A Senators Fan’s Guide to the 2020 Playoffs
Wondering who you can cheer for in this year’s Cup? We’re here to help you out
It is July 29th, and that means in just three short days the NHL playoffs will be upon us until the virus spreads too much. Fans of the Ottawa Senators will be torn. On the one hand, we won’t be able to watch our team play, but on the other hand, we haven’t been able to watch meaningful hockey in a long time. I know I won’t make watching games the biggest priority in my life, but with many sources of entertainment still off limits due to the pandemic, I’m sure I’ll be watching plenty of hockey. I don’t know about you, but I always find hockey more fun when I’m invested in the games and, as such, I want to know who I’m cheering for in each series, and eventually who I’d like to win it all. If you’re just as confused as I am, I’ve compiled the pros for each team in this handy list below.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The case for Toronto: I know, I know, it’s the Leafs. We’re not cheering for them. However, there are a few reasons to want them to at least win the first round. For example, we really don’t want to see them in the Alexis Lafrenière sweepstakes. Also, if you count OT losses as losses, the Blue Jackets were one of four teams below .500 to make the playoffs (along with the Canadiens, Blackhawks, and Coyotes). They had 15 OT losses! Their 180 goals tied them with the Stars for lowest among teams to make the play-in round. The last thing I want to see is bad teams playing a not-to-lose style end up winning in the playoffs. I don’t want Toronto to win the Stanley Cup, but if they do, it will seem karmic to have happened in a year that will always carry an asterisk — right before they have to blow up everything since they only have $4.6M in cap space next year while also having just 16 players signed.
The case for Columbus: It’s hard to not cheer against Toronto, and if Toronto doesn’t even make it past the play-in round, I imagine their fans will be super upset. Will a big name get traded? Will Kyle Dubas get fired less than 12 months after he fired Mike Babcock? Will Brendan Shanahan get removed as Pres of Hockey Ops? Not to mention it would be fun to see the Columbus Unheralded Gang of Misfits feat. John Tortorella pull off a first-round upset of a favoured team for the second year in a row.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
The case for Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh is another team that we don’t want to see end up with a high-end talent after they lucked into both Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, so I’d like them to win in the first round. Other than that, though, there’s the element of not wanting a new team to win a Stanley Cup before Ottawa wins theirs (aka the Matt Bosty Theorem). The Penguins also have the best 1-2 centre punch since Sakic/Forsberg or Yzerman/Fedorov, and we’re not gonna get many more chances to see that kind of high-level skill from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for much longer. Finally, I hate the Habs.
The case for Montreal: I don’t want Lafrenière on the Pens, but I really don’t want the most-hyped French Canadian since... Marc-André Fleury?... to be on the Habs. Plus I think it would be funny for the Habs to win this somewhat fake Cup, and then easily troll Habs fans who say, “25 Cups” by saying, “Well, more like 24.5 Cups...”
New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
The case for New York: Pageauuuuuu, Pageau Pageau Pageauuuuu.... Seriously, I’d love to see Pageau hoist the Cup, and considering next year they’re projected to have just over $8M cap space with Mat Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews to re-sign, this might be his only real shot. Also, the Isles’ pick is top-three protected, so if New York loses this series then wins the lottery, the Sens’ third first-rounder slides to 2021.
The case for Florida: I honestly forgot the Cats were in this year’s playoffs until I started doing this, but hey, guys like Barkov and Huberdeau are fun to watch, right? Plus Chris Driedger is doing that classic Sens goalie thing of greatly outperforming his time in Ottawa with a new team, so we could get behind him. Also, if the Isles lose this series, it means that either the Sens get an 8th- to 15th-overall pick this year, or they get next year’s pick without lottery protection, and like I said, New York is entering cap hell and has been kept afloat by incredible (and probably lucky) goaltending, and we could have another San-Jose-tanked-at-the-worst-time-possible situation on our hands.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers
The case for Carolina: This bunch o’ jerks is just a lot of fun, from the David Ayres saga earlier this year, to their masked team photo this month. Rod Brind’Amour has been all kinds of great to watch as a coach. They are also a team that has gone all-in on stats-based hockey, and I’d love to see them get rewarded for doing so. And hey, Ryan Dzingel plays for them if you remember him.
The case for New York: If we’re sticking with the theme of cheering for former Sens, then Mika Zibanejad might be one of the best. The Sens gave up on him too early, and he’s blossomed into a definite top-line centre. He and Artemi Panarin have made for a dynamic top-line duo that will be a terror for years to come. This also might be our last chance to see Henrik Lundqvist get a shot at a Cup, though he may have to do it as the third-string goalie behind Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shestyorkin, which in itself has been a fun story this year.
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
The case for Calgary: First of all, we know Brady Tkachuk’s gonna be cheering for his brother Matthew, and a happy Brady is our favourite Brady. Add in former 67s captain Sean Monahan, and Sens fans have a couple tangential connections to this team. Also, Johnny Gaudreau when he’s on his game is just fun to watch, and Mark Giordano is a marvel at 36 years of age.
The case for Winnipeg: Winnipeg is the only NHL city that is decidedly less populous than Ottawa, so a win for them feels like a win for all the small markets. They also now have Dylan “FRM” DeMelo, and what Sens fan wouldn’t cheer for that guy?
Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes
The case for Nashville: Nashville has both Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris, two beloved ex-Senators who were sort of traded for each other. After both have had disappointing starts to their careers in Tennessee, it would be nice to see them go on a long playoff run. Also, Nashville would be an awesome city to watch host a Stanley Cup party.
