Postcards from Two Stanley Cup Worlds

We as a nation are at a precipice, teetering over the edge like a seesaw on amphetamines. A “Moment” is coming to pass, reverently capitalized and fearfully politicized. 2016 will surely be a red-letter year, but whether that crimson is a jubilant hue of exultation or a macabre shade of bygone doom remains to be seen. I am speaking, of course, about this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

Sure, there’s an election. But there’s an election every year, somewhere, for something, and how much does your life really change? You still buy your two-ply toilet paper and your single-ply potato chips. You still refuse to register to vote. But the Stanley Cup Final is beamed directly into your living room, into your unprepared virgin retinas, whether you signed up or not. It’s important we stop and think about the ramifications of championship glory for these hockey clubs. What will the world look like if the Pittsburgh Penguins or the San Jose Sharks win the Stanley Cup?

I’m glad you asked. At no small expense to myself or my wealthy benefactors at Crooked Scoreboard, I  have commissioned the construction of a time machine. It has limited range, like a North Korean ballistic missile, but it works well enough to send me three months into the future and back again. I have seen the future, folks. And “bleak” doesn’t begin to describe it.

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In Hellish Alternate Timeline Alpha, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won their second Stanley Cup of the decade. The victory parade was lovely; I’ve never seen so many types of mustard shaken about and sprayed like champagne. Jubilant throngs of Yinzer ephemera embraced one another like platters of long-lost Primanti Bros. sandwiches, and the entire city of Philadelphia mourned not three hundred miles away. That much, I can find no fault with.

The coronation of Sidney Crosby is erotic and ongoing. He cannot legally be made mayor, due to conventions of democracy and nationality, but he was quickly placed into a newly created city council seat. Known for making “backhanded assists,” his transition to politics was an easy one.

Head Coach Mike Sullivan is now unemployed, fired at the end of the parade in a grand ceremony. His firing, like the pre-Columbian practice of sacrificing the finest athletes and purest prepubescents, follows the Penguins tradition of canning championship-winning coaches immediately after impressive playoff runs. Dan Bylsma, the former Cup-winning Penguins coach, remains smug but sympathetic.

As for the realities of the salary cap, the future is kind to the Penguins. Two of the Pens’ four unrestricted free agents are over thirty years old, including 39-year-old favorite Matt Cullen. Like all over-the-hill Pittsburgh antiquities, they were allowed to fade into fat obscurity, retreating to the Pennsylvania countryside to visit the townspeople on a bimonthly basis. The young, talented core of the team remains largely unchanged, with rookie firebrands like Conor Sheary on the books for another year at just half a million dollars.

More broadly, the nation has lost hope. The Penguins winning a Stanley Cup feels as inevitable and preordained as the Patriots winning a Super Bowl, or Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination. The Empire has triumphed; the Death Star has won.

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In Hellish Alternate Timeline Beta, the San Jose Sharks have shocked the world into belief, both in the existence of San Jose and of miracles. Longtime stalwarts “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, “Pesky” Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns all get the championship they’ve worked together to bring to San Jose for over five years. The Sharks get their first Stanley Cup as a franchise, and decades of impotent rage at being a second-tier team and third-tier city are instantly washed away in a vindicating cascade of “told ya so.”

Beloved veteran Joel Ward, formerly of the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals, continues to enjoy his righteous victory over the crowds of racist scum who’ve doubted him his whole career and spit venom at him on Twitter. Coolly, confidently, as he’s done since he entered the NHL ten years ago, Ward took a slow moment to stroke his championship ring, admired his reflection in the silver of the Cup, took a long, satisfying drag of an unfiltered offseason cigarette, and remarked, “Scoreboard.”

The Sharks made some tough roster decisions in the wake of their championship. Showstopping second year player Tomas Hertl was resigned to a five year deal, while expendable unrestricted free agents like Old Man Dainius Zubrus and backup goalie James Reimer were allowed to skate off to greener pastures elsewhere. With the remaining cap space, the Sharks were able to bring on sentient human toe-thumb Pierre McGuire in a front office consulting capacity. In reality, the move was a long-term play; without McGuire to offer unsolicited praise and encouragement to the Penguins on a nightly basis, Pittsburgh soon withered and died, like a plant denied its supply of CO2.

More broadly, the Sharks’ victory taught a weary nation two valuable lessons. First, it showed that no matter how long you’ve toiled in futility, glory is always just a “next year” away. And secondly, it served as a fatal blow to environmental lobbyists and a damaging buoy to climate-change deniers that, fear not, even as the planet grows hotter, sharks will always have penguins to feast on.

In response, Gary Bettman moved the team to Las Vegas and announced a lockout.

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Jason Rogers is a hockey writer based in Washington DC. You should follow him on Twitter.

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