The Ottawa Senators have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and so as hockey fans it's our near-duty to pick another team to cheer for. But who should you throw your meaningless support behind? It all depends on who you want to cheer for.
To no one's surprise, the Washington Capitals are the current favourites to win the Stanley Cup. Though the President's Trophy winners have only won the Stanley Cup six times in 30 years, the Caps are no mere league-leading team. They're up 12 points on the next-best team. They took one of the best offensive lineups in the league, with one of the best goalies in the league, and added T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. They're loaded, and with no other team in the East looking great, they should be the favourites to make it to the finals.
So why does this mean you should cheer for them? Because it's fun to cheer for a winner. You can't jump on a bandwagon if the team isn't actually winning. Besides, the other Cup favourites appear to be the Blackhawks and Kings and nobody's gonna cheer for those teams these days.
Sometimes you just want to cheer for skill for the sake of watching great hockey. Alex Ovechkin seems to fit this category too, but if you're picking this category it's because you've already skipped over the favourite. In true NHL fashion, the next guy to cheer for would be Sidney Crosby, but would any self-respecting Sens fan jump to the Penguins next? No, I think your best options are from the West. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are possibly the best forward pairing in the NHL. If you want offensive flair, you should be cheering for the Stars to go deep.
Haha, moving on...
Cheering for a scrappy under-rated team to knock off someone ahead of them in the standings can be a lot of fun. Plus then you can't be accused of cheering for the team just because you think they'll win. In the East, your underdog pick is the probably the Flyers. They spent most of the year out of the playoff bubble, and some great play of late has pushed them up into a probable playoff spot. Personally, I'd feel dirty cheering for Philly, but feel free to do that
The Florida Panthers may have won the Atlantic Division, but I don't think anyone is confident they can even get out of the first round, making them an underdog. They have been a fascinating story though, as they are reliant on both very old and very young players. Aaron Ekblad, Alex Barkov, and Vincent Trocheck are great young talents, but Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, and Brian Campbell are just as important to their team. No matter what happens, they will be interesting to follow.
Out west, your choice for underdog is the Wild. They took a little longer to qualify for the playoffs, and now have to face off against the Dallas Stars. Two years in a row now they've managed to knock off the top-seed in the Central, so maybe they'll be able to make it three in a row. Just to give you hope that sometimes picking the underdog can pay off.
For years, the St. Louis Blues have been my (Trevor's) team that I predict to go deep, and they have given me a lousy one playoff series win. People are talking like they are incapable of winning in the playoffs, but teams "choke" until they don't anymore. The Blues have a very good lineup, and if one of Jake Allen or Brian Elliott doesn't implode, they can compete with the Goliaths like Chicago and Los Angeles.
Then there's the San Jose Sharks, who people have completely forgotten about. They definitely aren't a young team, but they have potential to win a round or two at least. Joe Thornton is still an amazing playmaker, Brent Burns is one of the funnest defensemen to watch play, and Joe Pavelski has quietly been one of the best goal-scorers in the league in the past three seasons. They probably aren't as good as they were a few years ago, but it's not as if they have no shot. It should be another great all-California matchup in the first round, and I can guarantee I'll be tuning in every game.
The Boring Teams
Let's face it. Not every team in the playoffs is fun to watch. The Nashville Predators have been a consistent playoff team, but besides their matchup last year against the Blackhawks, they haven't been an über exciting team to watch. Having Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg changes some of that now, but they don't have the star power other teams do. However, if you are into tight defensive games, vanilla ice cream, and/or watching tinted primer dry, then this is your team.
The Detroit Red Wings are another team that is just sort of "meh." They might be able to get to round two, but the only reason to watch them is if Petr Mrazek plays lights out or if Pavel Datsyuk shows off his hands. Even if they do have an entertaining series, you shouldn't be cheering for the Red Wings as a Sens fan unless your name is Eric Doty.
Consistently Good Teams
Would we really be surprised if the Conference Finals in the West ended up being Chicago vs. Los Angeles? Not really. They are two teams that we can never count out, although I think everyone who isn't a fan of those teams have gotten pretty tired of watching them go far almost every year. I suppose these two could be put in the "boring" category simply because we have seen so much of them over the years and I think a lot of us are sick of them winning.
Another team that sort of fits this category is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They only have one Cup ring, but they have been around for so long that they don't get much love outside of their own fans. These three don't play boring hockey, but cheering for them could be categorized as boring.
Entertaining Brands of Hockey
The Tampa Bay Lightning may not be as good as last year without Steven Stamkos, but they still play a very high tempo brand of hockey. Their triplet line regressed this season, but they can still be extremely fun to watch. There should be a lot of high-scoring games with the Lightning, which is a good reason to root for them. However, it may be hard to cheer for former Senator Ben Bishop...
The New York Islanders are another team that is solid up front, but has questions at defense and goaltending. Remember their series against Pittsburgh in 2013? It was wild, and I wouldn't be surprised if something like that happened again. With John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Kyle Okposo, et al., things are going to happen.
Other Solid Picks
I couldn't really fit the New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks into a solid category, but they have similarities in that they are teams that have potential to go far in the playoffs. I'd say the Ducks are the better team right now, although they certainly have a tougher road ahead of them in the first few founds.
So why would you cheer for either of these two? Because there's a decent chance that one of them makes the Conference Finals, and it's fun to watch a winning team. We also get to bask in Jakob Silfverberg's glory if he does well. Furthermore, watching Henrik Lundqvist stand on his head every game is a sight to behold. With an aging core, it could be the last chance Sexy Hank gets to win a Cup, and cheering for a Swede with model-esque looks feels pretty normal to Sens fans.
So there you have it, an analysis of all 16 playoff teams from a fandom point of view. Who will you actually cheer for in the playoffs? Let us know in the comments!