Half Baked: One Victory Parade. Two Different Kinds of Tears.
With the Stanley Cup final ending in five games Friday night with an L.A. Kings victory over the New York Rangers, we asked two fans to channel their emotions into something constructive: a conversation about their hopes, fears, dreams, and, in some cases, searing regrets. Here, Grantland’s resident Rangers enthusiast Katie Baker chats with Kings season-ticket holder and blogger The Royal Half. (You can read their previous discussions here, here, and here.) Jonathan Quick’s loosened tie delights them both.
Katie Bakes: Day is done, gone the sun. As I type this, I could be watching yet another double-overtime game, this one a Game 6 in Madison Square Garden that would stretch way past everyone’s bedtimes rather than just being a minor dinner reservation inconvenience in L.A. The prevailing pregame story would be that the Rangers had just gutted it out to win two straight and extend the series to a sixth game in their building, and oh man, just imagine if they won! Darryl Sutter would give cranky answers to questions about momentum. Dancing Larry would annoy me. StubHub prices would be through the roof.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Instead, I am back home in (northern) California, watching soccer and massaging kale, as if none of this ever happened. That’s because with a little more than five minutes to play in the second extra session Friday night, a Kings three-on-two led to a rebound that Alec Martinez slammed past Henrik Lundqvist, and suddenly the L.A. Kings had won two Stanley Cups in three seasons and hockey was done for the year.
For Kings fans it was another wild ride with a happy ending, one more thrill in a postseason laden with them. For New York … well, this photo of Lundqvist in a coma on the ice sums it all up.
And so while the Rangers cleaned out their locker room in New York and gave somber interviews about what happens now and what should have happened then, the Kings cruised around downtown L.A. on double-decker buses for their victory parade and retweeted photos of player-on-player smooches. Needless to say, lots has gone down since we last chatted. I was younger and more beautiful then.
Other than the obvious no. 1 of Sutter tanned and shirtless, what are your top five highlights since the puck dropped for Game 5 on Friday night?
The Royal Half: I’m sorry, Katie … but I can’t hear you with both Stanley Cup rings in my ears. (YESSSSS, I’ve always wanted to be able to say that to someone!!!)
Katie Bakes: Luc Robitaille has definitely said that into a mirror.
The Royal Half: It’s nearly four days later and I’m still in a complete daze. But thankfully, seeing Sutter’s tan leather torso was able to snap me out of my Stanley Cup hangover so that I can look back at the night the L.A. Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
5. THE ENTIRE OVERTIME
Regardless of whether you were a Kings or a Rangers fan … those OTs were the reason why we have 20-minute sudden death in the playoffs. From the posts being constantly rung to the middle of Slava Voynov’s stick preventing Rangers fans from cheering for Rick Nash … those two overtime periods will be remembered for a long time.
4. DUSTIN BROWN HANDING THE CUP TO ROBYN REGEHR
Sure, Regehr has been the whipping boy this season for Kings fans … but during the final 20 games of the year and into the playoffs until he got injured, Regehr was one of L.A.’s best defensemen. That Brown screamed, “Reginald, let’s go” as he handed over the Cup makes you love that goofy Shrek-looking guy even more. (To be clear, I’m talking about Regehr, not Brown.)
3. DREW DOUGHTY AND MIKE RICHARDS’S HUG
This man hug, forever.
Katie Bakes: 3b. This celebration, forever.
The Royal Half: 2. JEFF SCHULTZ’S CUP RAISE
I’m not sure if this made any of the broadcasts … but when Schultz took his turn with the Cup on the ice, he barely lifted it up and quickly looked to hand it off. Matt Greene screamed that his effort wasn’t good enough, so Schultz took a more pronounced lap. The Kings wouldn’t even have been playing the Rangers if Schultz hadn’t stepped in during Round 2 against the Ducks, so this was a great moment for the 2010 Plus/Minus Award winner.
1. ALEC MARTINEZ JAZZ HANDS
Katie Bakes: I didn’t even know about the jazz hands because I’d been avoiding watching the footage. The bar I was at immediately turned the channel in disgust when the Kings won.
When the puck crossed the goal line, the feelings of helplessness and finality inspired me to reflect on some meaningful New York memories. Like the rainy night I dropped my keys down a subway grate on my way home from work. Or the time I got abruptly dumped in front of the Barbour store on 80th and Madison and then for some reason still split a cab back downtown with the guy. [Puts fingers in ears, closes eyes, and starts humming Sinatra.]
The Royal Half: I think you are forgetting one of the most painful New York nights of your life: April 3, 2013, the day Marian Gaborik was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets because John Tortorella didn’t like the way he played the game of hockey.
Katie Bakes: He’s at a farm with a big yard now, with so much more space to run around. It’s better this way.
