There are varying degrees of acceptability when it comes to commemorating NHL achievement.
Stanley Cup Champions gear is practically mandatory if yours is the last team standing in the tournament, both to celebrate history and to rub it in your buddies' faces that, if only for a year, their teams were clearly inferior.
Conference champions gear? Not exactly required if you won the big prize. Not exactly a point of pride if you lost in the Finals, but it's still an impressive feat to be one of the last two teams playing that season — especially if it was an unexpected run. So, yes, let your conference champs freak flag fly.
Division champions gear? This exists for (a) fans who simply want to marinate in their team's annual success by buying up every piece of swag created and (b) fans who want to honor a singular achievement in their franchise's history (says the guy who owns a 1988 Devils Patrick Division Playoff Champions shirt).
But what about a regular-season achievement, like a President's Trophy or a regular-season conference championship? They make swag for it, because the NHL and Reebok never met a dime they wouldn't accept.
But have you ever seen a fans proudly wear it? Or actually buy it?
Many of these societal norms apply to the championship banners that hang inside an arena as well. Hence, the Washington Capitals were called out for their hubris on Tuesday: The Capitals hoisted two Eastern Conference regular-season champions banners and were ridiculed for it, because the playoffs haven't exactly been kind to Alex Ovechkin and the boys.
But they aren't alone.
I can't think of any other teams that have similar banners of the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure he's accurate there. So while I won't say with certainty that no team in the league has similar banners, let's just quickly look at every other Eastern Conference Regular Season Champion from the last 10 years.
New Jersey? No. Boston? No. Ottawa? No. Tampa Bay? No visual evidence, but don't think so. Buffalo? No. Montreal? Hell no. And for the record, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh aren't on the list of stupid, either. At best, the Caps are in the same company as the Tampa Bay Lightning. Such a rich and storied franchise there (although they do happen to have one more Stanley Cup than Washington...)
Oh, what's that you say, the Detroit Red Wings have them too? And the San Jose Sharks? And the Dallas Stars? Suddenly the Capitals didn't seem that lamentable.
But that doesn't make the practice any more acceptable.
The regular-season in the NHL is, perhaps, the most meaningless of all the major professional sports in the U.S. It's a prelude to the final three weeks of the season, when everyone at the bottom of the playoff bubble bites, scratches and claws their way up the standings like rage zombies chasing a stay dog.
Making the playoffs is an achievement; winning the conference means you were just better at making the playoffs than 14 other teams.
So, with that, new rule: You can toss up a regular-season conference champions banner if you actually do something worth a damn in the ensuing postseason. Winning the Stanley Cup would be optimum, as you can hoist an entire collection of banners at one time; winning the conference championship might suffice.
But a regular-season conference champions banner, without postseason validation, commemorates one thing: Failure.