Down Goes Brown: Cup Final rooting guide for NHL’s 29 other teams

NHL insider John Shannon joins Martine to get us set for Stanley Cup Game 4, where the Capitals will look for depth players like André Burakovsky and Jay Beagle to keep being key contributors and making the difference.

As we head into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight, most fans will have already picked a side. Maybe you’re on board with the unprecedented underdog story of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Or maybe you’re rooting for the long-suffering Washington Capitals as they try to undo 44 years of misery. Or maybe you’re not backing anyone, because if your team can’t win it all then you don’t see why anyone else should get to be happy either. Honestly, it’s probably that last one.

Or maybe you’re just a procrastinator. If so, we’re here to help. Today, let’s run through the other 29 NHL fan bases and see if we can come up with a reason to root for either the Caps or the Knights over the next few nights as the Stanley Cup Final winds its way to a close.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres have spent the better part of the last decade struggling to pull of a traditional rebuild, complete with trades, firings, blatant tanking and (finally) some lottery luck. It hasn’t work yet, but they have a plan and they’re sticking to it. The Capitals had a similar vision back in 2004, and seeing it finally pay off would remind Sabres fans that sometimes, slow and steady wins the race. On the other hand, a Golden Knights championship would suggest that titles can be won by accident and all this long-term planning may have just been an utter waste of time. If I were a Sabres fan, I know which option I’d prefer to believe in.

Pick: Capitals

Tampa Bay Lightning

Some lingering bitterness after the conference final is perfectly acceptable. And Alex Ovechkin finally winning a championship would move Steven Stamkos even further up the list of players under the spotlight for their own lack of playoff success, which Tampa fans would probably prefer to avoid.

Pick: Golden Knights

Winnipeg Jets

Much like the Lightning, we’ll allow Jets fans to still be harbouring a few conference-final grudges — especially after watching the best team in Winnipeg’s NHL history bow out in five games to an expansion team.

Pick: Capitals

New York Rangers

There’s a good case to be made that New York fans should be rooting for their long-time rivals. After all, the Capitals and Rangers have gone toe-to-toe in multiple playoff showdowns over the years, and while some of those have featured bad blood, there should be a certain level of respect between the two teams by now. Respect is a wonderful thing. It also doesn’t have much to do with how hockey fans think, so…

Pick: Golden Knights

New York Islanders

I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is for forgiving Dale Hunter’s cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t reached it yet.

Pick: Golden Knights

Toronto Maple Leafs

Leafs fans will always have a complicated relationship with teams like the Capitals winning a Cup, since it removes one more entry from the list of teams with comparable droughts to Toronto’s. But surely an expansion team winning in year one would be worse, and at least a Caps win would offer up some sort of lesson on the value of perseverance in the face of decades of futility. Also, if the Knights win then the Leafs will finish the playoffs as the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the team that lost to the champions, which is never an honour you want to earn if you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re close to contending.

Pick: Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins

A Vegas win means Marc-Andre Fleury gets to be happy and Ovechkin gets to be sad, making this just about the easiest call on the entire list.

Pick: Golden Knights

St. Louis Blues

This is a tough one. On the one hand, Blues fans might fall into the same category as Leafs fans who’d rather see a fellow long-suffering team get their first title instead of a complete newcomer. And the sight of Ovechkin carrying a Cup around the ice would nip any “You can’t win when your best player is a flashy Russian winger” narratives in the bud. Mix in T.J. Oshie and we’ll go with the Caps here, with the important disclaimer that anyone who feels strongly about Ryan Reaves and/or David Perron can get a day pass to the Knights’ bandwagon.

Pick: Capitals

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San Jose Sharks

Normally, we’d consider it fair game to root against the team that knocked you out of the playoffs, which would have the Sharks firmly on Team Caps here. But if Washington wins it all, that leaves the crown for the NHL’s most underachieving playoff team up for grabs, and the Sharks would be the clear favourite to take over. I think Sharks fans need to overlook some short-term pain and think about the big picture here.

Pick: Golden Knights

Los Angeles Kings

From almost the day they arrived in the league, the Golden Knights seemed to go out of their way to pick fights with the Kings, who were more than happy to swing back. Then they met in the first round and the Kings got swept, and now Vegas is featuring Drew Doughty’s unfortunate mid-season quote in their pregame ceremonies. The Kings kind of deserve what they’re getting here, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.

Pick: Capitals

Arizona Coyotes

Hey, at least all those old-school fans who are constantly looking down their nose about how NHL hockey could never possibly work in the desert will be wrong for once, right?

Pick: Golden Knights

Boston Bruins

The Bruins put up 50+ wins, then bombed out in the second round against a star-studded team that just seemed to have their number. You know who else did that? The Capitals, in both 2016 and 2017. A Washington win would be a nice reminder that sometimes, the right response to a tough loss is to just regroup and look ahead to next year. (Also, that handing the Golden Knights one of their best defencemen isn’t the end of the world.)

Pick: Capitals

Calgary Flames

Former Flame Deryk Engelland is the best OGWAC story left standing, and while he was in Calgary for only three seasons, that should be enough to overcome any hesitancy towards a brand new divisional rival.

Pick: Golden Knights

Detroit Red Wings

I know we’ve all already decided that George McPhee just pulled off the greatest job of GMing the NHL has ever seen, but man does that Tomas Tatar deadline trade ever look awful in hindsight. A first and two more picks for a guy who can barely crack the lineup and still has three years left on a $5.3 million cap hit? Red Wings fans should probably be rooting for Vegas just out of guilt.

