Who are you rooting for?

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Every year, the time comes around when we are faced with the big decision – who do we root for in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? The reason I say ‘every year’ of course is because the ‘we’ I belong to is the much beleaguered, much maligned, Leafs Nation. Oh sure, there was an exciting blip in that decade of despondency last year, but it was short-lived and we return once again to the status quo – beginning the second season without a rooting interest.

Usually for me, my standby is the Vancouver Canucks. I can’t really say why this is my backup Canadian team of choice – it just is. This year, they aren’t even an option. As such, it’s time to scour the field of 16 to see if there are any worthy candidates.

For such a task, we must have some criteria – nothing mind-blowing or over-analytical required, just some basic starting points (ed: ok I realize writing a blog may be over-analytical in the first place, but bare with me). The selecting criteria is narrowed down into to three simple items:

  • The worth-watching factor: Pretty self-explanatory – Does this team play exciting hockey? Do they consistently exhibit show some skill?
  • The attachment-clause: Are there players on this team that I’ve rooted for in the past? Notably, this Olympic year has an interesting impact on this factor.
  • The feel-good-story: Somewhat related to the attachment clause, but is there some good reason for me to root for a noteworthy player on this team? A player persevering after injury? A retiring veteran seeking one last chance at glory?

Equipped with our selecting criteria, let’s move on to our candidates. To make it interesting, let’s go in reverse order. First up…

 

The not-a-chance teams

As we are talking about rooting interest here, this ‘not-a-chance’ has nothing to do with their Stanley Cup odds. No, instead this has all to do with the fact that there is not-a-chance-in-hell that I’ll be rooting for these teams.

Philadelphia Flyers

What they have going for them? Claude Giroux is a great player to watch and I’m sure is a man on a mission after his Canadian Olympic snub.

What’s not working for them? Admittedly, I was once a big Flyer fan (back in the 80s). Then they jettisoned my favourite players (Poulin, Kerr, Propp) and in the end, the whole mess that transpired with Lindros and Clarke left a blackeye on the franchise. I don’t see too much redeeming features in this club. The old Broad Street Bullies persona is certainly in full force this season. in the past, teams may have been praised for this kind of toughness, but not so much in this era). The Flyers were the most penalized team in the league, and tough guy Zac Rinaldo is one of the more recent winners of a 4-game suspension for a nasty headshot. I am NOT rooting for this team.

Tampa Bay Lightning

What they have going for them? Steven Stamkos is arguably the most exciting star to watch in this league.

What’s not working for them? Recent falling out with star Martin St Louis certainly doesn’t help. Also, they are that sunshine state team that took away one of Canada’s most recent opportunities of having Lord Stanley’s mug reside north of the border (beating Calgary in 2004). Finally, the real kicker … the following video monstrosity that is a vomit-inducing affront to all hockey fans everywhere.

Boston Bruins

What they have going for them? They are a well-coached talented team that are the odds-on favourite to win the Cup.

What’s not working for them? See above. I hate the Bruins!

The ‘murky middle’ teams

I don’t love them, I don’t hate them. They are the murky middle.

St Louis Blues

What they have going for them? A solid team that was first overall for a good portion of the regular season. Ken Hitchcock is a likable coach and a good interview. His continued participation in Canada Hockey certainly helps.

What’s not working for them? Top players Backes, Oshie and Steen certainly have some skills, but none have really caught on as top stars in the league. Ryan Miller could be an interesting story after so many years of excellent play in Buffalo, but not endearing enough to reach feel-good-story status.

Dallas Stars

What they have going for them? Rising star Jamie Benn is great to watch. Also, you may remember that he scored the lone goal for Canada in the 1-0 Olympic Semifinal win over the US.

What’s not working for them? Just not enough with regards to the other criteria to make this a viable team to cheer for. Though I’m sure he’s probably not that bad a guy, top scorer, Tyler Seguin, left Boston and arrived in Dallas without the best of reputations and as such hasn’t become as big a star as he may yet reach some day.

Chicago Blackhawks

What they have going for them? The defending champions are a great team with all sorts of talented players. Also, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith were once again big contributors to our Olympic victory.

What’s not working for them?  They’re too good, and they just won last year. Perhaps seeing a repeat winner might be interesting, but I like the glory to be spread around a little bit. Reruns get boring.

New York Rangers

What they have going for them? King Henrik  is truly a full blown star in this league, and after 5 Vezina trophy nominations (1 win), it would be great to see the classy netminder be the one to hoist the cup. The addition of Martin St Louis and the Alain Vigneault vindication story make the Rangers a borderline root-for candidate.

What’s not working for them? Not exactly a high-flying team – they are among the bottom half of the league in terms of goals scored, and their top scorer was … Mats Zuccarello?

