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

We learned the officials in round 3 love the battle but despise the dirty. Get up close and personal and listen in to how the men in stripes interact with the players, coaches and each other.

We’re now just a few hours away from the start of the 2017 Stanley Cup final, pitting the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators. It’s a classic battle between the powerhouse defending champs and an inspiring Cinderella story, and plenty of fans have already picked sides.

But not everyone. Some fans insist on remaining neutral, which is fine. But others might want to root for one team or another, but can’t figure out which way to lean. After all, there’s a lot to like about both teams. If you haven’t decided who you’ll root for yet, you’re rapidly running out of time to make your decision.

We’re here to help. So today, we’ll go through the 29 other NHL franchises and offer up team-by-team recommendations for any fans who are still sitting on the fence and looking for a last-minute bandwagon to hop on. These are, it should go without saying, merely suggestion, but they might be of assistance for the more indecisive fans out there.

Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks fans may not want to cheer on the Predators, a division rival who swept them out of the first round. But they should, for a couple of reasons. For one, a Nashville Cup win takes some of the sting out of that opening-round upset. But more importantly, a Penguins’ win strips Chicago of their status as the NHL’s unquestioned modern dynasty. The Penguins wouldn’t just tie the Hawks with three cap-era Cup wins, they’d do it by pulling of the back-to-back wins that have so far eluded Chicago. That should have Blackhawks fans backing the Predators, if only to protect their own turf at the top of the NHL’s hierarchy.

Pick: Predators

Los Angeles Kings

The once-mighty Kings have won just a single playoff game in three years, and just overhauled their front office and coaching ranks. Now, the Penguins are threatening to pass them in cap-era Cups won. Much like the Blackhawks, Kings fans need to protect their turf here.

Pick: Predators

Colorado Avalanche

There was a time back in the ’90s when the Penguins were one of the best teams in hockey, winning a pair of Stanley Cups. But then the franchise fell on hard times, eventually plunging all the way to dead last overall in 2004. The Avalanche have followed a similar trajectory, and are coming off a season even worse than any nadir the Penguins ever hit. If you’re a Colorado fan looking for any hope you can cling to these days, watching the Penguins win another Cup would serve as a reminder that there is a path from rock bottom back to the promised land.

Pick: Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

Come on.

New York Islanders

The Islanders’ season was a rough one. They missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and had to endure another round of arena drama and speculation about their future. At times, it feels like this franchise is a million miles away from winning anything. After all that, Islanders fans have a chance to watch the Stanley Cup be awarded to a team that posted the exact same 41-29-12 regular-season record that they did. That might not make the season a success, but it would make the whole “We’re not as far away as we seem” story a lot easier to swallow. Besides, they can root for former coach Peter Laviolette, who was once fired by Mike Milbury because he clearly wasn’t the sort of coach who could take a team to the final.

Pick: Predators

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers still owe the rest of the hockey world some penance for shocking the Penguins in 1996 and costing us a Mario Lemieux-vs.-Patrick Roy showdown in the Stanley Cup final. Rooting for Jaromir Jagr‘s old team is the least they can do.

Pick: Penguins

Ottawa Senators

This is a tricky one. Sens fans getting behind the Penguins just days after a heart-breaking Game 7 loss would be a big ask, and you could forgive Ottawa if the city united behind the Predators finishing the job that they couldn’t. (Longtime Senators favourite Mike Fisher chasing his first Cup helps here, too.)

But that feels shortsighted. If the Penguins win it all, Senators fans can always claim they were one overtime goal away from going on to do the same. A Predators win takes some of the drama out of that epic overtime. Besides, it’s not like the series against the Penguins was especially heated. And in a way, the Penguins and Senators are linked by some common history, with both franchises fighting through bankruptcy and accusations of being an unworthy market. Senators fans should have their back, if only so down the road they can claim that it should have been them.

Pick: Penguins

Detroit Red Wings

The last team in NHL history to repeat as Cup champs isn’t about to root for another team to come along and equal their feat. This one isn’t an especially tough call; Wings fans should be rooting Predators all the way.

