I don’t need to remind you where the Leafs sit in the standings, but I do need to remind you that the post-season starts in a couple of days. Some people have other teams that they like to follow, and others wait until they have to pick somebody new. Theoretically, I land in the former, but my other teams? Vancouver, Washington, and Buffalo. Add the Leafs as my primary focus, and it hasn’t been a good year. Here’s my thought process into picking a bandwagon team.
If you’re of the belief that the Stanley Cup should come “back home” to Canada, the only option you have this year is the Montreal Canadiens. Yes, if you believe in nonsensical nationalism, your only choice is the Habs. I say nonsensical because at the end of the day, it’s not like every team in the league has a local owner, local staff, and local players. They represent the cities they play in, but I’m not so sure they do that on a national level. That said, there are some cool guys on that roster. PK Subban and Carey Price are two of my favourite players in the league, Max Pacioretty is having himself a coming out party, and Daniel Briere is always awesome in the playoffs. If you get over the rivalry, there are fun pieces.
Another option is to cheer on your former Leafs. There’s a bit of an issue, though. Almost everybody from last year’s playoff group who left Toronto ended up becoming a good player on a bad team. Except for one. Matt Frattin is pleading for you to jump on the Columbus Blue Jackets bandwagon. They’ve also got a cannon, an eager fanbase, and one of the few “edgy” team Twitter accounts that is actually funny. Also, you’d be sticking it to the Toronto Star.
If you want a team that’s having a luck-assisted meteoric rise like the Leafs did last year, pull out your vintage Joe Sakic jersey and join the Colorado Avalanche. Weak possession team? 25th. High shooting percentage team? 2nd. Bailed out by goaltending? Semyon Varlamov. Players going on out of the blue massive point streaks? Nathan MacKinnon. They are, however, an even younger core that appears to have some structure, so there’s hope for them yet beyond this year.
If you just like wearing blue and white, the Tampa Bay Lightning are your choice. Sure, franchise legends Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis may be gone, and Ryan Malone seems to have himself in a bit of a mess, but Steven Stamkos is back and hungry, Victor Hedman is having a coming out party, and the team has two surprise 20 goal rookies in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. Chunks of the 2011/12 Norfolk Admirals are starting to squeak in, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can match the success. Also, Mike Kostka is back with the team after doing some bouncing around.
Lets say you’ve bought into the idea that Mimico, Ontario breeds championships. The Leafs almost have that market cornered, with 60% of all living NHL players from the neighbourhood of a suburb, former and active, employed by the team. But they’re still missing two more, and one of them is Brendan Smith, who is one of several fill-ins from the Grand Rapids Griffins that is currently playing on the Detroit Red Wings. As well, the Leafs kinda spoiled their Winter Classic, and Joe Louis Arena is the closest arena of any playoff team to Downtown Toronto.
What if deep down, you embrace all the Leafs jokes, and want 1967 to be an exclusive club? You have to cheer for the St. Louis Blues, in that case. With the Kings recently parachuting out of the drought circle, the Blues are the only other team that was around for puck drop to start 1967/68 and not win a championship. They’ve been to the finals a few times (blame the sketchy playoff format at the time), but don’t have rings to show for it. If the team can over come some late season injuries, they could do some damage.
Maybe you’re going to drink away your sorrows, and treat every day like it’s St. Patrick’s Day. In that case, the Dallas Stars are the team for you! Their home jerseys are the greenest in hockey, and its a great opportunity to watch Tyler Seguin without hearing moaning about trades. Jamie Benn has also had a heck of a good year, Valeri Nicushkin is fun to watch as he blossoms into a future star, and this is probably the end of the line for Ray Whitney and maybe Sergei Gonchar as well.
Or maybe you’re so anti-Randy Carlyle that you need him to not be the only one to deliver his team a championship. Well, if that’s the case, you should be cheering for the Anaheim Ducks, who are one of the favourites going into these playoffs. Ryan Getzlaf has had a stellar year, as has Corey Perry. We’re also expecting this to be the end of the road for Teemu Selanne, and it would be pretty awesome to see him go out on top.
You could also stay local and avoid the NHL entirely. The Toronto Marlies just became the sixth team in AHL history to win three straight division titles, which totally contradicted most of our predictions at the start of the year. A stretch run would be huge in developing the youth in the organization. If you just want playoffs at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors also won their division in a year where many expected them to tank.
You also have the Bruins, Penguins, Kings and Hawks if you require a team with a pre-made bandwagon and recent success, the Wild if you want some fake Canadiana, the Rangers if you pick teams based off of net income, and the Flyers if you need to still feel like you’re part of a hated fanbase.
Personally, I’m skipping the rhetoric completely and supporting the San Jose Sharks. They’re big bodies who play fast and have the ability to flat out dominate their opposition. Joe Thornton is still a playmaking wizard, Joe Pavelski can carry on the hopes and dreams of Olympic linemates Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, Patrick Marleau can still snipe with the best of them, and Tomas Hertl just got cleared to play again. Besides, I’d like to see the “can’t get it done” crap be lifted off this organization’s shoulders; they’ve been one of the most consistently dominant hockey clubs of the past decade.