The case for Arizona: No city has had more ownership troubles than the ‘Yotes, not even the Sens, so it’d be nice to see them get a boost. Also, they should be rewarded for distracting from the gongshow that is the Ottawa Senators by having their own ongoing soap opera. Plus, I would enjoy all the rage in Edmonton from watching Taylor Hall go on a longer playoff run than the Oilers.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The case for Edmonton: Connor McDavid is the best player in the NHL, and Leon Draisaitl is right up there too. As hockey fans, we deserve to see a long run of these two, trying to will their team forward like Erik Karlsson did back in 2017. I’m a big fan of watching high-skill playoff hockey, and Edmonton would give us that.
The case for Chicago: I can’t think of anything lovable about Chicago. They won 3 Cups in the past 10 years, their captain is boring, I’m really not a fan of Patrick Kane, the list could go on. So instead, this really is the anti-Edmonton case. The Oilers have lucked into four first-overall picks, including McDavid, and have followed that luck up with poor decisions, signing guys like Kris Russell and Mikko Koskinen and Zack Kassian to long-term deals. You want to see good teams rewarded, not lucky ones, so you can’t cheer for Edmonton to win.
Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
The case for Vancouver: Elias Pettersson. Seriously, this guy is just amazing to watch. Also, Vancouver are competing far sooner than anyone expected, which could give Sens fans hope that Ottawa could be young, fun, and competitive again in a year or two.
The case for Minnesota: I’m not gonna lie, I find the Wild the most forgettable team in the league (yes, even more than Florida). A roster of has-beens like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Eric Staal. Their greatest player ever (Marian Gaborik) won his Stanley Cup with LA. Their long-tenured captain (Mikko Koivu) is the younger brother of Saku Koivu, long-tenured Canadiens captain and cancer survivor, meaning he’ll never even be the most famous guy with his last name. That being said, Minnesota deserves credit for being the team that got their logo right from Day 1, and those deep green jerseys in a league full of reds and blues are a breath of fresh air. The Sens returning to the 2D Senturion reminds us that sometimes the original is best.
The Round Robin Teams
The case for St. Louis: Repeat Stanley Cup champions are fun, especially when they’re in a different conference. The league’s obsession with parity leads to stars staying with their original teams unless that team is Ottawa, meaning the Hawks’ three Cups in six years, or the Pens’ back-to-back Cups, are the closest we’ll probably ever get to a dynasty ever again. And as much as I want competitive hockey, I also want to see dominant teams every once in a while, and back-to-back Cups for the Blues could make them that team.
The case for Colorado: Are the Avalanche the most exciting young team in the league? Mikko Rantanen is 23, Nathan MacKinnon is 24, and Gabriel Landeskog is 27, and the three form maybe the best offensive trio in the league. Cale Makar (21 years old) is up for the Calder Trophy. Erik Johnson, at 32, is far and away the elder statesman of the notable players on this team. I’d love to see them make a deep run because they’re so fast and skilled.
The case for Vegas: The Golden Knights announced they’ll be naming their first captain this fall. I see no way it’s not Mark Stone, and how awesome would it be to watch Stone and his incredible facial expressions during that banner raising ceremony? Also, how excited he’d be about winning the Cup in general? I also can’t wait to see what the city of Vegas does to celebrate a pro sports championship. Move over Ovechkin, this would be a celebration for the ages.
The case for Dallas: Did you know Dallas finished top-four in the West? I sure didn’t, but I’m happy to see it, even without Spezza. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are still one of the best duos in the NHL, and then Miro Heiskanen is also such a smooth skater. With Big Ben Bishop leading the way in net, there are a number of reasons for Sens fans to jump on this bandwagon.
The case for Boston: A towering captain who still contributes at 43 years old. Maybe the most dominant defensive centre of a generation. One of the most dynamic young goal scorers in the NHL. An acrobatic lights-out goalie. A talented pest who either makes others lose their temper or pushes himself over the edge. If it was anyone but the Bruins, this would be such a great team to watch. If you can stomach the fact that it’s the Bruins, there’s a big case to be made for enjoying this team’s run.
The case for Washington: Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, or at least of the past 35 years (there you go, Mike Bossy stans). It’s electric every time he goes on a run. Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being one of the best playmakers of his era. Braden Holtby’s stare is paralyzing. I realize the Capitals have been one of the best teams in the league for a decade, and have won a Cup in that time, but it’s always fun to watch them go deep.
The case for Tampa Bay: In terms of raw talent, I think the Lightning are the top team in the league. Look at their top players at each position: Nikita Kucherov is a wizard, Victor Hedman is a perennial Norris nominee, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is the reigning Vezina winner. The Bolts are also gonna run into cap trouble with $5.3M in projected cap space with Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev needing new contracts (as well as Kevin Shattenkirk, but I assume he’s gone), so this may be their last shot with their current mostly young core. I’d love to see them go deep with this group, and I imagine they’ll be hungry after last year’s embarrassing sweep.
The case for Philadelphia: The Flyers have been a bit of a joke in recent years, highlighted by trading Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Sergei Bobrovsky to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov. But they’ve made strides since then, they have some impactful young players in Travis Konecny (23), Ivan Provorov (23), and Carter Hart (21), and their veterans aren’t even that old — Claude Giroux is 32, Jakub Voracek is 30, and Matt Niskanen is 33. They’re a good team, blending young and old players, skill and grit, toughness and finesse. I spent years disliking the Flyers, but I have a hard time finding anything to dislike about this iteration.
So there you have it, as a Sens fan, every team is worth cheering for. And against. Who are you cheering for, and who do you think is winning it all? My prediction is Tampa Bay over Colorado in the final, but who knows what four months of rest will do to any of these teams.