Pick: Predators

Vegas Golden Knights

Another easy one. Of course the NHL’s newest team has to get behind a (relatively) recent expansion team —
especially one being run by a former Capitals GM.

Pick: Predators

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San Jose Sharks

This time last year, it was the Sharks that were facing this same Penguins team in the Cup final. They couldn’t get it done then; there’s no reason for them to hope that some other team can come along and do any better now.

Pick: Penguins

Columbus Blue Jackets

A Pittsburgh win erases some of the pain from that five-game exit in the opening round. After all, if the team that eliminates you goes on to win the Cup, you can convince yourself that your team may have been the league’s second best. With everyone seeming a little too eager to write off the Blue Jackets’ chances of being back among the league’s heavyweights next year, a Penguins win would be ammo for Columbus fans.

Is that enough to get them on board? Probably not. Blue Jackets fans have never liked the Penguins, and the Predators are expansion cousins. The Ryan Johansen factor probably nudges them into the Nashville column.

Pick: Predators

Minnesota Wild

The Wild are another team from the same expansion cohort as the Predators. But unlike the Blue Jackets, they’re still stuck in the same division with Nashville. For years, the Wild have been also-rans in a Central Division landscape where the Blackhawks ruled, patiently waiting for Chicago to come back to the pack so they could have their turn at the top. Now the Predators get to jump the line? We’ll grant Minnesota fans permission to wallow in some jealousy here.

Pick: Penguins

New Jersey Devils

When you trade an Old Guy Without a Cup to a contender at the deadline, you have to root for his team to win it all. They sent Vernon Fiddler to the Predators, so…

Pick: Predators

Carolina Hurricanes

By the same token, the Hurricanes have to root for Ron Hainsey. It’s the law of the transitive property of OGWACs.

Pick: Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

Seriously, if you’re a Canadiens fan, you shouldn’t need our help here. This one isn’t a tough call.

Buffalo Sabres

At this point, the Sabres are all-in on the “strip it all down, hit rock bottom, draft high and then reemerge as a contender” model of winning a championship. The Penguins are pretty much the archetype of that approach. Meanwhile, the Predators never really built that way at all. The last thing frustrated Sabres fans and their wheel-spinning rebuild need right now is to be told that there’s another way to do it.

Pick: Penguins

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New York Rangers

There’s a little too much history with the Penguins to expect any Rangers fans to be cheering them on. And as an added bonus, if Filip Forsberg wins the Conn Smythe you’ll have yet another way to make fun of Capitals fans.

Pick: Predators

Edmonton Oilers

If anyone can get behind a dynasty built around a generational franchise player, it should be Edmonton fans. Not only have they been there before, with the 1980s Oilers, but they may be headed there again with Connor McDavid. If you’re an Oilers fan, you shouldn’t want to see anyone else knock Crosby and the Penguins off their throne until you get your chance to do it yourself in the final a year or two down the line.

Pick: Penguins

Calgary Flames

Flames fans can never be on the same bandwagon as Oilers fans. Sorry, it’s the law.

Pick: Predators

Boston Bruins

You guys are over the whole P.K. Subban thing, right? Sure, there was the rivalry when he was with the Canadiens and constantly found increasingly painful ways to beat you. Yes, there was the time he geared up for a Game 7 in your build by saying “I can’t wait to take that all away from them,” and then actually went out and did it. You could see how that would leave a mark. But Boston isn’t the kind of town that holds a grudge, right?

Yeah, Bruins fans are probably rooting for the Penguins.

Pick: Penguins

Tampa Bay Lightning

A Predators win lets the Lightning play the “We had the same number of points as the Cup winner” card. But a Penguins win serves as a reminder that the salary cap doesn’t always have to be the death knell of a well-built team, which would be a nice message to hear in Tampa these days. It’s a coin flip, so let’s go with the result that protects Steve Yzerman’s legacy as the most recent captain to lift consecutive Cups.

