Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The bandwagon-hopper’s guide to the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs

The playoffs are here, and if your team made it then you know what to do. (Hyperventilate, vomit sporadically, hate your life.)

But what if your team didn’t make it? You have several options. You could sit back and watch as a neutral observer. You could pick a few rivals to spite-watch. You could check out completely until the draft lottery.

Or you could go the dreaded bandwagon route. It’s a controversial path, one that some hockey fans will swear is forbidden. But the truth is that it’s just more fun to watch the playoffs with a rooting interest, even if it’s a flimsy one that you won’t hesitate to abandon as soon as the final horn sounds on that fourth loss. Your team was bad this season, you endured it all, and now the games really matter and you deserve to have a quick fling, you know?

If so, you want to choose wisely. You want a team that’s good enough to win, but not so good that you look like a front-runner. You want fun characters, good stories, an OGWAC or two, and ideally not too many players you’ll feel dirty for rooting for.

I’m here to help. It’s time for my annual bandwagon-hopper’s guide to the 16 playoff teams.

16. Colorado Avalanche

Why you should get on board: Because you don’t care about being called a front-runner. The Avs are one of the most exciting and entertaining teams in the league, and we all deserve nice things. Screw what people say, you’re taking the defending champs.

Why you shouldn't: You should care about being called a front-runner, because they’re the worst.

Bottom line: Picking the reigning champs as the worst possible bandwagon team is a bit of a cliché and I don’t do it every year, but this year you can get all the skill and potential from a team whose fan base isn’t still hungover from the parade.

15. Florida Panthers

Why you should get on board: They don’t have Joe Thornton or Claude Giroux anymore, but otherwise just about all the things still apply from last year when we anointed them the easy pick as the best bandwagon team in the league. The fan base has been through a ton, the team is talented and fun to watch, and they’re the classic little brother that keeps getting picked on by the more successful sibling. And unlike last year, you can’t even be accused of front-running, because the 2022 Presidents’ Trophy winners had to scrape into the playoffs with a hot second half.

It's just about perfect. What could go wrong?

Why you shouldn't: They’re going to absolutely get their doors blown off by the Bruins. Like, it’s going to be ugly. This series might be over in three games.

Bottom line: I can’t in good conscience recommend the Panthers this year given their matchup, even as I can still see the appeal. I wouldn’t have the guts, but if you do, I respect it.

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