Today is the day! The day where bracket heroes and bracket zeroes are born, but how do you know who to cheer for in your heart even if you’ve already got the paper team worked out? Yesterday, we told you everything you ever needed to know plus three other things about the Eastern Conference playoff teams. Now we turn our gaze to the West, like the great American pioneers of old, and elementary school students of the 1990’s.
You can only carry one team back to the westbound wagon train, so who should it be? Let us break it down for you...
Mike B. says: Oh yeah, this is secretly a really easy one because Anaheim has former Red Wings winger PATRICK FREAKIN’ EAVES, BABY! Wait, what? Only two games played this season because Guillain-Barré syndrome? That sucks. That really sucks. Fortunately, Eaves is expected to make a full recovery, but in the meantime we still have to figure out a reason to bandwagon the Ducks.
It wouldn’t be so hard if it weren’t for Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, and Bieksa, all coached by Randy Carlyle. But hey, here is the upshot. The Ducks have been a good team for a long time, more-or-less in a cup window since the last time the Red Wings won a playoff series (against the Ducks) in 2013, and they just haven’t put it together. Sometimes it’s good to cheer for the villain; the villain has to win a Cup to establish their thirst for blood so when the hero rises from the ashes, their victory is all the sweeter.
Bold Prediction: Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are not going to be in the top 3 in playoff scoring for the Ducks, but they will lead the league in drawing calls by embellishment, which is how they win Game 7 on a 2OT power play goal in the Honda Center.
Look at us, turning this loser ship back around! Avs for a deep playoff run, everybody! Oh, wait, you’re a Wings fan? There’s probably nothing we can say, is there...
Mike M. says: Look, 2nd Wildcard is a tough spot to play from. You never start on home ice. You may end up playing a cross-division opponent. And you’ve got a murderer’s row of opponents waiting for you, assuming you make it out of the first round.
All of that is too good for the Avalanche. OLD HATREDS DIE HARD! No Avs fan will say it out loud, but they want your support. They want your good vibes. They want your warm emotions to help them get past the 1st round. Don’t give it to them. By virtue of their sweaters, these guys all deserve to step barefoot on a single LEGO on a hardwood floor while making their way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Let me be your Obi-Wan: these aren’t the players you’re looking for [fancy hand-wave gesture]...
Bold Prediction: The Avs score a goal. Deep down, they know they should have phoned it in a bit more, partied a little harder during the season, and let the Blues take their usual spot as Playoff Irrelevant #1. Golf and the draft lottery would have been a kinder demise.
We haven’t been that Jerk Team you hated in years! We’re like the later season of a TV show where the Season 1 villain comes back but is totally on your side now.
Sara says: The Preds are fun. The Preds are also annoying as they swirl endlessly in the vortex of their smug catfish-infused hype and lean hard on crafting Mike Fischer narratives because his heroic return and zomg you guys Carrie Underwood herself has passed all the pop quizzes and proved she is a REAL hockey fan. She even knew about Filip Forsberg’s turtle, Adelaide May, that he thinks nobody notices him bringing on bus trips.
It also has to be said that their yellow home threads make the arena look like a toilet.
You may not believe in them, you may think they’re entirely too smug, but gosh darnit you kinda like ‘em. Plus, Round 1 is an easy choice. The Avs are on the Permanent Grudge List, and Galactic Treasure P.K. Subban deserves ALL the nice things. However, the shadow of previous disappointing exits and the stench of a Nate McKinnon driven miracle run is looming...
One thing the NHL hates is fun, attitude, and personality. The Preds have it in spades, and just to see the kind of treatment Bettman would get in Nashville could make this your bandwagon destination.
Bold prediction: Pekka Rinne has to make 50 saves in one game and Dolly Parton sings the National Anthem. Maybe the other way around.
Las Vegas Golden Knights
If you like a good story about a team coming out of nowhere to win it all, the NHL’s newest franchise may be the one for you.
Lauren says: As the so-called cast-offs from the rest of the league, the Vegas Golden Knights started the season with a self-proclaimed chip on their collective shoulders. I don’t know how much stock I put into “having something to prove” in sports, because sometimes the spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised and bad at hockey. But for a group of players the NHL decided they could do without, the Knights sure have blown everyone’s expectations for them clear out of the atmosphere.
The drawbacks are having to root for the likes of James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury (see: Pittsburgh Penguins), but if you can stomach those two, you can throw your support behind a team with not one, but two former Red Wings named Tomas, plus Reilly “Brother of Brendan” Smith and Malcolm Subban, and a whole lot of motivation to prove people wrong.
Bold Prediction: Tomas Tatar scores all the goals. You go, Tats! And none for James Neal, bye!
Remember when we were preferable to Chicago?
