The Stanley Cup Final is here, and on paper it’s the best matchup we’ve had in a while. Maybe Pittsburgh and San Jose in 2016? Tampa and Chicago in 2015? The Wings/Penguins back-to-backs? Something before that? I’m not really sure, which is to say that this matchup has the potential to be incredible.
So good, in fact, that fans of all the other teams might be tempted to just sit back and enjoy it. No rooting interest, no bias, no emotional investment, just up to seven games of great hockey and a worthy champion to applaud at the end.
It goes without saying that this would be unacceptable.
We’re hockey fans. We don’t do happy and even-keeled. We need to be rooting for one team, and hate-watching the other. Mostly the latter, if we’re being honest, but the point is that you need to pick a side.
Maybe you already have one. But if not, I’m here to help. Let’s go through all 30 loser teams and help their fans decide whether they should hop on the bandwagon for the Lightning or Avalanche. For what it’s worth, the Avs ranked way higher in our pre-playoffs bandwagon rankings so we’d expect them to lead the way here, but let’s see how it plays out.
I’ve spent the last few years telling Ducks fans to root for Corey Perry, and I should probably just play that card again now that he’s back in the Final with yet another team. But I feel like Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano being on the Avalanche complicates this one, and maybe Perry is just destined to wander the league like Caine in “Kung Fu” until he realizes that Anaheim is the only place he can ever truly find joy. Also, it’s just super satisfying to root against Corey Perry, you guys should try it some time.
Corey Perry is the second player in NHL history to make three straight #StanleyCup finals with three different teams.
◽️2020: Stars (loss)
◽️2021: Canadians (loss)
◽️2022: Tampa (?) pic.twitter.com/6tL5LFvqyk
— The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) June 12, 2022
Last July’s trade that sent Darcy Kuemper to the Avs makes this an easy call. Not only was Kuemper a good soldier in Arizona, he brought back a first-round pick when he was dealt. Seeing him lift a Cup for Colorado would give Bill Armstrong some nice leverage when selling off other pieces to contenders. And as an added bonus, Arizona gets an additional third-round pick in the trade if Colorado wins the Cup.
The Lightning are in your division and have knocked you out of the playoffs twice in the last four years. Also, you still have that “77” Avalanche tattoo from 2001.
The Lightning have run their streak to 11 consecutive playoff series wins, which feels like it should be impossible in the cap era. Wouldn’t it be cool to find out that postseason streaks can end at 11?
Colorado stomped the Oilers, and the Lightning stole a Stanley Cup that was rightfully yours in 2004. Look, I swear I didn’t mean for all of these picks to be Colorado, but this one’s easy.
Stolen teams from the 1980s Adams Division, unite!
As tempting as it would be to keep the bit going and just choose the Avalanche for every team, I feel like the streak can end here. The Hawks are stuck in Colorado’s division, and it would be nice to see that they’re not completely unbeatable. Besides, you guys beat the Lightning in 2015 when their goalie got hurt in the Final, so you owe them a bit of karma. Yes, having a new team join the cap-era three-timers club would sting a bit, but the Penguins already cracked that seal. And besides, it will be nice to see Brent Seabrook win another Cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets being the last team to ever beat the Lightning in the playoffs remains hilarious, and I hope it lasts forever.
You’re one of two teams that lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Lightning during the COVID-19-shortened seasons, so you should probably root for them to finally win one that will actually count.
Detroit Red Wings
Look, I know that a lot of Detroit fans think they have a rivalry with the Lightning. It’s weird, and nobody outside of Detroit has any idea why it would be a thing, but a lot of you feel very strongly about it and are going to tell me that you don’t want to cheer for Tampa. Against anyone else, that’s fine. But this is Colorado, your opponents in the greatest rivalry in modern NHL history, and I will not hear of any Wings fans cheering on the Avs. No, Darren Helm doesn’t change that. This is about principles, dammit.
(Also, if you are too young to remember this rivalry, do not show up in the comments to tell us that, because you should not be allowed on the internet.)
Losing to the Avalanche in the conference finals still stings, and I could understand if Oiler fans just couldn’t root for them yet. But they should, so hear me out. One of the best narratives for this year’s Final is that it’s basically a modern reboot of the Oilers/Islanders Final series of 1983 and 1984. It’s the young team with all the talent to win a Cup against the old dynasty that knows how to win and isn’t ready to give up their claim to the crown. In other words, the Avalanche are playing the Oilers role. Would Colorado fans have rooted for Edmonton back then? Given that they were between teams, no, they probably didn’t, but still.
Also, you have to root for Dave Manson’s kid.
