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The WIIM Bandwagoner’s Guide to the Playoffs

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The pros (and cons) of being a bandwagoner for each team.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the year...again.

Is it bad that I’m becoming numb to missing the playoffs? Probably. Am I glad we aren’t floundering in the first round year after year? Definitely. Do I still hunger for playoff action? Without a doubt.

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs start today. For fans of hockey, this is the most exciting time of the year. For Red Wings fans, this time of the year has become a collective shrug. Playoff hockey is exciting, but it’s much less fun when your team isn’t in it. With that being said, this is the perfect time of the year to temporarily bandwagon one of the 16 teams in the playoffs. Get a little taste of the action (but don’t forget your loyalties) with this all-in-one pain-free playoff guide:

North Division

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs (1)

Why to Bandwagon: With over 50 years of playoff failures, something’s gotta give, one way or another...right? At least that’s what Leafs fans have been telling themselves for the last half-century. Fortunately for the Leafs, they’ll be facing off against one of the weaker playoff teams in Montreal. Assuming they win, the winner of the Jets-Oilers series is next. From there, anything can happen.

Why Not to Bandwagon: Watching the Leafs (and their fans) suffer another meltdown is one of the most enjoyable things in hockey. They’ve been cocky all year long (for good reason, might I add). It might do them good to be humbled. Then again, I’ll probably say this next year when they’re just as cocky. Who knows?

Edmonton Oilers (2)

Why to Bandwagon: Connor McDavid’s torrid scoring pace rivals that of Mario Lemeiux’s iconic 1995-96 campaign, where he put up 161 points in just 70 games. Watching a player as electrifying as McDavid is exciting no matter who you root for. Plus, it gives us a chance to see how Kenny Holland’s roster stacks up in the playoffs. It can only go one of two ways.

Why Not to Bandwagon: Ken Holland made a comment during the trade deadline about going “all in”. He mentioned that he didn’t want to make any specific moves because you can’t go for it every year. When you have McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on your roster, you should be going all-in every single year. An early exit might prompt Holland to go for it during the free agency period. Or he might resort to his timeless method of “kicking tires” — a phrase every Red Wings fan dreads to hear.

Winnipeg Jets (3)

Why to Bandwagon: The other notable Connor in the North division, Connor Hellebuyck, is an outstanding goaltender. He’s stolen games from tough teams and dragged the Jets to the playoffs kicking and screaming. If he catches a hot streak, we could see a goaltender force his way past the top player in the NHL to fight for the Cup. That alone would be a storyline worth watching.

Why Not to Bandwagon: Maybe you just hate underdog teams. Or maybe you’re thinking “oh yeah, the Jets, haha, I forgot about them,”.

Montreal Canadiens (4)

Why to Bandwagon: There are three certainties in the world: death, taxes, and watching the Leafs fall apart in the playoffs. Whether that comes at the hands of the Habs or later on remains to be seen. But, you have to admit, it’d be pretty funny to watch the Habs defy expectations and destroy Toronto. The post-series reactions alone are worth their weight in gold.

Why Not to Bandwagon: You just know Jesperi Kotkaniemi is gonna play out of his mind. Habs fans will bring it up for years when you mention Zadina in any conversation. They’ll go out of their way to talk about how great Kotkaniemi has been and how Zadina still hasn’t played a single playoff game. Ugh. I’m sick just thinking about it.

Central Division

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Hurricanes (1)

Why to Bandwagon: It’s ironic that many think of the Canes as an underdog team. They’ve consistently been at the top of their division all year long and have played some astonishingly good hockey. Their depth is great, their fans are fun, and they’ve got a wholesome king in Andrei Svechnikov. Despite this, NHL Network (and other media) have referred to them as “underdogs” throughout the season. Here’s to hoping they’re proved wrong...again.

Why Not to Bandwagon: The Wings actually stole quite a few games from the Canes this season. Maybe if they lose the playoffs Yzerman can convince them to do a one-for-one swap of the Svechnikovs. Probably not, but I digress. If you are Anti-Hurricanes, that means you’re probably still mad about the way Brett Pesce went out of his way to injure Robby Fabbri. Can’t blame you on that one.

Florida Panthers (2)

Why to Bandwagon: Another underdog team, the Panthers haven’t seen playoff success in a very, very long time. Watching this team defy their reputation was a treat all year long. Aleksander Barkov has played his heart out to earn Selke considerations. Their goaltending carousel is bonkers. This will be a very fun team to watch in the playoffs (if they can make it out of the first round against the Lightning).

Why Not to Bandwagon: The Panthers have a lot of exciting names on their roster, including...*checks notes*...Radko Gudas? Wait, the guy who goes out of his way to injure players? The guy who was too afraid to fight Luke Glendening? Yeah, I’d rather not watch him hoist the Cup either.

Tampa Bay Lightning (3)

Why to Bandwagon: Steve Yzerman’s old team is just too good. They’re consistently one of the deepest, most dominant teams in the NHL. If they make it, they’ll be able to call themselves back-to-back Cup champs — a rare feat. Additionally, Nikita Kucherov is coming off long-term injured reserve just in time for the playoffs. The Panthers will be in for a fight on this one.