On the topic of former Rangers present and future, the franchise’s CapGeek page is the most frightening thing I’ve looked at in the past 24 hours. It’s almost certain that the team will use its one remaining “compliance buyout” to end the Brad Richards era, freeing up $6.67 million. (I liked ol’ Richie, who scored a lot of big goals in his time with the Rangers and was consistently professional, but he ultimately just couldn’t keep up with the speed of the rest of the team.)
But even with that newfound breathing room, things are going to get uncomfortably tight. Mats Zuccarello is a restricted free agent, and his paycheck will likely triple. Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard are also RFAs. The Rangers will probably wind up saying good-bye to Brian Boyle, if a player like Brandon Prust serves as any precedent. As Greg Wyshynski put it: “Brian Boyle is the kind of player who leaves via UFA and then his former team ends up looking for ‘a Brian Boyle type’ for next 5 years.”
The biggest decision will be what to do with Anton Stralman. The defenseman contributed a lone goal for the Rangers this season but is a #fancystat darling who has driven play, made goal-line saves and gorgeous hip checks in the postseason, and positioned himself as as a top-four defenseman. (If you wanted to get crazy, you could make the case that he deserves to be a first-pairing guy on a Stanley Cup team.) It’ll be interesting to see how hardball the Rangers try to get — because I suspect there are a number of teams that understand his value.
The Royal Half: I’m not sure why so many Rangers fans are annoyed with the L.A. Kings. They made the decision to buy out Richards really, really easy for Glen Sather. I heard that Richards didn’t show up for the final New York media day. Good to know he was keeping his five-game streak of not showing up alive.
The Kings have a lot of big decisions to make over the summer as well. For instance … where is Justin Williams going to spend his third day with the Stanley Cup so he won’t get bored? Will Kyle Clifford keep putting his newborn baby inside the Cup bowl or will he eventually eat it to fulfill his zombie soul cravings? And is Jeff Carter going to shave his hipster beard off? (We here at #TeamTRH say “NO.”)
And don’t think you’re that special, Katie. The Rangers aren’t the only team that has to decide if it wants to buy out a Richards this offseason. I doubt the Kings are going to buy out Mike Richards, but with the salary cap going up, we might be witnessing the end of his time in Los Angeles.
Katie Bakes: No wonder he always sounds like he’s on the verge of tears!
The Royal Half: Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene are UFAs. I’d imagine the Kings would like to keep one of them around. Mitchell was in tears on the ice during the celebration aftermath and Greene took a couple of quiet moments to step away from the crowd and soak it all in. Both know that their time in Los Angeles could be up with much heralded, much younger stay-at-home defenseman Brayden McNabb in the wings.
Dwight King is an RFA. I’d imagine the Kings will re-sign him. And that just leaves one other UFA heading into next season … Gaborik, the former N.Y. Ranger. This will be the most interesting negotiation of the offseason. Gaborik has played himself into another monster contract, but will he be willing to take less to stay in L.A. for three more years? Hopefully, GM Dean Lombardi can hypnotize Gaborik like Reggie Jackson in The Naked Gun … and Gabbo will do whatever Deano says.
Katie Bakes: That reminds me! The most chilling thing to take place during Monday’s Cup celebration rally was when Lombardi — “stalking around the players like a drunken groomsmen at a wedding,” quoth our buddy Jesse Cohen — asked Anze Kopitar and Brown which of their Stanley Cup rings is their favorite. “THE NEXT ONE,” they declared in grinning unison. Oh my god, Children of the Dean! We’re all gonna die!!!
The Royal Half: Now we know why all of these players are signing manageable contracts in Los Angeles … Lombardi has some sort of Manchurian Candidate power over these guys.
The best part of that sketch between Lombardi, Brown, and Kopitar is that you know Lombardi was making them rehearse it on the bus ride to the parade for at least 40 minutes. And when Brown was struggling with his line, Lombardi had to threaten a trade in order for Brown to finally get his act together.
Katie Bakes: Let me pose a similar question to you. (And if you answer “the next one,” I’ll know there’s some creepy L.A. bullshit afoot.) How would you compare this Cup with the 2012 version?
I know you’ll always remember your first time, but with all of those short series it really seemed like it was over so fast. This time around, in contrast … cripes, I just realized there’s no way for me to continue this line of thought without it devolving into a double entendre on “from behind.”
The Royal Half: 2012 was magical because it came out of nowhere. It was a team left for dead that made a panic trade for Jeff Carter and barely squeezed into the playoffs as an eighth seed. Tears streamed down my face as I sat in my half-season-ticket holder seats as the clock counted down and radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson said, “After 45 years, the Kings can wear their crown.”
