Did the Eastern Conference not appeal to you? We totally get it. The West is the far better conference.
In case you missed the first two installments of Icebreakers, it’s a feature focused on breaking down each team by division and why you would and would not want to join the bandwagon of that team. Also for fun (and based on the Twitter and Facebook responses — some people take them a wee too seriously), we added a comparison for another sports franchise.
So before you get started, we have to remind you that the criteria is up to you. Whether you are a pure frontrunner or a sports hipster (one who roots for up-and-coming teams before they’re mainstream), there’s options for everyone.
The final edition of the four-part series will be posted on Oct. 3.
Last year’s record: 46-21-15 (3rd in division)
Coach: Joel Quenneville | GM: Stan Bowman
Core players: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp
Why this team? It’s the perfect option for a frontrunner. Chicago is an immediate Cup contender that has won two championships in the last five years. They have an elite roster with front-end players and also have a really catchy goal song. Bonus: Patrick Kane’s mullet.
Why not? It’s too obvious. Everybody already likes them, so why should you? And while captain Jonathan Toews seems to win everything, he’s freaking boring. He could use some more Kane in him.
Other sport comparison: San Francisco Giants — They are a historic franchise with a rich history of winning. And like the Blackhawks, the Giants have won twice in the last five years. And every single person seems to love them, too. It’s next to impossible to go a day without seeing someone rocking a Giants cap.
Last year’s record: 52-22-8 (1st in division)
Coach: Patrick Roy | GM: Joe Sakic
Core players: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly
Why this team? The Avs are the most fun offensive unit in the league. They have elite speed. They can score at a high level and have a group of young players that will grow together. And also, you get Patrick Roy’s explosive temper. Never a dull moment there.
Why not? If you fit the sports hipster profile, you’re a year too late. They won the division last year and had an impressive first-round showing. But, there are still expectations of regression. The advanced stats crowd has made the Avs their new test case or their new enemy. They have the talent, but don’t seem to do that whole possession thing.
Other sport comparison: Washington Wizards — The backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal works nicely with Colorado’s forward group. Also, the veteran addition of Paul Pierce is eerily comparable to the signing of Jarome Iginla. Both are past their prime, but can still provide meaningful contributions.
Last year’s record: 40-31-11 (5th in division)
Coach: Lindy Ruff | GM: Jim Nill
Core players: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Kari Lehtonen
Why this team? The Stars are cool again. The combination of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (he’s a character, man) ended a stretch of irrelevance. Now with savvy GM Jim Nill, this team is going in the right direction for the long haul.
Why not? Their defence is a problem. The depth was already an issue before Sergei Gonchar suffered an injury. This troublesome unit could be what holds them back from a deep playoff run.
Other sport comparison: Philadelphia Eagles — Just like Philly, the Stars were a contender in the late 90s and early 2000s. Now after some restructuring that included a coaching change, the Stars and Eagles boast offences on the rise, but with an iffy defence. Also, both wear green.
Last year’s record: 43-27-12 (4th in division)
Coach: Mike Yeo | GM: Chuck Fletcher
Core players: Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek
Why this team? They play in a great American hockey market. If you care about that, they have two Midwestern-born star players that are locked in for the long haul and a very exciting top-six on offence. And Cliff Fletcher’s son runs the team. Cliff is one of my all-time heros.
Why not? The Western Conference is damn tough and they are a good team, but not a great one. It may be difficult for the Wild to jump the Chicagos and Los Angeles’ for the next little while. Also, the goalie situation is troubling. Who knows who the starter is going to be, but at least Ilya Bryzgalov is around for another year. He’s a legendary character.
Other sport comparison: Memphis Grizzlies — A very good team with a solid collection of talent, but isn’t quite good enough to jump the top powerhouses in their conference.
Last year’s record: 43-27-12 (4th in division)
Coach: Peter Laviolette | GM: David Poile
Core players: Shea Weber, Seth Jones, Pekka Rinne, James Neal
Why this team? The city is awesome. They have sweet jerseys (well, except for the yellow one) and the arena is surrounded by bars and BBQ restaurants. It’s an ideal road trip city. On the ice, they have a lot to like, too. The Preds roster features an elite goalie mixed in with a star defender and one of the most exciting young blueliners in the league. AND LOTS OF COUNTRY MUSIC.
Why not? If you love offence, this team isn’t for you. Despite adding former 40-goal scorer James Neal, they still have a glaring lack of firepower up front. Simply put, the offence is relying on too many declining veterans.
Other sport comparison: Houston Texans — Defensive-oriented teams that include a star (Shea Weber/J.J. Watt) and a young stud full of potential (Seth Jones/Jadeveon Clowney). The two are recent expansion clubs that had a decent run of playoff appearances before a recent drop-off. Coincidentally, both happened to fire their long-time coaches within the last year.
St. Louis Blues
Last year’s record: 52-23-7 (2nd in division)
Coach: Ken Hitchcock | GM: Doug Armstrong
Core players: David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Alex Steen
Why this team? The Blues are on the cusp of a championship. They are an exceptional defensive club — a staple of Ken Hitchcock — with a well balanced offence and a potential star in young goaltender Jake Allen. And they should be even better up front with the addition of centre Paul Stastny, who could be the final piece of the puzzle. Now they need to figure out a way to get out of the first round.
Why not? Frankly, there aren’t many reasons. It’s a young team that’s still getting better, but you better get to used to disappointment. They have never won a Stanley Cup and have only made it out of the first round twice since 2002. Yikes.
Other sport comparison: Cincinnati Bengals — A well balanced and highly talented roster that excels on defence. They have been a great regular season team in the last few years, but it has ended with playoff disappointment.
Last year’s record: 37-35-10 (last in division)
Coach: Paul Maurice | GM: Kevin Cheveldayoff
Core players: Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd
Why this team? Other than youngsters Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele, it’s tough to fill out this section. They have some solid pieces up front and a highly passionate fan base — the atmosphere at the MTS Centre is great.
Why not? The Jets are stuck in no man’s land. They lack front-end talent and have a pretty brutal goalie situation. Unless they’re going for a high draft pick, it’s hard to understand the direction – or the lack thereof – going on in The Peg.
Other sport comparison: Cleveland Browns — Unfortunately there’s no Johnny Football in Winnipeg. The two cold-climate franchises are pretty similar. They both left on ugly terms and later came back. They both haven’t really done anything since they came back either, but despite that, still have a collection of great fans that truly care about their team. They could use some more wins, though.