A Canucks fan’s guide to choosing a team to cheer for in the 2019 NHL playoffs

Pass it to Bulis

The NHL playoffs are underway, which is a little depressing for Canucks fans. The Canucks have missed the playoffs in four-straight seasons for the first time since the year 2000 and have won just three playoff games in the last eight years.

Still, the playoffs feature the best this sport has to offer, particularly in the first round, when every single night of the week is filled with multiple games, with every shift invested with import. If you count yourself as not just a Canucks fan, but a fan of hockey, you can’t miss the playoffs.

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It’s nice to have a rooting interest while watching, however. That means it’s time to jump on a bandwagon and pretend like you’ve been there the entire time. Just like that team’s real fans, you’ll be able to live and die with every shot, save, and goal.

Which team should you choose? That’s the difficult question. To which team can you make a temporary steadfast commitment? Who will earn your fleeting fanaticism, your ephemeral zealotry? You would need some sort of guide to help you decide.

You’re in luck. Because you're already reading one. That sure was a lucky click.

1 | Definitely not them

I don’t make the rules; I just pass them along to you. You’re not allowed to cheer for the Boston Bruins. I don’t care if you hate the Toronto Maple Leafs and want to see them lose, you can’t cheer for the Bruins. Not after 2011. You just can’t.

2 | Your other team

I get it. Some of you have split allegiances. Perhaps you grew up in another city before moving to BC or your parents are fans of another team and indoctrinated you into their fandom. It’s not your fault.

If you already have another team you cheer for, then you’re set.

3 | The favourites

It’s pretty easy to explain why you would cheer for the Cup favourites: it’s fun to cheer for a winner.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the clear favourites this year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy with 128 points. They had a plus-103 goal differential in the regular season. They have scoring talent on every line, size on defence, and one of the best goaltenders in the league. They had three players score 40+ goals.

Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy with 128 points, the most points ever by a Russian player in one season and the best season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96. The Lightning are absurdly good.

There are a couple problems with picking the favourites: you’ll face scorn for jumping on the bandwagon of the “best” team, as if cheering for excellence is something of which you should be ashamed. Also, if they don’t win the Stanley Cup, it’s even more disappointing. The Lightning just had one of the greatest seasons ever, but if they don’t win the Cup, some will consider it an abject failure.

Sounds familiar.

4 | The former Canucks

If you can’t cheer for the Canucks, cheering for a team with former Canucks on it is the next best thing, right? As much as you’re supposed to cheer for the logo on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back, every fan grows an attachment to the players on their favourite team, an attachment that often continues even when they join another team.

The Nashville Predators are a good bet in this category, featuring Dan Hamhuis, Nick Bonino, and Yannick Weber. Hamhuis is the big one, as he was a key player on the best Canucks’ team in franchise history. He’s also from BC and is The Community Man. Accept no substitutes.

Then there’s the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have both Erik Gudbranson and Jared McCann. The Washington Capitals have Nic Dowd. The Dallas Stars have Taylor Fedun, I guess, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have, uh, Adam Clendening?

Man, not a lot of former Canucks on playoff teams, eh? I wonder why that might be the case.

5 | The Canadian team

If you can’t cheer for your favourite team, you can at least cheer for your country. Generally speaking, I’m opposed to this. If you’re a fan of a Canadian team, the other Canadians teams are not your comrades; they’re your rivals.

Still, I understand: some Canadian hockey fans just want to see the Stanley Cup come back to Canada. If that’s the case, you have a few options: the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets.

It’s tough to cheer for the Flames after decades of them being a fierce rival of the Canucks. Likewise, it’s hard to cheer for the Leafs, for various centre-of-the-universe reasons. So go for the Jets, who are relatively innocuous, but also very talented and fun to watch.

6 | The longest Stanley Cup drought

There are some long-suffering fanbases out there that want to see their team win a Cup just as much as Canucks fans.

The team that has gone the longest without a Cup is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won since 1967, but at least they won a bunch before then. The St. Louis Blues have never won the Cup and their first season was the year following the Leafs’ last Cup win, 1967-68. That’s a pretty solid choice.

The New York Islanders and Calgary Flames have also gone a long time without a Cup, but other teams in the playoffs that have never won are the San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, and, uh, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Golden Knights fans are the furthest thing from “long-suffering,” though, so forget that.

7 | The underdog

Instead of cheering for the best team, how about cheering for the most unlikely team to win the whole thing? It’s harder to accuse someone of bandwagoning when you’re jumping on the bandwagon of an underdog and everyone loves an underdog story. The downside is you might not be cheering for them very long, because underdogs are frequently underdogs for a reason.

The Colorado Avalanche might be a good underdog for whom to cheer. They have the lowest point total of any team in the playoffs, but still have a lot of fun, talented players. The Blue Jackets are an underdog too, facing the best team in the league in the first round, the Lightning.

You could even include a team like the Islanders as an underdog, even though they have home ice advantage in their series against the Penguins. They missed the playoffs last season and then lost their franchise player, John Tavares, in free agency. Their turnaround is one of the best stories of the season and a strong argument for Barry Trotz to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach.

8 | The Carolina Hurricanes

Just cheer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

They’re a fun team, led by great young players like Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. They’re immensely likeable, with their post-game “Storm Surge” celebrations and fan interactions. They’ve embraced the insults directed at them, calling themselves a “bunch of jerks,” after Don Cherry criticized those same celebrations.

You want a favourite? In terms of analytics, the Hurricanes are right there. They have the second-best corsi percentage and the best expected goal differential this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. They have dominated puck possession for years, but have struggled with finish. That’s not a problem this season, with 13 players in double digits in goals.

You want an underdog? They missed the playoffs for nine-straight seasons before making it this season. Let’s face it, few really believe in the Hurricanes and they snuck into a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, with just three more points than the Montreal Canadiens. They would be a true Cinderella story.

You want former Canucks? Sorry, no. But they do have Rod Brind’Amour as their coach and he’s from Vancouver Island. So, uh...that’s something.

Here’s what you need to know: if the Hurricanes win the whole shebang, there’s even odds that before hoisting the Stanley Cup they’ll play an entire end of curling with their bodies, using the centre ice faceoff dot as the button, and that will make Don Cherry’s head explode.

The Hurricanes are delightful and you should cheer for them.

 


 

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