Pick: Predators

Toronto Maple Leafs

On the one hand, Phil Kessel. On the other hand, P.K. Subban winning the Cup makes it easier to point and laugh at Habs fans. Sorry, Phil, you got your ring last year.

Pick: Predators

St. Louis Blues

The Blues are one of the teams that fell to the Predators along the way, I’m told, although nobody remembers anything that happened in that series. But more importantly, when you’ve waited 50 years and counting for a Stanley Cup, you don’t want to see the new kid in your division waltz in and win one in their very first deep playoffs run.

Pick: Penguins

Arizona Coyotes

Nashville is a non-traditional hockey market that’s spent years being looked down on by their northern counterparts, especially in Canada. Sound familiar?

Pick: Predators

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Vancouver Canucks

A Vancouver newspaper ran a whole breakdown on the topic over the weekend, and it came down pretty much even. But I think you have to go with the only NHL player to ever score a championship-winning goal on home ice in Vancouver.

Pick: Penguins

Philadelphia Flyers

It’s always nice to see a team from your division win the Cup, so Flyers fans should probably root for the Peng… — [immediately gets pelted with batteries] – I WAS KIDDING. Of course Flyers fans are cheering for the Predators.

Pick: Predators

Washington Capitals

In theory, Capitals fans should be rooting for the Penguins. Yes, there’s the David Poile factor in Nashville. But after two straight Presidents’ Trophy wins, the last thing the Caps need is another reminder that the regular season doesn’t matter. Watching the second-seeded Penguins knock off the 16th-place Predators would at least reassure Washington fans that sometimes the best team really does win.

But all that said, sometimes the wound is just too fresh. The Penguins haven been kicking sand in the Capitals’ faces for decades now, and after a second straight exit at their hands, you could forgive Washington fans for refusing to ever root on their longtime rivals. Come to think of it, you could also forgive them for never watching hockey again.

Pick: Predators

Winnipeg Jets

Poile put the finishing touches on the Predators with a pair of jaw-dropping trades – last summer’s Subban-for-Weber blockbuster, and the nearly-as-big Ryan Johansen/Seth Jones deal from the season before. If anything could accomplish the seemingly impossible task of reminding Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff that trading is allowed in the NHL, a Predators’ Cup win would have a shot.

Pick: Predators

Anaheim Ducks

When a team beats you once in the playoffs, you should tip your cap to them and cheer them on the rest of the way. But when they beat you two years in a row, you’re allowed to carry a grudge.

Pick: Penguins

Dallas Stars

The Stars’ recent trade and long contract for Ben Bishop raised some eyebrows, since big goaltenders often don’t age well. Seeing 34-year-old Pekka Rinne lift the Cup would help put those doubts to rest. Mix in Stars draft pick James Neal chasing his first Cup, and Dallas lands on the Predators bandwagon.

Pick: Predators

Montreal Canadiens

OK, Montreal, here’s the deal. Obviously, this all comes down to how you feel about Subban, and the controversial trade that sent him to Nashville. And you could understand a Habs fan wanting to see their former star fall short. After all, the entire hockey world is getting ready to carve up the Canadiens if Subban skates a lap with the Cup just one year after the organization ran him out of town for not being a guy you can win with. No fan ever wants their team to be a punchline.

But Subban didn’t ask to be dealt. He didn’t force a move, directly or indirectly. In the year since the trade was announced, we’ve yet to hear about any sort of hidden controversy or scandal. All Subban did in Montreal was help the team win hockey games. Well, that and give millions to the local children’s hospital.

If you’re a Montreal fan, maybe you can understand the trade. Maybe you even still like it — Shea Weber had a pretty good season himself. But that’s no reason to want to see Subban fail. At this point, rooting against a guy who gave everything to your team and community would just be the worst kind of pettiness.

As best I can tell, most Habs fans are already solidly on the Predators bandwagon. Any remaining stragglers should join them before the opening faceoff tonight.

Pick: Predators

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