Why Not to Bandwagon: What a coincidence — Kucherov is ready just in time for the salary cap to no longer be a thing! I’ll take off my tinfoil hat now, but, seriously, why would you bandwagon the Bolts as a Wings fan? Who hurt you? What would possess you to possibly consider that an option?

Nashville Predators (4)

Why to Bandwagon: On one hand, it’d be cool to watch Pekka Rinne hoist the Cup before he retires. On the other hand, it would be even funnier to see David Poile’s job security infuriate Preds fans. This is a team that’s dangerously approaching San Jose Sharks levels of contract chaos. If they don’t win anything soon, a long, arduous rebuild is in the works. This might be their make-it-or-break-it year.

Why Not to Bandwagon: The wheels are gonna fall off the wagon sooner than later. Why delay the inevitable? The Predators are on the verge of a complete collapse. Making the playoffs probably wasn’t a good call on their part — but at least they aren’t the Blackhawks.

West Division

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche (1)

Why to Bandwagon: You can’t tell me that watching Nathan MacKinnon & co. isn’t exciting. Every night the Avs play, they ice some of the best lineups the salary cap era has ever seen. From top to bottom, this team is built to win. And win they (probably) shall.

Why Not to Bandwagon: It’s the Avs.

Vegas Golden Knights (2)

Why to Bandwagon: If they win, you’ll get to see Red Wings Legend Tomas Nosek lift the Cup. This is also a chance for Marc-Andre Fleury to add another championship to his resume. If there’s a team that’s going to give the Avs a run for their money, it’s Vegas. They’ve got a deep roster with plenty of firepower across the board. No matter what happens, every game with Vegas is bound to be exciting.

Why Not to Bandwagon: The Knights fumbled the bag with Tomas Tatar, losing both trades involving him. He was almost completely held off the roster during their last trip to the Finals. Why trade for a guy if you’re not gonna play him? Especially when he’s as wholesome as Tatar is. Anyway, thanks for Joe Veleno.

Minnesota Wild (3)

Why to Bandwagon: Have you seen Kirill Kaprizov? That man is like kryptonite for his whole division. To have that level of talent as a rookie is a sight to see. Sure, he’s 24 — but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a really fun player to watch. Seeing Kirill lift the Cup before both McDavid and Matthews would be a genuinely hilarious thing to witness. The NHL is better when Minnesota is good. Here’s to hoping they can keep the momentum going.

Why Not to Bandwagon: Maybe you’re caught up in the “rookie” designation of a 24-year-old superstar. You might also miss calling them the Minnesota Mild. Heck, maybe you’re one of the few people that’s bitter about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter not signing in Detroit. (In hindsight, we may have dodged a bullet on that one). Or, maybe you’re just bandwagoning Vegas.

St. Louis Blues (4)

Why to Bandwagon: How cool would it be to watch the Blues dismantle the Avs in the first round? Better yet, what 80s pop song will they use as a rallying cry this time around? (Might I suggest Everybody Wants to Rule the World, the best song of all time?). If they make it all the way, we might get the chance to see Jacob de la Rose hoist the Cup. That’s exciting, I guess.

Why Not to Bandwagon: Remember how much the song Gloria played? Do you really want to hear that song again and again? It was cool the first few times but it’s been stuck in my head for far too long.

East Division

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins (1)

Why to Bandwagon: The Pens have been on fire lately. From Jeff Carter’s renaissance to the surprising ability of Cody Ceci, they’re showing exactly why they’ve been the dread of the NHL playoffs for years. This might be one of the last times we get to see the Crosby-Malkin duo take on the playoffs as teammates.

Why Not to Bandwagon: A few phrases come to mind: Ugh. 2009. The Pens again? The list goes on.

Washington Capitals (2)

Why to Bandwagon: Anthony Mantha might be a Stanley Cup champion! There’s also the opportunity to see Alex Ovechkin get blackout drunk and go on another bender across the country. When Ovi wins, we all win. Watching him go crazy again would be a sight to behold — and hopefully a sight we can see again before he retires.

Why Not to Bandwagon: If the Caps lose in the first round, the 1st round pick they traded in the Mantha-Vrana trade will be an earlier pick. That’s another chance to get a high-potential player. Honestly, now that I’m thinking about it, a Mantha Cup win sounds suddenly much less appealing.

Boston Bruins (3)

Why to Bandwagon: For the first time in his career, Taylor Hall has the chance to play for a good team. Good for him!

Why Not to Bandwagon: The Bruins are among one of the most disliked teams in the NHL. From Brad Marchand’s dirty plays to the overall attitude of their fanbase, watching the Bruins win again is a prospect unappealing to at least 30 other fanbases.

New York Islanders (4)

Why to Bandwagon: Barry Trotz has transformed an otherwise decent team into a legit playoff contender. Surprising play from guys like Adam Pelech has helped to bring this ragtag group together. Last season, they were a buzzsaw in the playoffs. This time around, they’re back and better than ever. Good luck, Pittsburgh — you’ll need it.

Why Not to Bandwagon: The Islanders are on thin ice (pun intended). Between Andrew Ladd’s costly contract and Matt Martin’s refusal to retire, they’re in danger of becoming the Sharks of Tomorrow. If they can’t right the ship in time, they might be in some serious trouble. If you laugh at the misery of other fanbases, you might want to see them fall apart sooner than later.