Columbus Blue Jackets

What they have going for them? They are the plucky underdog team from the struggling franchise that has only been to the playoffs once before this year in their 14 years of existence. They also have one of the best goalies in the league, Sergei Borbrovsky.

What’s not working for them? They are the plucky underdog team with a bunch of guys named Who that make up their roster. Their top 4 point getters through the regular season … Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson. Not exactly household names.

Pittsburgh Penguins

What they have going for them? Superstar Sidney Crosby is always fun to watch as are the rest of this offensive powerhouse team. Also, there may be a feel-good story here if Letang can be a contributor here after being able to come back after his stroke.

What’s not working for them? The “they-won-recently” issue doesn’t hurt them that much, as I think many would like to see the league’s top star lead his team to another Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, I can’t quite rank them in my top 3 favourites.

San Jose Sharks

What they have going for them? After years of being among the elite teams in the league, will they finally make it to the top?

What’s not working for them? After years of being among the elite teams in the league, will they finally make it to the top? No.

Los Angeles Kings

What they have going for them? The Kings are a strong team with amazing play in net from Jonathan Quick.

What’s not working for them? They won recently – in a not so memorable playoff final. They also are the lowest scoring team among those that made the playoffs. Not exactly fire-wagon hockey.

Minnesota Wild

What they have going for them? They certainly have some notable talent, especially having added Parise and Suter to those huge contracts last season. Also, if soundbite master Ilya Brzygalov makes the final, it would certainly makes things entertaining.

What’s not working for them? The Wild are a small market team with minimal flash. Though no great reason to root against them, hard to jump on their bandwagon.

Detroit Red Wings

What they have going for them? They have shed their elite status in the league and now are a bunch of hard-working young players that accomplished a huge feat by making the playoffs under the leadership of Canadian Olympic coach Mike Babcock? Also, they are playing the Bruins, so you have to root for them.

What’s not working for them? They have shed their elite status in the league and now comprise a hard-working crew of young players that haven’t a chance in hell in getting very far this year (I did mention they were playing the Bruins, right?).

The Contenders

Here are the three finalists that are valiantly vying for my temporary loyalty.

Montreal Canadiens

What they have going for them? They are the official ‘’last remaining Canadian team in the playoffs’. Sadly, they achieved that moniker right from the get go this year, as this was the first season since 1973 that there was only one Canadian team in the playoffs (quite a sorry state of affairs since we now have 7 Canadian teams and back then we only had 3). Speaking of Canada, Carey Price backstopped the Olympic team to hockey gold, and PK Subban admirably rode the pine most of the tournament without complaint (an accomplishment given his brash personality). Though not a high-scoring team throughout the season, by adding sniper Thomas Vanek to a roster that includes 39 goal scorer Max Pacioretty and a wealth of young talent, this should be a fun team to watch. Go Habs!

Anaheim Mighty Ducks

What they have going for them? Anaheim is the highest scoring team in the league. Led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks also have on board future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and former Canadiens Captain Saku Koivu. Here is where the feel-good-story gets amped. Selanne is retiring this year and he came back in style for one last Cup run.  What a great send-off it would to have one of the greatest goal-scorers the league has ever season leave as champion.. Also, it’s hard not to root for Koivu. After his much-publicized battle with cancer, Koivu came back in fine form, and not only won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2002 (for perseverance), but also the King Clancy Memorial which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”  And hey, how can you not love coach Bruce ‘Gabby’ Boudreau?

Colorado Avalanche

What they got going for them? This young talented team finished the season and impressively overtook both the Blackhawks and the Blues to take top spot in the Central Division. They are led by a young core of top-flight talent: Matt duchen (3rd overall pick in 2009), Gabriel Ladeskog (2nd overall pick in 2011), and Nathan Mickinnon (1st overall pick in 2013). Add offensive wepaons Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, top tier defenceman Erik Jonson (notably 1st overall pick in 2006) and sure Vezina Trophy nominee Semyon Varlamov in net, and you start to realize just how talented this team is. And putting altogether – Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. How can you not want to watch Roy’s feisty presence during the playoffs … not only from behind the bench, but also during the post-game interviews. Topped off by a potential feel-good-story in retiring goaltender JS Giguere, and the Avalanche are truly a team to root for this post-season.

 

The Verdict

Not only would it be great to see Patrick Roy coaching in the Stanely Cup Final.- but wouldn’t it be amazing to see him taking on the Canadiens. I can’t help but root for a Colorado-Montreal final. As it might be a tall order for this to happen, I’m primarily going to root for the Ducks! Sorry to Teemu and company if I just jinxed their chances!

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