Your guide to choosing a team to cheer for in the 2018 NHL playoffs

No Canucks? No problem!

Pass it to Bulis

The first round of the NHL playoffs is when NHL hockey is at its most fun. There are multiple hockey games on every night, with real stakes and drama. The intensity jumps up a notch from the regular season and the pace quickens. It also comes before the grind of the playoffs really sets in, so most teams are healthy and full of energy.

There’s just one issue for Canucks fans: the Canucks are all packed up and heading home.

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The NHL playoffs kick off tonight, but with no Canucks in the playoffs, who should Canucks fans cheer for? Hockey is just more fun when you have a rooting interest.

Fortunately, there’s still time to jump on a bandwagon and pick a new team for which to cheer. But with 16 teams to choose from, you need some help. Here are ten ways you can determine a team to cheer for in the 2018 NHL playoffs.

1. Your other team

You’re one of those fans, the kind with split allegiances. This can happen any number of ways. Perhaps you grew up in one city with an NHL team before moving to Vancouver. Maybe your parents grew up loving the New Jersey Devils or you married into a family of die-hard Anaheim Ducks fans.

I get it. When I was a kid, I liked the San Jose Sharks, both because sharks are awesome and because I really liked Arturs Irbe for some reason. Must have been his Jofa helmet and mask. Sometimes these things are out of your control: I’m an Arsenal fan just because my sister brought back an Arsenal jersey for me from a trip to England when I was in elementary school. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

But if you have a second NHL team that you cheer for, your choice in the playoffs is easy. Unless that team also missed the playoffs, which is the case for the seeming legion of Montreal Canadiens fans in BC. Sorry, guys.

2. The team with that former Canuck you like

When you cheer for a team, you grow an attachment to the players and it can be hard to see them go to another team. By the time the playoffs roll around, you find yourself cheering for individual players on other teams, rather than the team itself.

If you want to go this route, you have lots of options. In terms of recent Canucks, there’s Thomas Vanek on the Columbus Blue Jackets, which has the added resonance of proving all the teams that didn’t want him wrong. Maybe you should have given up a second round pick for the Conn Smythe-winning Thomas Vanek, eh?

There are other options: the Vegas Golden Knights have Luca Sbisa, the New Jersey Devils have Cory Schneider, and the Nashville Predators have Yannick Weber and Nick Bonino, and you know how you need Bonino. You could also cheer for Jannik Hansen and the Sharks, even if them winning the Cup this season won’t net an additional draft pick for the Canucks like it would have last season.

Just cheering for former Canucks can get you into trouble, though. The Anaheim Ducks boast three former Canucks on their roster: Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, and Ryan Miller. Do you really want to cheer for the Ducks? Rethink your choices.

3. The last Canadian team standing

Don’t do this. A big part of being a Canadian hockey fan is hating every other Canadian team.

Admit it: one of the sole sources of solace in seeing the Canucks miss the playoffs was knowing the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers also missed the playoffs. Seeing another Canadian team hoist the Stanley Cup won’t make you feel any better.

But, if you’re going to cheer for another Canadian team, at least make it the Winnipeg Jets and not the Toronto Maple Leafs.

4. The most Canadian team

Okay, so it’s silly to cheer for another Canadian team just because they’re Canadian, but if you’re still feeling patriotic, you could cheer for the team with the most Canadians. This is still pretty dumb, but you could do it.

If that’s the way you want to go, the Vegas Golden Knights are your team. They are objectively the most Canadian team in the playoffs.

The Golden Knights have 16 Canadians on the roster, four Canadian alternate captains, and a Canadian general manager and head coach. That’s as Canadian as a playoff team gets this year.

5. The local kid

If you’re going to cheer for a team based on where its players are from, at least go with the local angle. Someone from Vancouver or elsewhere in BC is likely to bring the Stanley Cup back to his hometown if he wins.

Best bet here is the Predators, who have Port Moody's Ryan Johansen centring their top line, and New Westminster’s Kyle Turris centring their second line. That’s a solid one-two punch.

There’s also Evander Kane with the Sharks, though that’s a hard thought to stomach for multiple reasons.

