Let’s be honest: Playoff bandwagon-hopping is a contentious subject. For some fans, it’s a total non-starter – you get one team and one team only, with no backup plans allowed. If your favourite team didn’t make the playoffs, then you’re just out of luck. You settle in for the playoffs and enjoy watching all the series play out, but you do it as a neutral observer.
But not everyone looks at it that way. Some fans just like having someone to root for, even if it’s only temporary. And those fans are faced with a tough decision at this time of year, as they try to figure out which bandwagon to punch their ticket for.
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We’re here to help. So today, let’s take a look at all 16 playoff teams, and rank them by bandwagonability, which is not a word but probably should be. Ideally, we’re looking for a team that has a likable cast of characters, some fun storylines, and a good chance to win – but not so good that you’ll look like a front-runner, because we can all agree that they’re the worst.
Let’s get started, working our way from the worst possible option to the best.
#16. Chicago Blackhawks
Why you should get on board: Because you’re also the sort of person who plays video games on the easy level, cheers for the Harlem Globetrotters, and wears a John Cena shirt to work.
Why you shouldn’t: Come on. We can debate the ethics of bandwagon hopping in general, but if you’re going to make the leap then you can’t do it with the closest thing the NHL has seen to a dynasty in decades. When it comes to getting it done on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office, no organization has been better than the Blackhawks, and they have three Cups and counting to show for it. Admire their success, sure. Appreciate the skill on display, of course. Be jealous, absolutely. But if you jump on their bandwagon now, you’re a terrible person.
Bottom line: No.
#15 Los Angeles Kings
Why you should get on board: These plucky underdogs will be trying to make the leap all the way from non-playoff team to Stanley Cup champions, according to people who only arrived on the planet during the last year.
Why you shouldn’t: See the Blackhawks.
Bottom line: If you bandwagon the Kings, may you be forced to spend the entire playoffs standing between two people having the Doughty vs. Karlsson Norris Trophy argument.
#14. Minnesota Wild
Why you should get on board: If you are what your record says you are, then the Wild are the worst team in this year’s playoffs by a pretty decent margin. In theory, that makes them the opening round’s biggest underdog. But they’ve drawn a high-flying Dallas Stars team that looks at least a little bit vulnerable thanks to their shaky goaltending situation. If you’re looking for a longshot that could actually pull off the major upset, the Wild might be your pick.
Why you shouldn’t: This is a team that lost six more games than they won, and they head into the playoffs having lost five straight. Don’t get too attached.
Bottom line: You’re swinging for the fences here.
#13. New York Rangers
Why you should get on board: They’re a team built to win now, one that features the best goaltender of his generation. But the core is aging, the window is closing, and the sense of urgency is palpable. For a franchise that’s won just one Cup in 76 years, this has the makings of a compelling do-or-die story.
Why you shouldn’t: It’s always hard to shake the image of the Rangers as the league’s high-spending big shots, the sort of team you’re supposed to hop on the bandwagon to root against, not for. That doesn’t make much sense in a hard cap league, but it’s a tough hurdle to get past nonetheless.
Bottom line: Lundqvist is one of the most likable players in the game and has won everything there is to win in hockey except for a Stanley Cup, but at 34 he’s running out of chances. There may not be an easier superstar to root for in this year’s playoffs.
#12. Detroit Red Wings
Why you should get on board: They just barely snuck into the playoffs, and now they’re facing a stacked Lightning team that knocked them out last year. But those Lightning have been devastated by late-season health issues, so an upset here isn’t out of the question. And there’s also the Pavel Datsyuk factor, as one of the most popular players in the league has said this could be his final playoff run.
Why you shouldn’t: Maybe it’s the 25-year playoff streak, or the four Cups in the last two decades, or the fact that they’re weeks away from drafting some random no-name in the seventh round who’ll turn out to be a Hall-of-Famer. But something about the Red Wings just doesn’t work as an underdog story.
Bottom line: The Datsyuk story makes this a viable option, but only barely.
