NHL: A Hater’s Guide to the Stanley Cup Final

Stanley Cup on display on ice
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If you’re finding it difficult to get behind the Panthers or Golden Knights, here are a few reasons to cheer against them.

If you’re a Florida Panthers or Vegas Golden Knights fan, you have every reason to tune in when the Stanley Cup Final begins on June 3. You’re one of the lucky ones whose team made it.

For other hockey fans, it’s not always easy to get motivated to watch, especially if they are still mourning for their teams.

It might be too much to ask anyone to find a way to love the Panthers or Golden Knights, especially if they already have established feelings about them, but finding something to hate might be more accessible.

So we’ve decided to help reveal which team is easier to despise. By extension, help fans find a team to reluctantly cheer for when the festivities get going on Saturday based on their preferences.

If you hate people that cut ahead of you in line

The Golden Knights have only existed for six seasons, and it’s simply not their turn to win a Stanley Cup yet. 10 NHL franchises have never won a title despite existing for 22 or more seasons —including the Panthers, who came into being in 1995-96.

There are also 10 fanbases that have been waiting at least 30 years for a champion to hoist the cup.

Vegas deserves plenty of credit for becoming a model NHL franchise in such a short period of time, but they did receive a boost from the league’s generous expansion rules. Perhaps another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final will suffice as a reward.

This team is simply too young in existence to bring home the best trophy in sports.

If you hate the chaos

It can be extremely difficult to grapple with the notion that a large percentage of the consequential events that occur on this planet are the result of pure randomness and can be a more powerful force than anything humans bring about intentionally.

The Panthers are in position because they snuck into the playoffs due to an inexplicable result in a game they didn’t participate in. When the Penguins decided they did not want to play for the cup and lost to the lowly Blackhawks on the last day of the regular season. The best explanation for their success in the postseason is that a goaltender who has been on the worst contract on their books for four years is having a run for the ages.

Eighth seeds are not supposed to win championships, even in a sport like hockey that invites more parity than most. The Golden Knights were the best regular-season team in the Western Conference and belong in this battle far more than the Panthers.

The VGK are not going to bring order to the universe as a whole, but it might bring some semblance of it to the hockey world.

If you hate salary cap shenanigans

Some folks are real sticklers for the rules, and those who are might want to side with the Panthers in this series.

When a local paper has to clarify the Golden Knights “didn’t cheat” (Think New England Patriots of the football world) prior to the opening of the playoffs, it’s worth examining what they did do to bend the rules.

Essentially Vegas has been stashing tons of salary on Long Term Injured Reserve list, and the team has been questioned for bringing back Stone in the playoffs after keeping his cap hit off the books for much of the regular season, allowing them to bolster their roster at the trade deadline.

Nothing Vegas has done is explicitly illegal or even unprecedented. We saw a similar situation with Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay during the 2020-21 season.

But if you want to call it greasy and throw your lot in with Florida, that’s understandable.

If you hate the dirty play

While the Stanley Cup playoffs are known for featuring plenty of physical play by every team, there is a little bit of extra sauce here.

Panthers center Sam Bennett has developed a reputation for dangerous hits in recent years, and he has crossed a line a few times during these playoffs. Florida also employs Radko Gudas, who is known as “Radko the Butcher,” on account of his violent collisions, many of which aren’t on the up-and-up.

Alex Pietrangelo’s brutal slash against Leon Draisaitl in these playoffs has the Golden Knights surrendering some of the moral high ground, but for more of the playoffs, they’ve been victims rather than the goons.

The Edmonton Oilers went after Mark Stone in an unsavory way in the second round. Then, in the conference final, it was Jamie Benn with a senseless crosscheck on the Vegas’ captain.

If you don’t want to see dangerous play get rewarded, the Golden Knights are probably your team.

If you hate Toronto Maple Leafs fans

Considering the disproportionate amount of attention the Maple Leafs get in the hockey world, it’s understandable to dislike this fanbase. Toronto fans have plenty of excuses about the quality of the teams the Maple Leafs have lost to in recent seasons, and you may not want them to get another one.

If the Golden Knights are able to take down Florida, particularly in humiliating fashion, the Maple Leafs and their fans can’t take any positives from being beaten by the Panthers.

A Vegas win is unlikely to provide an end to the “how does this affect the Maple Leafs” tenor of NHL coverage, something we are not necessarily innocent of in this space. But it will be a minor victory for those who have developed a hatred for all things Leafs.

If you hate a cringy social media presence

Many NHL teams’ Twitter accounts play things safe with a dump-and-chase approach to posting that may not create game-changing plays but prevents dangerous counterattacks.

The Golden Knights are not one of those teams. That may sound like a positive, but the club’s looser approach leads to plenty of posts that will have some fans’ eyes rolling deep into the back of their skull.

If you hate rats

The story of the rats goes back to Oct. 8, 1995. Prior to a Panthers game against the Calgary Flames, a rat appeared in the Panthers’ locker room in the old Miami Arena. Former Panthers’ captain Scott Mellanby jumped up, grabbed a stick, and smacked the pesky rodent against a wall. Later that night, Mellanby scored two goals, leading then Panthers’ goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to quip, “He scored a rat trick.”

As the legend goes, the next night, a fan threw a plastic rat on the ice. The following night, a few more rodents found themselves sliding across the playing surface. A South Florida hockey tradition had been born, and the Year of the Rat was in full swing.

During that season, fans threw rats onto the ice after every goal, leading the Panthers to partner with the exterminator company Orkin and have men in exterminator uniforms clean up the rink. It was incredible to see opposing goalies, arguably the toughest athletes of any sport, cowering in their nets as the rats rained down upon them. Due to the Panthers’ new tradition, Miami Arena became one of the most raucous and hostile in sports.

The new ownership group, which had already brought back a version of the classic red sweaters, embraced the tradition and began selling plastic rats at the Bank Atlantic Center. It’s clear that the team has equally embraced the tradition too, often talking about the 1996 Cup run and how wonderful it is to see the fans involved again. Many players have even scooped up rats as souvenirs after key wins.

Overall:

As a fan of the Golden Knights, I am excited to see them get another shot at the Cup. Florida is a team that has never really grabbed my attention either way. I have been watching hockey for years and love this matchup. I will be wearing the Knights Crest on my chest come game day.

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