Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The bandwagon-hopper’s guide to the (real) playoffs

Welcome to the playoffs. Well, the real playoffs. Was that last round the real playoffs too? I think it might have been, but nobody’s quite sure. This has all been very confusing.

One thing we do know: Half the league has been eliminated, which means there are a lot of fans out there who might be looking for a bandwagon. That’s always a bit controversial, but we’re not here to judge anyone. You waited five months for the playoffs, if you need a team to invest some emotion in then you do what you have to do.

But who should you pick? It’s a big decision, and we’re here to help.

As always, a good bandwagon pick is going to have a few factors working for it. They’ll be a good team, because nobody wants to bandwagon an early loser, but not too good, because front-runners are the worst. They’ll have at least a few players that are easy to root for, preferably including an OGWAC or two, and not too many guys you can’t stand. In a perfect world they’ll be an entertaining team to watch; especially when you’re not completely invested, you’d rather watch a 6-5 win than a 1-0 slog. And ideally they’ll have an existing fan base that would welcome some support.

These are suggestions only, of course. You’re free to pick your own bandwagon team, or to refuse to pick one at all and then spend the next two months loudly reminding everyone of that fact. But let’s run down the options, just in case.

16. St. Louis Blues

Why you should get on board: It’s become a bit of a tradition to rank the defending champs near the bottom of these lists, and for good reason: That’s classic front running, and no self-respecting bandwagon-hopper should want to be part of that.

That said, you could make a very solid case for the Blues as a perfectly acceptable pick. Remember, this is the team that we had ranked No. 1 on last year’s list. A big piece of that was based on their half-century Cup drought, but not all of it, and a lot of those factors still apply. They’re an interesting team, they’re full of good stories, their GM won’t stop making trades, and their coach can beat you up. They haven’t had to come back from last place this year, but they did endure the scary Jay Bouwmeester situation, and it would be great to see him get another day with the Cup.

Why you shouldn’t: So could you bandwagon this team? Sure. Should you? Maybe. But I’m still ranking them last, and I have a good reason: Their fans have earned it. They spent 53 years as the league’s reasonably well-liked but forgettable kid brother, and now they’re the champions. They deserve everything that comes with that, including a strong dose of jealousy-fueled spite from everyone else.

Bottom line: Boo those stupid Blues, they’ve been riding high for too long!

15. Chicago Blackhawks

Why you should get on board: They’re underdogs, I guess. And based on what they just did to the Oilers, they’re pretty good ones.

Why you shouldn’t: Two reasons. First, they shouldn’t be in the playoffs. They had the 23rd best record in the league, and while there’s absolutely a certain Team Chaos appeal to seeing them knock off a few favorites, having them actually win the Cup would just render the season even more meaningless than it usually is.

And speaking of Cups, oh right, they already have three in the last decade. They’re not a great team now, so this wouldn’t be a front-runner pick, but do you really want to get on board with a fan base that’s going to react to a championship by shrugging and then trying to figure out how they’ll make more room in the trophy case?

Bottom line: Here’s a good rule of thumb for bandwagon picks: If you want to go with an underdog, don’t choose a recent dynasty.

14. Montreal Canadiens

Why you should get on board: Like Chicago, they were a bad team during the season that probably shouldn’t be in the playoffs. But with no recent championships, and not a whole lot of recent relevance, you’d at least be rooting for a team that needs this. If you’re going to go with a 12-seed longshot, the Habs are the better choice. And as a bonus, they’re one of those teams that the analytics folks think might be better than their record, so the odds of a longshot run aren’t quite as long as they appear.

Why you shouldn’t: I say some version of this every year, but it’s worth repeating: Montreal fans do not want you on their bandwagon. Habs fandom is its own kind of thing, and it’s pretty great, but you’re going to have a hard time fitting in. And if they do win it all, room on the bandwagon is going to be tough to come by.

Bottom line: Also, a Habs championship would infuriate the rest of Canada. I’ll leave it to you whether that’s a plus or a minus.

13. Boston Bruins

Why you should get on board: They’re a really good team that finished first in the regular season standings. They’re also only the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, so apparently they’re kind of underdogs? Look, don’t think too hard about it, just embrace the only chance you’ll ever get to cheer for a Presidents’ Trophy winner that doesn’t have home ice.

Why you shouldn’t: They were one win away from the Cup last year, so while they’re not quite as big a front-runner pick as the Blues, they’re pretty close. They have Brad Marchand, and there’s a good chance you have some feelings about him by now. Then again, they also have Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and maybe one last year of Zdeno Chara, so the likability factor is higher than you might expect.

Bottom line: They kind of got screwed hard by the round robin format, so if you’re looking for a somewhat flimsy excuse to get on the bandwagon of one of the best teams in hockey, there’s an opening here.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment