There are two schools of thought when it comes to jumping on a new bandwagon once your team is out of the NHL playoffs. The first is that you just don’t. Your team is your team, and once they’re out you are too.
But for some fans, that’s easier said than done. Hockey is just more fun when you have somebody to cheer for. And if that can’t be your personal favourite team, well, you’ll just have to find a temporary backup plan.
It’s controversial, but we’re not here to judge. So if you’re a terrible person looking for a team to jump on board with for the next few months, you may as well pick a good one. The ideal bandwagon team is fun to watch, has a likeable cast of characters, and a realistic shot of winning at least a few rounds. Of course, we also want to stay away from the dreaded front-runner pick, so recent history comes into play, too.)
Here are the league’s 16 playoff teams, counting down from the worst bandwagon pick to the best.
No. 16: Chicago Blackhawks
Why you should get on board: They’re the best team in the Western Conference, not to mention the best team of the salary-cap era, and will go into the playoffs as a favourite to go all the way.
Why you shouldn’t: You saw what we said up there about front-runner picks being the worst, right?
Seriously, you can’t pick the Blackhawks. They’re a great team, and they’ve got a clear path through the West to the Cup final, and most of the roster already has a mitt full of Cup rings. And that’s exactly why you can’t pick them.
Bottom line: Do not do this.
No. 15: Pittsburgh Penguins
Why you should get on board: The Penguins are another excellent team with a very good shot at winning it all. But the loss of Kris Letang and a tough matchup with the Blue Jackets at least strips them of any kind of sure-thing status. They make for a gutsier pick than the Blackhawks, if only by a little.
Also, Phil Kessel.
Why you shouldn’t: They’re still the defending champs. And rooting for them over the Blue Jackets is like watching a 98-lb. weakling try to stand up to the bodybuilder who always kicks sand in his face and deciding you’re on Team Bully.
Bottom line: Nope.
No. 14: Boston Bruins
Why you should get on board: You certainly couldn’t be accused of front-running with this pick, as the Bruins won’t be on many lists of true Cup contenders. But they’re on a few, particularly among some of the analytics types. There’s no better bandwagon pick than a long shot who comes through for you, and the Bruins are a sneaky pick to be that team.
Why you shouldn’t: They might beat the Senators in round one, but unless you’re a big believer in fancy stats, their Cup chances seem minimal, and an exit in the first round or two seems likely. Also, their best player likes to occasionally pitchfork opponents in the berries.
Bottom line: They’re the first choice on our list that isn’t a definite no, and if you’re into the numbers or just want to roll the dice on a long shot, feel free to nudge them up a few spots. But they’re a long shot for a reason.
No. 13: Minnesota Wild
Why you should get on board: They’re a good team with a fun coach that hasn’t had all that much success over the years, but will go into this year’s playoffs with home-ice in the first round.
Why you shouldn’t: That one sentence up above is pretty much all I could think of.
Bottom line: As bandwagon picks go, the Wild are OK. They’re fine. If they’re your pick, I won’t try to talk you out of it. But they’re not exactly inspired, you know?
No. 12: Anaheim Ducks
Why you should get on board: The Ducks have been good for most of the last decade, but a series of tough playoff losses has pushed them to the outer edge of most lists of true contenders. But as the Pacific’s top seed, they’ve got a decent shot at a deep run.
Why you shouldn’t: You’d be cheering for Corey Perry. And if you’re out east, you’ll have to stay up late to watch their games. Enjoy your six minutes of sleep after triple overtime.
Bottom line: Choose them if you must, but if it gets to a game seven, run.
No. 11: St. Louis Blues
Why you should get on board: They’ve been in the league for 50 years and have yet to win a Stanley Cup, so nobody will accuse you of front-running here. But they’re also a good team, we think, after hitting a nadir in January and eventually firing Ken Hitchcock before clawing their way back into contention.
Why you shouldn’t: Their playoff hopes rest on a goaltender who was struggling so badly at one point that he got left at home by the team. Also, they traded one of their best players at the deadline because they didn’t think they were a Cup contender.
Bottom line: The Blues are never anyone’s idea of a sexy pick, and apparently even their own GM doesn’t really believe in this year’s team. They have a shot, but there are better options out there.
No. 10: Montreal Canadiens
Why you should get on board: If you’re a Canadian who wants to see the country’s 24-year Cup drought snapped, the Habs may be your best shot. They’ve got home ice through the first two rounds, enough talent to make some noise, and quite possibly the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price. (Who, by the way, won Canada an Olympic gold and a World Cup, so you owe him.)
Why you shouldn’t: If you’re a Canadian, you secretly don’t want to see the country’s drought snapped unless it’s your team that does it, and all this “Canada’s Team” talk that goes on this time of year is nonsense. So you’re a fan of the Jets or Canucks, you’re probably rooting against every other team in the country, just out of spite.
Also, they’re the Canadiens, you know? If you’re not already a fan, you probably grew up hating them, or at least resenting them. All the history and the ceremonies and the torch-passing and on and on and on…. Come on, you can’t really bandwagon these guys, can you?
Bottom line: Also, real Habs fans don’t want you on the bandwagon. This whole thing is just a bad idea.
No. 9: San Jose Sharks
Why you should get on board: Do you like OGWACs? Because the Sharks have the two of the best Old Guy Without a Cup stories in the league in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both of whom are coming to the end of the road and could be in their final season in San Jose. The Sharks have come agonizingly close so many times, including last year’s appearance in the final, and this really could their last shot of the Thornton/Marleau era.
Also, they have Brent Burns, and he’s always fun.
Why you shouldn’t: This doesn’t really feel like their year. It did for a while, as they spent a good chunk of the second half in top spot in the Pacific. But a late-season slump has dropped them down to third spot, and when you mix in some injury issues and a tough matchup, they kind of have “first-round exit” written all over them.
Bottom line: Hey, it’s the Sharks — when have they ever done what we all expect them to in the playoffs?
No. 8: Ottawa Senators
Why you should get on board: You get the same sort of underdog credibility you’d get with the Bruins, but with home-ice advantage and (maybe) slightly better Cup chances. And if you can’t get behind stories like Craig Anderson and Clarke MacArthur then I’m not sure what to tell you.
Why you shouldn’t: Like Boston, they’ve got a winnable early matchup but a questionable path to more than that.
Bottom line: For the first round, they’re a great pick. For the full two-month tournament, not so much. Still, the Senators aren’t a bad bandwagon call.
No. 7: New York Rangers
Why you should get on board: That slamming sound you hear is Henrik Lundqvist‘s window for a championship slowly closing. OK, yes, things that close slowly don’t actually make a slamming sound. But the point is that Lundqvist keeps missing out on Cups, and he gets progressively sadder every time it happens. Do you want that on your conscience? You shouldn’t.
Why you shouldn’t: The Rangers always feel like a bit of a front-runner pick, even though that doesn’t really apply here since they haven’t won a Cup since 1994, they can’t outspend everyone like they used to and they’re drawing a tough matchup in which they’ll be slight underdogs. Old habits die hard, I guess.
Bottom line: Not a bad choice. But there are better wild-card options.
No. 6: Nashville Predators
Why you should get on board: Ten words: P.K. Subban beats the Habs in the Stanley Cup final. OK, the odds of it happening are slim, but just imagine. If you’re looking for your dream scenario – and, uh, you’re not a Canadiens fan – then here it is.
And if the Montreal revenge narrative doesn’t do much for you, there are simpler reasons to get on board with the Predators. They’re a wild card, sure, but they’re one that could do some damage. If you want to get in early on a wild card with a chance to win a round or two, even against the Blackhawks mini-dynasty, they’re a decent choice.
Why you shouldn’t: Montreal is a cool place with good bars and smoked meat. It would be a shame if the Subban scenario actually happened and the city didn’t exist anymore.
Bottom line: They might be going out early, so let’s call it a high-risk, high-reward pick.
No. 5: Toronto Maple Leafs
Why you should get on board: OK, look, I know this a total non-starter for a lot of you. In fact, let’s just go ahead and do the negative section first.
Why you shouldn’t: They’re the Leafs! Come on. If you’re not a Leafs fan already, you probably know a few, and there’s a good chance they annoy you to no end. Toronto gets way too much media coverage, they dominate every hockey conversation, and the entire fanbase has this big chip on its shoulder that it definitely hasn’t earned. You’d never even consider rooting for them.
But if you can get past that…
Why you should get on board: Here’s the thing – this year’s Leafs were more fun than any team in the league, and it wasn’t close. There’s really no arguing it. The roster is full of rookies who do ridiculous things on the ice and then have sing-alongs on the bench.
They went from dead last overall to a playoff spot in one year. They play exciting hockey, score plenty, build up big leads, and then blow those leads each and every time. They’re a lot of things, but they’re never boring. And whatever you might think of Leaf fans, there’s no doubt that they’re a loyal bunch who’ve had to endure more garbage over the years than (almost) any other fan base.