Pick: Golden Knights

Carolina Hurricanes

They may be Metro Division rivals, but the Hurricanes have never played the Capitals in the playoffs and really have no history with them. So instead, let’s show some loyalty to a fellow Southeast Division alumni.

Pick: Capitals

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Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks are yet another team that’s suffered more than its share of misery over the years, and watching the Golden Knights waltz in and claim a championship in year one would be tough to swallow. But when you look at the way Vegas did it — with a well-coached mix of underrated youth and overpaid veterans all exceeding any reasonable expectations — and it looks an awful lot like the Canucks’ most likely path back to respectability. That might be enough to have a few Vancouver fans on the bandwagon, even if only grudgingly.

Pick: Golden Knights

Dallas Stars

Sure, everyone thinks it’s amazing that the Golden Knights went to the Stanley Cup final 11 months after drafting players in an expansion draft. But is that really more impressive than the old North Stars going to a Stanley Cup Final five days before drafting players in an expansion draft? Really makes you think.

Pick: Golden Knights

New Jersey Devils

The Devils and Capitals have been in the same division for most of the last four decades, but have somehow only met in the playoffs twice — and one of those came in 1988, which was probably the most enjoyable playoff run the Devils have ever had in a non-Cup season. I’m not even sure this really counts as a rivalry, and since we can’t have the entire Patrick Division rooting against Washington, I’m going to buck the trend by nudging Devils fans towards the team that was technically their expansion cousins.

Pick: Capitals

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche just had one of the most amazing turnaround seasons in NHL history, and nobody noticed because everyone was even more surprised by the Golden Knights. I feel like Avs fans should be allowed to resent that.

Pick: Capitals

Minnesota Wild

So teams that fire Bruce Boudreau after years of playoff disappointment can eventually win a Stanley Cup, you say? Um, asking for a friend.

Pick: Capitals

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets and Capitals are division rivals, but not for so long that a little bit of cross-division bandwagon-hopping feels unthinkable. Seeing the Caps win it all would no doubt be painful after the Blue Jackets had them on the ropes early in the opening round, but Columbus fans would at least be able to claim that they almost beat the eventual champs, which means they may not be all that far from the promised land. Besides, how many more “What were they thinking with William Karlsson?” stories can you really stomach?

Pick: Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

The Golden Knights made the Kings and Sharks look silly. You have to respect that.

Pick: Golden Knights

Nashville Predators

The Knights may have earned a few points in Nashville by doing what the Predators couldn’t and knocking out the Jets, and any lingering gratitude for the Filip Forsberg trade needs to be split between Washington and George McPhee. But the Capitals are being led by day-one Predator Barry Trotz, still in search of his first ring. If 15 seasons behind the bench can’t earn you some loyalty, nothing will, so Nashville fans shouldn’t have to think too hard here.

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Pick: Capitals

Ottawa Senators

Look, you all prayed to the hockey gods that this would be the year you’d get to see Karlsson raise the Stanley Cup. It’s not our fault that you should have been more specific.

Pick: Golden Knights

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are another long-time Capitals rival, although they haven’t crossed paths in the playoffs as much as you might think. If anything, most of our Flyers/Caps Patrick Division memories look like this and this and this. More recently, there was also the Ray Emery/Braden Holtby “fight”, which should have paid off any debts in the minds of Flyers fans. And besides, if the Golden Knights win then the Flyers lose their distinction of being the fastest modern expansion team to win a championship. Is that enough to get Flyers fans to put aside any lingering bitterness? (Remembers every interaction with every Flyers fan he’s ever met.) Yeah, probably not.

Pick: Golden Knights

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers were gifted with a generational franchise player who has a chance to go down in history as one of the greatest ever, and maybe more. But so far they’ve utterly failed to surround him with the right sort of talent to contend for a championship, and are instead apparently content to let him try to do it all by himself. If only there was a way for Oilers fans to feel like that plan could at least get them to a final.

Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers

Montreal Canadiens

If you had to pick one team that’s caused the Capitals more misery than any other, it’s an easy call — that’s the Penguins all the way. But you could make the case that if there was any one series that did the most damage, it was the Canadiens’ 2010 first-round upset of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Caps. Jaroslav Halak‘s heroics lit the fuse on a franchise-wide identity crisis that nearly derailed the Ovechkin era permanently. Simple karma says that after causing that much suffering, Montreal should be behind Lars Eller and the Caps. (Plus, have you seen what these Vegas punks do with their pregame ceremonies?)

Pick: Capitals

Chicago Blackhawks

Fun fact: George McPhee was once suspended for a month for cold-cocking the Blackhawks’ coach after a game.

Pick: Capitals

Florida Panthers

We close with what may be the toughest call. By this point, Panthers fans have heard more than enough about their team’s contribution to the Golden Knights’ success. No team has taken more blame for fumbling the expansion draft than the Panthers (and rightly so), and you could forgive Panthers fans if they never wanted to hear a word about it again. But at this point, that ship has probably sailed — it’s not like the Knights falling just short of a Cup would somehow get Dale Tallon and friends off the hook. So as painful as it may be, we’re going to suggest that Panthers fans may as well steer into the skid and root for Jonathan-Audy Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Gerard Gallant to pull off what they couldn’t come close to doing in Florida.

Pick: Golden Knights

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