anyway, the Capitals had dominance and power over everybody, having elite defensemen, and strong forwards balanced with a near record-breaking starting goaltender in Braden Holtby. However, the postseason came and the armor was coming off the soldier. The Vegas Golden Knights selected Nate Schmidt; Justin Williams walked to Carolina; Karl Alzner signed the big bucks in Montreal; Kevin Shattenkirk also took t
he money to the Big Apple; and Marcus Johansson was dealt to New Jersey.
With all these big players gone, some might ask where the money went? They locked up winger TJ Oshie, to an 8 year deal; center Evgney Kuznetsov, to an 8 year deal; and winger Andre Burkavosky, to a bridge deal. With the subtractions, they added depth players, looking to prove something to themselves, and to the other 30 teams in the leauge, in wingers Devante Smith-Pelly and Alex Chaisson.
The Capitals were given low expectations, and were expected wild card spots by many; some said a complete miss from the playoffs. Not many, myself included, would've imagined another Division title, on the backs of Alex Ovechkin.
As for Columbus, they went hot with 16 straight wins, and then falling short to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were on fire, chasing both Pittsburgh and Washington for the Division title; but Washington stayed so far and above beyond elite, that nobody could do anything about it.
Pittsburgh chased Columbus out of the playoffs in the first round. Now what? Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen found trade partners in Chicago Blackhawks general manager, Stan Bowman; and new Vegas Golden Knights general manager, George McPhee, and pulled off his best trade as general manger; and also his worst; in the same month. Starting with Vegas, he traded winger David Clarkson and a first round pick so Vegas would take William Karlsson. Karlsson, with Vegas, led the team, and was third in league goal scoring, with 41 goals!!! With that horrendeous trade done with, they dealt winger Brandon Saad; goalie Anton Forsberg; and a 2018 5th round pick to the Hawks for winger Artemi Panarin; winger Tyler Motte; and a 2017 6th round pick (from the New York Islanders), and they drafted winger Jonathan Davidsson.
Over the summer, they lost center Sam Gagner to Vancouver, and goalie Oscar Dansk to Vegas. Like Washington, they added players who wanted to prove themselves, in wingers Zac Dalpe and Jordan Schroder.
The season went on, and both teams got hot at different times, keeping themselves in postseason contention. Where these two divide is what they did at the Trade Deadline.
The Capitals, and their cap problems, were only able to add cheap defensemen in Michael Kempny from Chicago and Jakub Jakarek from Montreal.
Columbus went into the deadline in the midst of wild card contention, and went low with their deals, but added defenseman Ian Cole from Ottawa (after being dealt from Pittsburgh two days prior); center Mark Letestu, who was in a three way trade; and winger Thomas Vanek, for depth wingers and mid round picks in Nic Mourtey; Jussi Jokinen; and Tyler Motte.
Come postseason, Columbus won 10 games in a row, again, and earned wild card; while Washington reigned supreme. But Columbus leads the series 2-0. What has to happen? Comment below! More to come...