This team is headed towards being really good, which means they’ll be easy to hate soon enough. Hell, they might get there next year. But not quite yet. This year, they’re still the lovable kiddie brigade. For once, stop grumbling about that time some random Leafs fan was mean to you on Twitter and allow yourself to embrace a genuinely fun team. They’re a near-perfect pick.
Oh, except for one thing.
Why you shouldn’t: They’re going to get crushed by the Capitals. Might want to keep that in mind.
Bottom line: I won’t put them any higher than fifth because I know they’re a hard no for a lot of you, and I can respect that. But if you can get past the stigma, you’ll be in for a good time (just not a long time).
No. 4: Calgary Flames
Why you should get on board: They’re young, fun to watch, and have a surprisingly decent shot at winning a round or two. Johnny Gaudreau is great, Brian Elliott is putting together a nice little comeback story, Brian Burke is going to be wearing his tie like a bandana by game three and they haven’t assaulted a linesman in over a year.
Also, they didn’t get here by just repeatedly lucking out in the lottery like some teams we could mention.
Why you shouldn’t: The Flames drew a tough matchup with the Ducks, a team they just can’t seem to beat in Anaheim. Not being able to win on the road is kind of an issue when you’re, you know, the road team.
Bottom line: The Flames are a great pick, and with a slightly better matchup they’d be even higher on the list.
No. 3: Columbus Blue Jackets
Why you should get on board: Who doesn’t love a good David-vs.-Goliath story. This year’s first round serves up a meeting between the star-studded defending champs and a rag-tag group of misfits who went into the season with most of us not even thinking they could make the playoffs. Oh, and the underdogs have literally never won a playoff series in franchise history.
And here’s the best part: There’s a good chance that David can actually win here. The Blue Jackets may not have been trendy picks in September, but they’ve spent the season racking up wins and defying predictions that they’d crash and burn any second now. They’re in tough against the Penguins, but with Letang out and Evgeni Malkin banged up, they’ve absolutely got a shot.
Why you shouldn’t: They’re ice cold, losing six straight before earning a meaningless (for them) win over Toronto on Sunday. And despite having the league’s fourth-best record, they’ve got the toughest path to the semi-finals of any team.
Bottom line: This probably ends badly. But if it doesn’t, you’ve got yourself one of the great underdog stories in recent memory. You want to get in on the ground floor here.
No. 2: Edmonton Oilers
Why you should get on board: This playoff run has been over a decade in the making. They’ve got a new building, a very winnable first round matchup, and they don’t look like they’re just happy to be here. Plus there’s Connor McDavid, the most entertaining hockey player on the planet.
Maybe more importantly: This is likely just the beginning. The Oilers feel like a team on the verge of something big, and if they’re the next team to stake a long-term claim to a spot in the league’s top tier, you’ll want to make sure you got your bandwagon passport stamped early.
Why you shouldn’t: Yes, the whole lottery thing is a sticking point. There’s a sense that the Oilers didn’t really earn any of this, but just had a few ping-pong balls bounce their way. And there’s some truth to that. But this is pro sports, where luck plays a huge role in just about everything, from hot and cold streaks to player development to the bounce of a puck. The draft lottery just pushes it a little more front and centre than we might like. Somebody had to win those lotteries. Just like somebody has to win this year’s Cup.
Bottom line: This is your last chance to pile on the bandwagon. It will be full by round two, and might stay that way for a decade.
No. 1: Washington Capitals
Why you should get on board: Because you’re never going to have the chance to root for a Presidents’ Trophy winner that’s also a “nobody believes in us” underdog.
That’s the weird thing about the Capitals. They’re crazy good, and nobody really seems to dispute that. But there are all those ghosts of playoff failures past that linger over everything. They’re probably going to meet up with the Penguins in round two, yet again. And then something terrible will inevitably happen, yet again.
But that’s superstitious nonsense. These Capitals don’t have anything to do with the 1987 or 1992 or even much to do with 2010. And lord knows, Caps fans have earned this one. From breaking in as the worst team in NHL history to years of playing second fiddle to Mario to all those playoff collapses, they’ve suffered enough. This team has been over a decade in the making. Their fans deserve to see them win, and you should be rooting for them to do it.
Why you shouldn’t: There’s really no good reason, but we’ll throw out one caution: If you jump on board with the Capitals, don’t forget your bandwagon status. Cheer them along the way, but if and when they win it all, step aside for the true lifelong fans. It’s their moment.
Bottom line: Just don’t say you weren’t warned about that Penguins series.