The opening stanza of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a round that won’t soon be forgotten. Shocking upsets, devastating defeats, overtime, double overtime, game seven drama, and more juicy storylines to follow than professional wrestling in the mid-90’s. The mighty have fallen, and the meek have risen. Just like we all expected, the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames were easily dispatched by the eight seeds, while the Predators, Jets, Golden Knights, Maple Leafs, Penguins, and defending champion Capitals all suffered similar fates.
So where do we go from here? If you have a specific team that you follow and support, chances are strong that your team’s players have already hit the links for the first time this offseason. If that’s the case, NHLtoSeattle is here to help you through this difficult time by giving you all of the facts needed to make a strong, educated selection in deciding upon which bandwagon to climb aboard for Round 2 of these Playoffs and beyond.
The Case For Getting On Their Bandwagon: The Avs have been through a lot over the past few seasons. Just two years removed from a historically bad campaign, coach Jared Bednar has managed to guide his squad from the depths of Hockey Hell into an up-and-coming young team that’s currently playing with house money. After a roller coaster of a regular season, the Avalanche snuck into the playoffs, got hot at the right time, and impressively dominated what was allegedly the best team in the Western Conference. Colorado needed just five games to extinguish (get it?) the Flames in Round 1, as Nathan MacKinnon proved once again that he is as exciting as any player in hockey, and newcomer Cale Makar indicated that he could be a future superstar blueliner.
The Case Against: Based on what’s coming down the pike for this team, Colorado is going to be good for a long time. This will NOT be the only opportunity to see this group make a deep run in the playoffs in the foreseeable future, because lest you forget, their dominant top line of MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabe Landeskog – who is pretty hatable if you watch him regularly – is still relatively young. Meanwhile, there’s nothing but talent in the Colorado prospect pool, meaning this organization’s on-ice product is only going to get better and better. Plus, Avalanche fans have had plenty of success in their history, though it has been 18 years since the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Patrick Roy lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup. By the way, I still can’t help associating Roy with the Avs even today, and I kind of hated that guy when he played, so that’s a negative in terms of bandwagonability (real word, probably).
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Case For: We’re talking here about a fanbase that has suffered through some absolutely miserable years. The CBJ’s finally, for the first time since their inception in 2000, won their very first playoff series and did so in historic fashion by knocking off the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning in an unfathomable sweep. Remember, they opened Game 1 against Tampa Bay by quickly falling behind 3-0, only to take a Herb Brooksian locker room speech by their beautiful coach John Tortorella, and somehow turn that game around. They then never looked back, as they rolled to three more apparently easy victories over one of the best regular seasons teams ever.
There’s also something to be said for rooting for the team that just goes for it. GM Jarmo Kekalainen put all his chips on the table at the trade deadline by holding onto superstar forward Artemi Panarin and former Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, both of whom he’s almost certain to lose in free agency. He then sweetened the pot by throwing in his car keys, the deed to his house, and every last cent in his bank account when he essentially re-shaped the entire makeup of his lineup through trades for the likes of Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, et al. In a league where GM’s have become so cautious in their approach, it’s refreshing to see somebody say, “You know what? This is the year. Future be damned, we’re going for it right now.” May fortune favor the bold.
The Case Against: What’s not to like? Columbus did drop Game 1 of Round 2 to the Bruins Wednesday in overtime, so you may be giving yourself a slight disadvantage by picking this team, but that’s about the only knock in terms of choosing your bandwagon team.
The Case For: You almost can’t make up the story of the 2019 Carolina Hurricanes. If they were to run all the way to the Cup Final, you could legitimately make a movie out of this team, and have the plot feel far-fetched. After missing the Playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, being ruled out by every pundit on the planet for much of the current campaign, and struggling to even draw fans to their building for long stretches, they figured out a way to get the hockey world’s attention. Earning both praise and ridicule, the divisive “Storm Surge” captivated fans and media alike, as PNC Arena suddenly began filling up more and more with fans excited to see what this “Bunch of Jerks” would do next.