How about Langley’s Shea Theodore with the Knights, Kelowna’s Justin Schultz with the Pittsburgh Penguins, or Victoria’s Tyson Barrie with the Colorado Avalanche? There’s West Vancouver’s Morgan Rielly on the Leafs, Campbell River’s Brett Connolly on the Washington Capitals, and Vancouver’s Nic Petan on the Jets.

You’ve got some options here, is what I’m saying.

6. The best story

There are lots of good stories heading into the playoffs, so if you like a good narrative, you’re in luck.

You could cheer for Eric Staal and his stunning resurgence, scoring 40+ goals for the first time in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, that means cheering for the Minnesota Wild, which is a non-starter for most Canucks fans.

There’s also Joe Thornton, who is like an ersatz Sedin twins stuffed into one body with a giant beard. He just seems like a guy who really should win the Stanley Cup before he retires.

The Devils have Brian Boyle, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the start of the season, and has played all season while undergoing cancer treatments. He’s facing his former team, the Lightning, in the first round of the playoffs. It’s hard not to cheer for Boyle.

The biggest story of the year, however, is the Vegas Golden Knights, who took a team full of cast-offs and turned them into one of the best teams in the league, like some sort of Disney movie. If you’re looking for a great narrative that might be in a theatre near you someday, you can’t go wrong with the Golden Knights.

7. The longest suffering fanbase

Canucks fans know suffering. They’re intimately familiar with suffering. So, when it comes time to pick a team to cheer for in the playoffs, why not go with what you know?

Unfortunately, one of the few fanbases that has gone longer without winning the Stanley Cup than the Canucks is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ugh, no thanks.

Instead, you could go with the Winnipeg Jets, who have never won a Stanley Cup in their history. Jets fans even lost their team for over a decade, so they’ve definitely suffered. As much as I said not to cheer for another Canadian team, the Jets have a pretty solid case for your bandwagon jumping.

Other options: the Sharks and Capitals, both fantastic teams that have met heartbreaking end after heartbreaking end in the playoffs.

8. The team that has the best chance to win

I get it: you want to cheer for a winner. It’s understandable.

The one issue with cheering for the “best” team is the scorn you might face from your peers. For some reason, picking the “best” team is seen as somehow shameful. If you’re asked to name your favourite basketball player and you say Lebron James, people will scoff, even though he is definitely the best player of his generation and arguably of all time.

The Nashville Predators are the popular pick to win after losing in the Stanley Cup Final last season. There are plenty of reasons to cheer for the Predators: they’re incredibly likeable, have the best defence in hockey, and are getting incredible goaltending from Pekka Rinne.

Vegas oddsmakers have the Predators as the odds-on favourites, but you could go with other top teams. Maybe you like the Penguins to threepeat, or the Jets’ depth at forward, or the Boston Bruins...no. Don’t cheer for the Bruins.

9. The underdog

The one problem with picking an underdog is that you might not be cheering for them for very long. Everyone likes an underdog story, but one of the reasons we like them so much is because they’re rare. The truth is, the underdogs usually get crushed pretty early on; they’re underdogs for a reason.

The Colorado Avalanche are this year’s biggest underdogs, as they barely snuck into the playoffs, barely beating the St. Louis Blues for the final spot in the West thanks to a controversial offside review.

In fact, they finished the season with fewer points than the Florida Panthers, who didn’t make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They’re definite underdogs, to the point that they’re facing the favourites in the first round, and that’s where this all goes awry. The Predators are probably going to power past the Avalanche, at which point the bandwagon will be left abandoned at the side of the road.

10. The most entertaining team

This seems like your best bet. You’re not just picking the best team, which feels like cheating. Instead, you’re picking the team that will be most fun to watch. I can get behind that. Hockey is fun!

The Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning are two of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL with their high-flying offences.

The Lightning led the NHL with 296 goals this season, led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. They have a ton of talented depth at forward thanks to their focus on skill over size, with players like Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and Tyler Johnson proving that size doesn’t matter.

The Jets have a ton of speed and one of the most talented goal-scorers in the world in Patrik Laine. Then there’s hot-shot rookie Kyle Connor, uber-talented Nikolay Ehlers, and the ever-underrated Blake Wheeler. That’s not even mentioning Mark Scheifele, who might be the Jets’ best player.

If you want entertainment, the Jets and Lightning are your best bet, with the added bonus that both teams are very, very good and could even meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

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