This Cup A Little Bittersweet

June 5, 2006 -- Paul Doyle -- Hartford Courant

Twelve years ago, it would have been a sublime idea for Hartford hockey fans.

The Stanley Cup finals, Chris Pronger on the ice and Chuck Kaiton behind the microphone. The voice of the franchise describing a title run, the franchise savior leading his team to a championship.

Beginning tonight, the fantasy is coming true. Thirteen years after he was drafted by the Whalers and 11 years after he was traded to St. Louis, Pronger is in the finals for the first time.

And his Edmonton Oilers are facing the former Whalers. Kaiton is one of the few remaining links, still calling games for the Carolina Hurricanes nine years after the franchise left Hartford.

For the post-lockout NHL, this is hardly a marquee Stanley Cup matchup. But for anyone with a Whalers jersey still hanging in their closet, there is a rooting interest in the Oilers-Hurricanes series.

Do you choose your dearly departed team or the player who was once the teenage hope of your franchise?

While you decide where to invest your passion, consider some series subplots:

Winner gets the Stanley Cup and the AVCO Cup

When the renegade WHA debuted on Oct. 11, 1972, the Alberta Oilers defeated the Ottawa Nationals. When the first WHA season was over, the New England Whalers were AVCO Cup champions. These finals mark the first time two WHA survivors will be playing for the Stanley Cup, so let's pay tribute to hockey's rebel league.

Return of the Dynasty

The Oilers haven't won a Cup since 1990, when the Mark Messier-led team beat the Bruins. That title capped a run of five titles in seven years and it was the first championship without Wayne Gretzky. There are a few links to the glory years, including general manager Kevin Lowe, coach Craig MacTavish and assistant coaches Charlie Huddy and Craig Simpson.

Our teenage hope is all grown up

Pronger came to Hartford as an 18-year-old in 1993, the second overall pick in the draft who was compared to Larry Robinson and was pegged the new face of the franchise. Within two years, the disappointing Pronger was traded to the Blues for Brendan Shanahan. He developed into an elite player, but Pronger has never won a title. In his first season with the Oilers and 12th in the NHL, Pronger has led his team to the brink of a championship.

The last link

Glen Wesley is the only Carolina player left from the Hartford era. Wesley, 37, has played 1,473 regular season and playoff games, but he has never won a Stanley Cup. Only seven players in history have played more games without a Cup. Wesley played in two Stanley Cup finals with the Bruins and is one of eight current Hurricanes who played in the 2002 finals.

Familiar face

Doug Weight came to the Oilers from the Rangers in 1993 and was Edmonton's most consistent player through the 1990s. He was traded to St. Louis in 2001, when the Oilers were in the midst of a salary purge. He is now chasing his first Cup as a member of the Hurricanes and his opponent is his old team.

Post-lockout NHL

The NHL shut down for a season as owners talked about the need for fiscal sanity. So it's appropriate that the teams playing for a title in the first year back are from small markets. While big spenders in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Denver are home, the Stanley Cup will be decided by two bargain shoppers. It's the Stanley Cup as blue light special.