Lauren says: Glancing through this Kings roster, I honestly don’t know anything about half these players. Like I’m not entirely convinced some of them aren’t made-up names. But here’s what I do know: Dustin Brown is no longer captain, probably because he just automatically targets vaguely round things and he took the “C” right off his jersey with his knee. Jeff Carter is back after missing most of the season, so that’s probably going to work in their favor.
The defense is—
Wait. Oh my god.
Is that… Dion Phaneuf? Holy shit, I forgot the Kings did that. They willingly traded for that guy. I mean, that should tell you right there what you’re getting yourself into.
Bold Prediction: Jonathan Quick has five more playoffs to be a giant sore loser man-baby. To clarify, that’s five years after this year -- so 6 years in total of the Kings not winning another Cup.
/extremely Patrick Warburton voice/ “Object Permanence” is a term which here means the ability to understand that objects still exist after they are no longer in sight, but unfortunately for the Wild — [Warbuton pauses and watches Wild player skate by] — most people forget the Wild exist even while they are still looking at them.
Sara says: The Minnesota Mild could be upgraded to The Minnesota Wild should they bust all the brackets by defeating the Jets, so that’s a little motivation to get on the bandwagon. Plus, you’ll probably get a whole wagon to yourself. Leg room, spare wheels, oxen, sacks of flour, all those luxuries. Plus with Suter out it’s hard to really embrace that grudge when there are so many more important grudges to carry in your heart.
The Renaissance of Eric Staal is fun to see, plus they have all those dudes you have to think back and try to remember if you hate them: Niederreiter, Koivu, Parise, Winnick, Foligno, Ennis...
You hate them.
Not convinced on the Wild? What if I told you Landon Ferraro? No? Well, hold onto your bagels because enter Kyle Quincey! Yeah, you’re totally on board now. Maybe they should call it the BEARDwagon amirite?
State of Hockey? More like State of...wait, what were we talking about again? Bring back the North Stars!
Bold prediction: Quincey plays at least one game on each playoff team and we all spend a not-insignificant amount of time imagining just how ugly some (most...all?) of the Wild’s uniforms have looked to Anthony Mantha, who is colorblind.
If beige had a hockey team. They aren’t really offensive, but what do they have that gets you excited?
Mike M. says: Let’s face it - when you’re pumping yourself up to bandwagon with some other city’s team, you need SOMETHING, some tangible emotion or fact or historical context, that allows you to lie to yourself and say, “it’s totally ok to support these guys!” Some teams have it. Others have things that actively turn you off. The Sharks have neither, and lots of it.
If they were a crayon, they’d be taupe. If they were a car, they’d be a mid-sized sedan with a 5-star safety rating. They’re an oral supplement when you could’ve had a Flintstone’s gummi multivitamin. They’re the hockey equivalent of freezer-burned vanilla ice cream - not the good stuff with flecks of real vanilla beans, they’re the generic brand that’s really just milk-flavored but still gets packaged as vanilla. They’ll get you by, giving you the bare minimum of what you need to survive as a hockey fan. But they won’t give you what you crave.
However, they do play the Ducks in the first round. So, all aboard the Sharks hype-train?
Bold prediction: After the Sharks defeat the Ducks in 6, members of the Vegas Golden Knights sneak into the hotel rooms of Brent Burns and Joe Thornton to shave their beards. In a showing of beard-sympathy, the remaining members of ZZ-Top start a grass-roots support campaign that helps Thornton and Burns provide a true spark of personality, narrative, and grit that propels their team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Winnipeg Jets are like if “In the Garage” by Weezer was a hockey team.
Mike B. says: Anyone who has a reason to actually dislike these guys, please raise your hand. There is just something to this squad that feels vulnerable and precious but also awesome. Blake Wheeler scored over 90 points in the regular season! 90 points! The last guys to do that for the Wings were Hank and Pav in their primes. Patrik Laine looks hideous, but that’s part of the charm. He’s a kid trying so hard to be cool but so wildly off the mark that it is endearing. Combine Wheeler and Laine with the rest of the Jets and you have a team that scores a boat load of goals.
If you are tired of uninspiring, stagnant hockey plaguing the NHL, then cheer for the Jets. If they can prove their style of play can win in this league, then it will do wonders for the state of the game. If hockey needs a more offense-first mentality, then the most offense-first team in the league needs to win the whole kit-and-caboodle.
Bold Prediction: After the Jets eliminate the Wild, they will set the record for the longest handshake line in history as both teams get locked in a never-ending struggle of the long goodbye so as to not be rude to one another following the grueling series. And when they keep winning, people will stay say Winnipeg sucks to nurse their bruised egos.
Who are you trusting to take you the distance from the Western Conference? Are you bandwagoning a team from East and West or are you 100% loyal to one side team? Share your bandwagoning strategies and bold predictions in the comments!