Having you’re the local bully kick sand in your face once is bad. Having it happen again, after you’ve spent a year working out to get ready to take him, is far worse. But you know what’s worst of all? Cheering him on after he does it. Panthers fans should be spite-watching this series for all they’re worth.
Los Angeles Kings
Trading Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter in 2012 was absolutely the right move and probably directly led to the Kings’ first championship, and now you can pay it back by rooting for Johnson to finally get his first Cup a full decade later. Plus Joe Sakic is a nice proof-of-concept for the idea that making a former star player your GM can actually work.
The Avalanche are in your division and are at least kind of a rival. Meanwhile, the Lightning have spent the last few years showing that being over the salary cap doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. Let’s just say that information could come in handy for the Wild.
I have no idea whether Habs fans should still be bitter about the Patrick Roy trade. I guess they can still be in their feelings about last year’s Final. But the Lightning gave Martin St. Louis his chance to be a star in this league and now he’s going to save the Canadiens franchise, so he feels like that should count for something.
Generally speaking, it’s OK to hold a grudge when a team knocks you out of the playoffs. But when you get absolutely smoked in the first round by a powerhouse, you kind of want to see them go on to win the Cup. It’s like having a cool story about getting stuffed in a high school locker by Brock Lesnar.
New Jersey Devils
The Avalanche beat you in the Stanley Cup Final in 2001, and you have to hear people say that Patrick Roy was better than Martin Brodeur. Also, your franchise lineage dates back to Colorado and it didn’t work out, so cheering for the Avalanche would be like cheering on your ex-wife’s better-looking boyfriend.
It’s possible I may need to work on my metaphors.
New York Islanders
Based on my “this is 1983/84 again” logic from the Oilers section, I should probably have the Islanders rooting for the Lightning. But those two conference final losses are just too recent, and Colorado has Devon Toews.
New York Rangers
You just lost to the Lightning, and it’s OK to hold a grudge. Plus the Avs GM once signed with you as a free agent and we all just agreed to never talk about it, so that’s cool.
I’m not completely sure when the statute of limitations runs out on being salty over the Avalanche talking you into Matt Duchene and destroying your entire franchise, but I’m pretty sure it’s “not yet.”
Do Flyers fans have any lingering good feelings at all for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Brian Elliott? Oh right, I forgot, Flyers fans don’t have any good feelings at all. Still…
I said that it was OK for the Hawks to welcome the Lightning into the cap era’s three-timers club, but they never won back-to-back. The Lightning and the Penguins are the only teams that have, and you can’t have Tampa one-upping you by pulling off the threepeat.
San Jose Sharks
The Lightning made Joe Thornton sad, and you still owe the Avalanche some karmic payback for that cheap Game 7 offside review a few years ago. Also, the Sharks once scored an amazing overtime goal in a playoff game against Colorado.
The Lightning have become the gold standard for modern-era NHL expansion teams. Meanwhile, the Avalanche trace their roots back to the Nordiques, who joined the league from the WHA and therefore were kind of never an expansion team at all. What, they’re too good for that? Screw them.
St. Louis Blues
The Avalanche knocked you out of the playoffs and their owner stole your football team. The Lightning probably ended Joe Thornton’s career and have Pat Maroon. Sorry Erik Johnson, we don’t have to overthink some of these.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are a tough one. They came within a goal of beating the Lightning in the first round, meaning that if Tampa rolls over Colorado then Toronto fans can at least semi-plausibly claim that the Leafs might have been the second-best team in the postseason. Then again, the Avs have kind of been the Western Conference’s slightly better Maple Leafs for a few years now, and seeing them get over the hump and win it all would be encouraging. This one comes down to the Nazem Kadri factor, and recent reports that he could be back to play in the Final tip the scale.
These two teams just knocked out the Oilers and Rangers and that probably made Mark Messier sad, so there’s no wrong choice here. But Joe Sakic is a Burnaby boy.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Knights and Avs kind of have a rivalry, I guess. More importantly, members of the “Teams that are shunned by fan bases around the league for exploiting shady salary-cap loopholes” club have got to stick together.
There’s always been a weirdly open trade route between the Caps and the Avs, dating all the way back to the Nordiques (Dale Hunter and the Joe Sakic pick) through the post-move years (Chris Simon and Keith Jones) and continuing to modern times (Philipp Grubauer and Andre Burakovsky). That’s probably as good a reason as any.
It would feel wrong for Winnipeg to cheer for a displaced Canadian team from the WHA days, right? Especially when that option is also the powerhouse team in your own division. Plus the Lightning just knocked out Winnipeg-deserter Jacob Trouba, and it would be nice to once again remember that drafting your starting goalie in 2012 is a foolproof recipe for success.
(Top pic: Ron Chenoy/USA Today)