It's that time of year Leafs fans: The time where we swallow the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs have once again failed in their post-season pursuits and adopt a temporary team to hitch our wagon to so that the playoffs aren't a complete and utter depressive episode. The question remains then: Who does one cheer for? What follows is my own personal guide of sorts. It is a written representation of how I came to choose a team from each Conference to cheer for over the next (hopefully) 2 months.
Follow me after the Jump.
I should preface this by saying that I cannot see a team in either conference beating the Vancouver Canucks this spring. With Luongo/Schneider between the pipes and all of that talent in front of them, I simply cannot see them bowing out of this thing without lifting the cup. As I finished typing that my left wrist snapped in half. Weird. With that said, I have been wrong at least 4 times in the past, and even though we all have our own views of who we think will come out on top, that does not necessarily mean we *want* that team to win. Do I think the Canucks will win it all? Yes. Will I be cheering for this to happen? I'd sooner drown.
Lets start by hacking away some of the teams that you cannot in good conscience root for. The obvious candidates are Vancouver, Ottawa, Washington, and Florida. The first three teams here are really obvious, but Florida? Up until Thursday evening, there were two teams in the NHL that had failed to make the playoffs in every single season since the 2004-2005 lockout: Toronto and Florida. Now that the "cats" have clinched a spot, they have left the Leafs alone as the only team to be playoff-free in the Shootout and Trapezoid Era (TM). That alone makes them a poison that must be avoided this post-season. They also pay Kris Versteeg money, so there's that as well.
I also have a personal grudge against New Jersey (for the trap, Cam Janssen hitting Kaberle, general contempt etc...), so they're also out of here. I have decided to include the Coyotes in this list as well. While they have gotten great play out of Mike Smith, I do not see that continuing into the playoffs. Boasting a +6 goal differential after 80 games, I can't imagine their offense being able to pick up the slack should the goaltending falter. Plus, they have to lose to set up the cage match between Gary Bettman and the mayor of Glendale for SummerSlam 2012. Luckily, the Flames and Jets got themselves out of the discussion before I had to make them, but that's neither here nor there.
In addition, I have eliminated the Sharks and Kings from my personal cheering contention. The Sharks because I don't like their defence and I'm still a little mad at Neil Young for his momentary support of the Jets back in October, and the Kings because they employ Drew Doughty and the Dry Island Mafia. The Kings are legit, but I can't cheer for them. Also, I'm kind of hoping for a Bambino-like curse because of the 1993 playoffs. Never forget.
The rest of the teams, in my view at least, all have varying degrees of appeal. Here are my thoughts.
Who to Say "No" to as a Leafs fan:
Pros: They'll give John Tortorella champagne, likely on television, and Lundqvist will get rewarded for playing like a deity.
Cons: Brad Richards would win a(nother) Stanley Cup.
I certainly don't need to explain to you the media carnival that would ERUPT if Brad Richards, the man Brian Burke "failed" to pick up in the off-season, gathered the troops and "guided" his team to a Stanley Cup. Given the recent discussion of Dion Phaneuf's "leadership", the headlines that would result after a Rangers win, even though Brad Richards is not their captain, would be absolutely unbearable.
Cons: Brayden Schenn wins a cup before Luke, they manage to win despite having shaky and inconsistent goaltending (Brian Burke subliminally influenced by these events)
While I'm all for the misery of the Pittsburgh Penguins fanbase at large, I can't get behind this team. Unless Ilya Bryzgalov, who had admittedly been hot as of late, manages to grab hold of a hot streak with both hands, I can't see them winning with the long-standing tradition of Flyers goaltending issues hanging overhead. Also, we can't have any examples of a team winning the cup without solid goaltending that Burke could use in a court of Leaf law.
Pros: Tim Thomas gets the chance to snub President Obama again.
Cons: Tyler Seguin inevitably erupts, creating another Toronto media circus.
HA! Let's see how they do without Tomas Kaberle! ... Wait, come back! Seriously though, like the Rangers, the Bruins are certainly contenders, having led the Eastern Conference in goal differential in the regular season. My feelings on the Bruins are inversely correlated with the media reaction of Tyler Seguin having a great run (you know that he will). If that swill can be kept to a minimum, I have no problem with the Bruins repeating. Since this will not happen, fo-gettuh-bout-it.
Pros: The playoff atmosphere in Chicago is incredible to watch.
Cons: Vince Vaughn sightings increase, similar goaltending issues as Philadelphia.
I love this team up front, but defensively there are still so many holes from the 2010 and 2011 summer purges that I can't imagine this team getting far this year. Duncan Keith plays 30+ minutes many a night. If anything happens to him it's game-over. Also, if you think I'm gonna cheer for Jamal Mayers to have success in any venture you're out of your mind.
Pros: Incredible winning legacy, Nicklas Lidstrom is one of my all-time favourites
Cons: Age, Terrible road record
I've always been somewhat of a Red Wings fan when the Leafs aren't around, but this year I'm just not feeling it. They "boast: a road record (after 80 games) of 17-21-3, which is certainly a problem. If they lose home-ice advantage over the course of the next few days, I think they are in trouble.
Pros: Incredible young team, Great coaching story, Phenomenal goaltending
Cons: "1967"... Well, 1968, I guess.
People have been telling me since the Leafs dreams were crushed that I should support the Blues in the playoffs. I simply cannot do that. In a similar vein as what I mentioned earlier about Florida. If the Blues win the cup this year, there goes another team who up until then had not won the cup since they were created in 1967. It's bad enough that I think the Canucks (created in 1970) will win the cup (lol Buffalo). I just want to keep the two expansion teams (STL and LA) that have yet to win the cup since the expansion cup-less for as long as possible.
Therefore, my picks from each conference:
Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators
It's hard to not love this Penguins team. If they can stay even moderately healthy, they are going to be unbelievably difficult to knock off, even if they do have to endure a series with the Flyers first. They are an all-around incredible team, and they would have to be given that I have decided to support them despite how many insane Penguins fans I will have to listen to should they win it all again. As far as Nashville goes, I figured I had to side with an underdog since my cup-pick is the top team in the West. The Radulov acquisition is going to pay dividends in my view, and Pekka Rinne is among the best gest goaltenders in the whole of the league. I'd love to see this team make it as far as possible. It'll also give Ryan Suter a great deal of experience before he becomes a Maple Leaf this summer. *wry smile that slowly turns into a violent period of crying*
That's it, folks! Thanks for making it through my "rationale". Let me know what you think!
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