#11. Philadelphia Flyers
Why you should get on board: They’re a fun underdog story, one that’s making an unexpected playoff appearance based on a late-season surge that saw him clinch their spot on the season’s final weekend. There’s the Ed Snider factor, as the longtime owner’s recent passing is sure to ratchet up the emotions. And if you root for them then you get a piece of the Shayne Gostisbehere experience. If they can make a long run, by the end of it you might even be able to spell his name without cutting and pasting. (You won’t.)
Why you shouldn’t: They’re facing the powerhouse Capitals, and so will be massive underdogs in the opening round.
Bottom line: Plenty of smart people seem to think that the Caps are more vulnerable than they look, so this pick isn’t quite as crazy as it seems.
#10. Nashville Predators
Why you should get on board: Great town, great fans, and a surprisingly fun team. They’ve been largely ignored over the second half because they’ve been locked in as the seventh seed for months, so you can sell them to your friends as a trendy hipster pick and hope they don’t notice that the Predators were one of the hottest teams around for much of the second half.
Why you shouldn’t: They’ve got a tough road ahead, crossing over to the Pacific to face the Ducks. Also, there’s a better-than-zero chance that Pekka Rinne isn’t good anymore.
Bottom line: Someday, the NHL’s weird playoff system ensures that a crossover team is going to win a division it’s not even in. The Predators have a chance to be that team.
#9. St. Louis Blues
Why you should get on board: The Blues are an excellent team, one that has a realistic shot at winning the first Stanley Cup in the history of the franchise. And there’s a real sense of urgency here, as everyone assumes that another early exit would spell the end of Ken Hitchcock and maybe a good chunk of the team’s veteran core.
Why you shouldn’t: History of playoff disappointment + first round matchup with the Blackhawks = run.
Bottom line: If they can get out to a hot start by eliminating the Blackhawks, look out. But that’s one big “if”.
#8. New York Islanders
Why you should get on board: The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993, and since then no fan base has had to endure more. Mike Milbury, Alexei Yashin, the Nassau Coliseum, Rick DiPietro, those awful uniforms, obstructed view seats … the list goes on. The Islanders and their fans have endured, and they’ve earned some good karma. And with John Tavares in his prime and a reasonably solid supporting cast, they’ve got a shot to make some noise.
Why you shouldn’t: Good bandwagon-jumping, like good comedy, is all about timing. You could have made the same case for the Islanders three years ago – and some of us did. Now, it’s starting to feel like the Islanders may be settling in as a good team, one that should make the playoffs most years, but nothing to get overly excited about. Plus, with plenty of injuries and a lackluster home stretch, their odds don’t look great this year.
Bottom line: Maybe this isn’t their year. But some day, this team will finally go on a run. And when they do, you’ll want to be there with them.
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#7. Anaheim Ducks
Why you should get on board: They’re a very good team with a decent chance at making a run, yet not so good that you’ll feel dirty for rooting for them. More importantly, they’ve overcome plenty of adversity this year, having gone from near dead last over the Christmas break to a true Cup contender. Plus they’ve got Bruce Boudreau, and if you’re not rooting for him to win a Cup by now then I just don’t know what to tell you. As far as bandwagon picks go, they’re almost perfect.
Why you shouldn’t: You’d be rooting for Corey Perry.
Bottom line: Look, I said almost perfect.
#6. Pittsburgh Penguins
Why you should get on board: After a slow start, new coach Mike Sullivan has the high-powered Penguins looking like the team we thought we’d see heading into the season. They’ve got all the star power you could want, their games are usually fun, and Kris Letang continues to be one of the league’s best stories.
Also: Phil Kessel celebrating a Cup win. Come on, you know you want to see it.
Why you shouldn’t: Some fans will just never be able to get behind Crosby and the Penguins, especially given how heavily the league has marketed them over the years. Also, if Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t 100%, they could end up relying on a rookie in goal. That can be fun – anyone remember Steve Penney? – but just know what you’re in for.
Bottom line: If you need to feel like you’re standing out from the pack, look elsewhere. Otherwise, they’re a solid pick.
