As the second season starts in the NHL, 14 fan bases are out of luck. Their teams’ seasons are over and any hockey they watch from now until June will be purely out of their love for the sport. Whether your team is in it or not, it’s still exciting to watch the great rise above the good; the cream rising to the top. The Stanley Cup playoffs are filled with drama and any hockey fan should be watching whether their team is in it or not. Still, there has to be a way to make it easier, right? What helps is picking a team to cheer for, a bandwagon to jump on while you wait for your team’s 2014-15 season to start. Don’t worry, it’s not cheating. No need to go out and buy merchandise, but you can still root for one or two teams to make things interesting for yourself. Here are the teams you should consider rooting for. The key is to look for feel-good stories, beloved veterans going for their first Stanley Cup, players on their last ride and franchises that have long struggled to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
The last professional team in the state of Ohio to take home a championship was the Cincinnati Reds back in 1990.
The Blue Jackets fan base has had little to celebrate over the course of the franchise’s history. They made the playoffs just once prior to this year, and were quickly swept by Detroit in 2009.
On the shoulders of Sergei Bobrovsky and a workmanlike attitude, the Blue Jackets are back in the dance and are heavy underdogs in the Eastern Conference.
A Cinderella story is always fun to follow and the Jackets could very well be that story if Bobrobsky is able to stand on his head in these playoffs. We’ve seen that a hot goaltender can carry an underdog team pretty far; J.S. Giguere for the Ducks in 2003, Miikka Kiprusoff for the Flames in 2004, Dwayne Roloson for Edmonton in 2006, Jaroslav Halak for the Habs in 2010 and Jonathan Quick for the Kings in 2012.
The Jackets are a pretty young team, with an average age of 26 years old and their best years still seem to be ahead of them. It would be good for hockey to see a market like Columbus grow, and the best way for that to happen is for the Blue Jackets to have an extended playoff run.
If you’re looking for an underdog to cheer on in the East, Columbus is perfect. They have a tough start, facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
4. Anaheim Ducks
We go from a huge underdog to a cup favourite. Many underdog stories don’t have a happy ending, so maybe you’d prefer to play the odds with a powerhouse.
There’s a lot to like about the Ducks. It’s likely Teemu Selanne’s swan song and it would be great to see one of the game’s active legends to go out on top with a Stanley Cup. Selanne’s numbers finally started to decline this year at the age of 43. He only scored nine goals in 64 regular season games. Still, he can’t be counted out of having a great playoff and with less pressure on him to provide the offence, maybe he’ll slip under the radar of opponents.
While not a legend like Selanne, there’s another beloved Finn on this team, Saku Koivu. Koivu has had a long career, filled with highs and lows, having overcome cancer back in 2002 and always being a heart and soul kind of player. At 39 years old, this is likely his final hurrah as well. He has had the heart of a champion for his entire career, but has yet to be named one. It’s his last chance for the cup and likely his best, as he’s never been on a team this talented and firing on all cylinders.
Montreal Canadiens fans will likely be rooting for Koivu and the Ducks out West in the event the Habs don’t go deep into the playoffs. Koivu still gets a very warm ovation whenever he returns to Montreal and is still revered by Habs fans for what he did as a Canadien.
If Habs fans can’t see no. 25 this year, they’ll gladly watch no. 11 hoist his first cup and ride off into the sunset.
3. Minnesota Wild
Outside of baseball, the state of Minnesota has not had a lot of luck with their sports teams. The Timberwolves, Vikings and Wild have yet to win a championship.
Minnesota has also had to go through some hardship in its hockey history. A few years after the North Stars nearly brought home the Stanley Cup, the team moved to Dallas in the 1993-94 season.
The state got a team back in 2000, an expansion team in the Wild. They have had their moments as a franchise. Their finest hour came in 2003, when they overcame 3-1 deficits in two consecutive series, knocking off the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks. They were then swept by Anaheim in the conference finals.
Since that run, the Wild have not won a playoff series. They were ousted in the opening round in 2008 by Colorado and last year against Chicago.
The team has gone through some makeovers and they made a bold move in the 2012 offseason, signing two blockbuster free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, both Minnesota natives.
Fans of the Wild finally have some optimism for their team’s present and future.
In addition to that, Josh Harding’s battle with multiple sclerosis has been inspiring. Despite fighting this disease, Harding played extraordinarily well last season and this season as well, before he was sidelined in January due to complications from M.S. His stats for the regular season were a 1.65 goals-against average, a .933 SV% and a record of 18-7-2.
It is unknown if Harding will return at some point for the postseason, due to his illness and Ilya Bryzgalov has played well in relief.
Either way, it would be an amazing story if Harding has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. He’s battled courageously and any fan of the game would love to see him rewarded.
2. San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks break hearts year after year, so jump on this bandwagon with caution. They’re more overdue than Jerry Seinfeld was when he failed to return Tropic of Cancer and was hunted down by Joe Bookman.
Every year, pundits seem to say, “this year’s different, there’s something different about this Sharks team. This time they have a good powerplay. This time they have goaltending, etc…”
They’ve qualified for the playoffs 17 times in their 22 seasons of existence. They’ve qualified in 15 of their last 16 seasons, yet have never made it past the conference finals. They’ve made it to the conference finals three times, in 2004, 2010 and 2011.
They’ve become the Atlanta Braves of hockey, minus the championship. Even for all the Braves playoff failures in the 1990s and 2000s, they at least won one World Series. The Sharks have yet to win theirs, or even make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
What’s it going to take for them to get over the hump? Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment, the Sharks are the team for you. They may very well break your heart again this spring if you’re cheering for them, but it will make a great story if they finally overcome their playoff failures once and for all.
Sports has its beloved losers. Calling the Sharks losers is exaggerating, considering their constant trips to the postseason, but we’ll label them underachievers. It would be awfully satisfying if you’re on board when the Sharks pull it off.
1. St. Louis Blues
St. Louis fans have been singing the Blues throughout the team’s history. They came flying out of the expansion gate, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their first three seasons of existence. They were swept in all three years and have never made it back. Their only Conference Finals appearances came in 1986 and 2001.
Out of the 16 playoff teams, they have had the longest drought. Their 37 playoff appearances have produced zero cups.
We’ve seen some long droughts end in the past few years, as the Kings won the first cup in their history in 2012. The Bruins ended a 39-year drought in 2011 and the Blackhawks brought the cup home to Chicago for the first time in 49 years. It’d be nice to see a team with as much history as the Blues win their first.
While the Blues slumped towards the end of the regular season, there’s still a lot to like about them. They’re big, tough and play a hardworking, physical game. They now have one of the best goalies of this generation in Ryan Miller, who’s looking for his first cup after many tough years in Buffalo.
The Blues went all in this year, trading for Miller and Steve Ott.
St. Louis has always been a loyal fan base to their team and it’s high time they’re rewarded with a championship. The Blues have a tough road to the cup out West, but they still have to be considered a favourite.
They’re also a very worthy bandwagon to jump on, as any fan of a team who’s not in the playoffs can likely relate to the Blues’ pain. Whenever a team overcomes a long drought, it always gives a fan of a struggling team the hope of, “maybe it will be our turn soon.” It seems like it’s St. Louis’ turn this year, and we have the entire spring to find out.
It’s a painless endeavour to jump on a bandwagon. If it doesn’t work out, hey, they weren’t your team anyway and you go back to yours. If it does, you’re happy you picked them and went along for the ride. Just don’t forget where your true loyalties lie!