Katie Bakes: Wait, the radio announcer? Were you pulling a Bartman™?
The Royal Half: (Just go with me here, Bakes … I’m setting the mood.)
Katie Bakes: It’s cool, I bet a good 80 percent of Rangers fans would claim they heard the “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” call on TV.
The Royal Half: The Kings were up 6-1 in that Game 6, so everyone at Staples Center was building up all game, getting ready to release their celebration in those last few seconds.
2014 was different. It truly demonstrated how good this Kings team is from top to bottom. Sure, they were also kinda left for dead when down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks. But come on … it was the Sharks.
In the past two years there has been plenty of criticism that 2012 was “lightning in a bottle,” that the Kings only won the Cup because they beat three easy teams on their way to the final. (Even though those three “easy” teams were nos. 1, 2, and 3 overall in the Western Conference.) Well, this year the Kings beat three of the best teams in the NHL on their way to the final. And sure, playing in seven elimination games is probably not the best way for a team to show its dominance … but winning those seven elimination games just might be.
Instead of sitting in your seat crying at the achievements of the 2014 Kings team, you sat in your seat and were amazed by them. Three Game 7s … three consecutive wins after being down 2-0 in the first period, three or four players who could have easily won the Conn Smythe.
Katie Bakes: Still wish it were Doughty.
The Royal Half: I guess I’m saying 2012 was The Godfather and 2014 was The Godfather: Part II.
Katie Bakes: The reason winning in the playoffs is so fun is that you keep getting happy coverage of your favorite team long after everyone else is stuck Googling the stats of 18-year-old draft-eligibles and bickering over buyouts. If you win, you get to indulge all your team’s favorite weirdnesses via the absurdity of the parade, and you get ridiculous slo-mo videos tailor-made JUST FOR YOU. I watch and rewatch New York Giants’ Super Bowl DVDs the way some weirdos view their wedding videos.
But for those of us on the other side of the coin, enduring the (totally understandable!) braggadocio of the winners really rubs salt in the wound. At one point the Fox Sports West announcers, filling time before the parade, spent upward of 10 minutes talking with the Keeper of the Cup about what differentiates a player’s second day with the Cup from his first. (The answer was that they sometimes bring it to their wives’ childhood towns rather than their own, and also something about Kopitar and Olympic skier Tina Maze both being Slovenian?)
The Royal Half: I know it’s not their official “Days With the Cup” yet … but the other night Willie Mitchell took the Cup to Nobu in Malibu … where he promptly ran into Giada De Laurentiis and her husband. Seriously … IS THERE ANYTHING MORE L.A. THAN THAT?!?
Katie Bakes: What I wouldn’t give to see what Zuccarello would do with the Cup, or to view Instagram pictures of all umpteen Boyle siblings hanging out with it in their Boston-area backyard. (By the way, word on the street is that Boyle’s wedding is this weekend. I guess he wasn’t planning on a parade.) Which player’s 24-hour private possession of the mighty chalice are you most looking forward to, and what would YOU do on your day(s) with the Cup?
The Royal Half: I really can’t wait to see what Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson do. And I think they should be forced to share their day with the Cup, because I feel like these two kids will be associated with each other for the rest of their long NHL careers. They are like Stockon and Malone, but with actual championships won!
For myself, the first thing I would do is bring it to my parents. Because when I came to them at 11 years old — after Wayne Gretzky was traded to L.A. — and declared, “I want to play hockey!” they didn’t look at me strangely or even tell me to shut up and go away. Like all of my phases growing up, they indulged it (don’t even get me started about the guitar lessons!). And in the process they turned into huge hockey fans.
After that, I’d bring it back to my house and enjoy it with some friends as we swim in the pool in some classic beautiful Southern California weather. And then I’d eat sushi and short-rib tacos out of it.
Katie Bakes: On my first victory tour I’d bring it to my high school rink, where I’d give a rambling Jordanesque speech about how my coach damaged my psyche during fragile years and I never really recovered. Upon being escorted out, I’d haul the thing to my friend Kate’s childhood screened-in back porch and drink wine with ice cubes out of it until I fell asleep in a seated position on the sofa, because it’s important to pay tribute to the people and the routines that helped turn you into a champion.
There would be no second time around.
The Royal Half: There certainly would not. But don’t be sad … the Rangers did win two Cups in five years between 1928 and 1933! So you got that going for ya.
Plus, now that it’s finally the offseason, we can return to that pastime you and I enjoy most: stalking Kopitar’s dog, which looks exactly like your beloved Stan!
Katie Bakes: He stole my heart then stole my dog. Sounds like a country song.
The Royal Half: I’mma let you finish, Bakes … but the L.A. Kings already have a country song.
Katie Bakes: Of course they do. Those assholes have it all.