Somehow this team scrapped and clawed its way into these Playoffs using every last ounce of strength, but then, seemingly against all odds, mustered up enough magic to overcome last season’s Stanley Cup champion with a Game 7 double-overtime win. A fast, young, exciting group led by first-year head coach Rod “The Bod” Brind’amour (who used the phrase “kicked in the ding ding” during his post-game speech after the ’Canes won their first round series), there is just so much to like about this team.
The Case Against: There’s not much here, although this is a franchise that experienced the highest of highs very soon after stealing the Whalers from Hartford, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some. Plus, those that are still sour over the move way back in 1997 probably didn’t love that Carolina sported the uniforms of the Whalers several times this season. If those things don’t bother you, though, you have full permission to like this team.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Case For: The thing that makes the Islanders so different from the other options listed here is that there was never really a question if this team would make the playoffs this season, as it was battling for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division seemingly all year long. That doesn’t make this team any less likable, though, and if we’re looking at this on a meta level, this is an organization that has had pretty much everything working against it for decades. Ownership troubles, arena disputes, poor attendance, poor management, departing superstars… you name it, every challenge in the book has been thrown at this franchise over the years, and its fans have suffered.
The most recent disaster for this once proud and dominant team, was the painful and vitriolic exit of face-of-the-franchise centerman John Tavares in the midst of an offseason that seemed to bring little improvement to the roster. At first glance, it would have appeared at the time that the Islanders could be entering another long period of mediocrity. On the contrary, it turns out that Barry Trotz winning the Cup last season behind the bench of the Capitals was no fluke. He turned his new team into a defensive juggernaut in front of goaltender Robin Lehner, who himself has coincidentally been one of the most feel-good stories of the whole season.
Let’s not forget, of course, the local Seattle connection in budding superstar Matt Barzal, who has taken over for Tavares as “the face,” and is quickly growing into one of the best young players in the NHL. The assist he made in setting up the Game 1 winner over the Penguins is one that will live on in Islanders lore.
Heck, these guys don’t even have a true home, as they’ve split time this season between the Barclays Center in Brooklyn – arguably the worst hockey arena in the league – and the old Nassau Coliseum, which is obviously unfit to host an NHL franchise (but is still really awesome when it gets rocking).
The Case Against: While the disdain expressed toward Tavares in his return to Long Island was quite the story, many in the hockey world were actually a bit put off by Isles fans who were seen throwing plastic snakes on the ice, launching #91 replica jerseys back at JT, and displaying their middle fingers consistently throughout that contest. With this in mind, one could argue that the fans of this organization aren’t all that affable, and thus don’t deserve any additional support. But again, if you can get over that hurdle, this is a bandwagon worth boarding.
San Jose Sharks: They’ve still never won the Cup, Joe Thornton may be experiencing his last chance at it, and they did have some of the most exciting victories we’ve ever seen in Round 1. Plus, Joe Pavelski scored a goal with his face in Game 1 and got knocked out in Game 7, Logan Couture blocked a shot with his no-no zone, and Peter DeBoer called Gerard Gallant a clown.
I personally can’t root for this team, because although they’ve still never won it all, they and their fanbase have had plenty of playoff success. Plus, NHLtoSeattle founder John Barr loves the Sharks, so it’s just a matter of principle.
Dallas Stars: Though fun to watch and earning zero respect from the hockey world, I just have never particularly liked this team (probably because I’m from Minnesota and have held a grudge ever since the North Stars were taken away). That said, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov, and Mats Zuccarello can get your motor running if they’re all playing well, so you could do well to choose this bandwagon.
St. Louis Blues: Everything about this team indicates that it should be likable, from the fact that it’s never won a Cup in its 52-year history, to remembering that it was down-and-out this season, only to turn it around in the second half under interim head coach Craig Berube. Like the Sharks, though, this is another one of those teams that we’ve seen in the Playoffs almost too many times over the past decade, and I just have a hard time getting behind this squad. If you were to pick this one, you would be giving yourself a leg up, because St. Louis opened Round 2 with a win against the Stars on Wednesday.
NOT ELIGIBLE FOR BANDWAGONRY:
Boston Bruins: You’ve had your fun, Boston sports fans. That’s enough.