#5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Why you should get on board: Just one year ago, the Lightning looked like a team on the verge of multiple Cups. Since then, they’ve suffered through the Steven Stamkos contract situation, the Jonathan Drouin mess, and a slow start that left them scrambling to get back into the playoff picture by mid-season. Some of that was self-inflicted, of course, but factor in a possible Stamkos comeback from his recent blood clot and a long Lightning run would start to get a bit of a feel-good story vibe.
(Also, the city is packed with tiki bars and shuffleboard tables, although that’s mainly for the media.)
Why you shouldn’t: They had their run last year, so there’s still a bit of front-running here.
Bottom line: They’re one of the better choices. And yet, they’re not even the best pick from their own state.
#4. Washington Capitals
Why you should get on board: The beauty of jumping on the Capitals’ bandwagon is that you get to back what seems like a prohibitive favorite, a team that ran away and hid with the Presidents’ Trophy, and yet it somehow doesn’t feel like a front-runner pick. That’s partly because of the franchise’s dubious playoff history, and partly because there seems to be a very real doubt in the hockey world over whether they really are as good as their record looks. (Spoiler alert: Every expert you know is going to pick them to lose to the Penguins in the second round.)
Still, this team is all sorts of fun. There is Alex Ovechkin, of course, plus guys like Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov. You’ve got Barry Trotz chasing his first Cup. There’s the Mike Richards reclamation story. And if they go to a Game 7, they win automatically because they have Justin Williams.
Why you shouldn’t: It’s the Capitals. Whatever happens, it’s going to end very, very badly.
Bottom line: Jump on the bandwagon and enjoy. Just make sure you grab a seat by the emergency exit, and be ready to bail right before the final credits roll.
#3. San Jose Sharks
Why you should get on board: After years of being the league’s de facto playoff disappointment, the Sharks are back in the post-season as an intriguing underdog. They’ve also got Joe Thornton, who’s in line to assume the “universally beloved veteran star” mantle from Jaromir Jagr if Jagr ever retires (he won’t), and all-around nice guy James Reimer.
Why you shouldn’t: They’re better than you think, but they still need to get past the Ducks and Kings. That’s going to be tricky.
Bottom line: It’s a high-risk, high-reward pick.
#2. Florida Panthers
Why you should get on board: The Panthers offer just about everything you’d want from a bandwagon team. You want a team who can win? They’re division champs and have home ice through at least the first two rounds. Prefer an underdog? They haven’t won a round since 1996 and missed the playoffs in each of the last three years. Like legendary superstars? Jaromir Jagr! Fan-friendly personalities? Roberto Luongo! Young all-stars who somehow look 20 years older than they are? Aaron Ekblad! Did you enjoy The Usual Suspects or House of Cards? Kevin Spacey! No, seriously, they have Kevin Spacey. No, nobody understands why, just go with it.
Why you shouldn’t: Honestly, they might be a little too trendy at this point. Also, nobody seems to really consider them a serious Cup contender even though their record suggests they should be.
Bottom line: Kevin Spacey and Jaromir Jagr. Even if it’s only for a round or two, you can’t say no to that.
#1. Dallas Stars
Why you should get on board: They’re an excellent team, one that’s secured the top seed and home ice through the Western playoffs. But they were sixth in the Central just a year ago and haven’t won a playoff round since 2008, so it’s not like you’re jumping on board with a powerhouse. More importantly, there isn’t a team in the league that’s more fun to watch. And remember, the NHL is a copycat league where half the teams immediately pivot to try to duplicate the model of whoever wins the Cup. Imagine all those teams trying to load up on offence, speed and skill. A long Stars’ run wouldn’t just make for a fun few months; it could infuse some fun back into the league as a whole.
Why you shouldn’t: This is the NHL. Defence wins. Goaltending wins. Structure wins. Fun teams do not win. Fun teams run into hot goalies, get shut out in the deciding game despite dominating, and then spend all summer listening to experts say “I told you so” while figuring out how to strip away their personality and implement the trap.
Bottom line: If you hate that everything I wrote in the previous section is true, then you know what you need to do: Cheer for the one team that has a chance to save us all. Welcome to the Dallas Stars bandwagon.