The NHL playoffs start tonight and, for the first time since 2008, the Canucks won’t be participating. Watching hockey without a rooting interest is all well and good, but it’s generally more fun to have a team to cheer for. So which team do you ally yourself with, if any?
For some fans, this is an easy decision, as they are already fans of another team in addition to the Canucks, for whatever reason. For some, it’s because they moved to the west coast after growing up elsewhere and still have a place in their heart for their childhood team. For these people, if their other favourite team is in the playoff picture, they’re sitting pretty.
For the rest of us, however, we have a decision to make: who do we root for in the playoffs? Here are five ways to decide.
1 | Root for the underdog
There is a natural inclination to cheer for the underdog. Whether it’s because most people can relate to the underdog and seeing them succeed makes us believe that we can accomplish our own goals, even with the odds stacked against us, or because the schadenfreude of watching a heavy favourite fail is just too irresistible, underdogs tend to get a lot of love in sports.
Maybe it’s just our love of narrative. There’s a reason sports movies tend to be about the underdog overcoming countless obstacles to emerge victorious: it’s a dramatic arc. The underdog starts from the bottom, faces conflict, and ends up in a different place from where they began. There’s no dramatic arc to a favourite that is expected to win fulfilling that expectation.
If you’re looking for an underdog to root for, you can’t go wrong with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not only are they a wild card facing Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have never won a playoff game in franchise history, let alone a playoff series.
The Blue Jackets even lost all five games they played against the Penguins in the regular season. Truly, the Blue Jackets are the underest of dogs.
2 | Go full heel and root against rivals
Perhaps you’re too die-hard a Canucks fan to ever cheer for another team, but you will cheer against a different team that you hate. As long as the team that wins the Stanley Cup is one of the ones you hate least, you’ll be happy.
On the Western Conference side of things, you have plenty of options for teams to cheer against. For starters, there’s the Chicago Blackhawks, who became a major rival thanks to a series of hard-fought playoff matchups, most of which ended in heartbreaking losses until Alex Burrows slayed the dragon. That means you’ll be cheering for the St. Louis Blues in the first round, which seems acceptable.
Then there’s the Los Angeles Kings, who are bad, but they’re facing the San Jose Sharks, who swept the Canucks in the playoffs last season, who are also bad. You probably don’t want to cheer for either team, even if the Sharks are our spiritual brothers-in-arms. You’ll just have to hope they beat each other up over a long 7-game series so you can cheer against them in the second round and hope the Stars
or Ducks can pull off the upset.
On the Eastern Conference side, you’re basically hoping for anyone but the Bruins or Rangers to win, even if it means rooting for the Flyers and Red Wings.
3 | Fill out a playoff bracket at NHL.com and cheer for your bracket.
One upside of the new playoff format is that it takes the format of a tournament bracket, letting you make your picks March Madness style. The NHL is, of course, taking advantage of this to hold a bracket pick ‘em challenge.
Just like with March Madness, filling out a bracket immediately gives you teams to root for as you hope your bracket survives as long as possible. Colleges you have never even heard of become your favourite team ever in the space of a few weeks during March Madness. It’s a bit mercenary, but it works.
My only recommendation would be to fill out a bracket with your friends rather than just doing the one on NHL.com so that you have a realistic chance of winning. The additional benefit is you get to rub it in your friends’ faces if you pick the best bracket.
4 | Go provincial to bring the Cup to British Columbia
If the Canucks can’t win the Stanley Cup this year, there’s only one way the Cup will be coming to BC and that’s if a player (or coach or staff member) from BC wins it and brings it home during his day with the Cup. It could even come to BC multiple times if multiple BC boys are on the winning team.
On the Western Conference side, the Stars are the most BC-friendly, with Victoria brothers Jamie and Jordie Benn joined by Trail’s Shawn Horcoff and New Westminster’s Brenden Dillon. They’re facing the Ducks, who are the only Western playoff team without a single player from BC, so screw them.
The Sharks, with Bracken Kearns, Scott Hannan, and Matt Irwin are a good backup if the Stars get knocked out.
On the Eastern Conference side, there are far fewer players from BC: the rosters of the Red Wings, Penguins, Rangers, and Flyers are all devoid of BC talent. The Montreal Canadiens have the most, with just two, but they’re two important players for the team: Josh Gorges and Carey Price.
5 | Cheer for a former Canuck to hoist the Cup
This option is all about sentimentality. By my count, there are 18 former Canucks on teams heading into the playoffs, though not all are playing due to injuries. None of them were able to win the Stanley Cup while with the Canucks, but they could win it this year with another team.
To start with, only five of the fourteen teams in the playoffs don’t have any former Canucks: the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Blue Jackets, and Flyers. So, forget those teams. They’re awful and we hate them.
Some of the others barely qualify. The Rangers only have Raphael Diaz, who played all of 6 games with the Canucks, though they also have Alain Vigneault. The Blues may have Maxim Lapierre, but they also have Derek Roy, which isn’t really a point in their favour.
None of the teams have more than two former Canucks each, so it comes down to personal preference. Can you stand to cheer for the Minnesota Wild so that Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard win the Cup? Do you want to see former first round pick Bryan Allen with the Cup with the Ducks? What about Mr. Off-the-Glass-and-Out himself, Aaron Rome, with the Stars?
The Sharks have enforcer Mike Brown and the photogenic Raffi Torres. The Kings have Willie Mitchell, who already won a Cup with them. The Canadiens boast Dale Weise and Mike Weaver, while the Penguins have both Tanner Glass and Taylor Pyatt.
That leaves the two most interesting options: the Red Wings and Lightning. The Red Wings have the curmudgeonly and controversial Todd Bertuzzi, as well as Mikael Samuelsson, who is unfortunately injured. The Lightning have Sami Salo and the also-injured Matthias Ohlund.
Personally, I would love to see Salo win the Stanley Cup and, if it all works out, I’ll probably cry if they bring Matthias Ohlund on the ice to lift the Cup. Things would get emotional, is what I’m saying.