Now that we’re into the second round of the 2014 NHL playoffs and only eight teams remain in contention for the Stanley Cup, it seems like a good time to address the NHL’s biggest question. And no, not the “Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup?” one.
The question I find myself asking as we move deeper into the postseason is one that I’m willing to bet every other NHL fan has asked himself at least once: if your favorite team’s season ends without a sticks-and-gloves-in-the-air celebration in June, do you pick another team to cheer for until then? Better yet: should you pick another team to root for during the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
It’s one of sports’ greatest moral quandaries: is rooting for any team but your favorite team an unforgivable act?
Or is playoff fandom like an open relationship where you’re all, hey, Favorite Team, you’re still my no. 1 but I think maybe it’d be good for us to see other people for a while and don’t worry I’ll be back after the playoffs are over, I promise. We can still talk and stuff, but right now I just need a little…more, you know? OK, you get it. Good. I’m glad we’re on the same page. Thanks for being so cool about this.
This internal monologue starts for fans of non-playoff-bound teams as early as March. (I see you, Buffalo Sabres fans. You too, Calgary Flames fans.) As the regular season inches closer to conclusion, more and more fans are forced to confront their true feelings about backing a new team during the postseason after their favorite team has its locker clean-out day. And once the first wave of playoff teams is eliminated, another set of fan bases joins the struggle.
And oh, is the struggle ever real.
So here we are: 22 NHL teams are golfing and their corresponding 22 sets of fans are pondering whether rooting for another team is the equivalent of serving their favorite team with divorce papers.
Is it cool for non-playoff fan bases to jump onto playoff-frontrunner bandwagons when the postseason bracket is finalized?
Are fans of the Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Tampa Bay Lightning now allowed to support the Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, or Pittsburgh Penguins if they want to?
Can New York Islanders fans just root for Jeremy Roenick to hip-check Mike Milbury over the NBC Sports Network desk and say they never really jumped ship when it came to rooting for a different team during the playoffs?
These are the questions that fans around the NHL are grappling with, unless they’re lucky enough to have their favorite team still playing for the Cup.
Far be it from me—or anyone else, really—to proclaim laws governing NHL fandom like I’m Hockey Moses carrying the fan commandments down from Gary Bettman’s office. To be clear: I’m not about that “Do you even FAN, bro?” life. But because the Internet is all about starting arguments that devolve into vicious personal attacks (because Internet), let’s lay out the scenarios in which it’s morally acceptable to root for another team if your favorite team is in full-on offseason mode…
That team is playing your favorite team’s archrival
The easiest way to rationalize dumping your favorite team is by rooting for the team that’s playing your favorite team’s biggest rival. This is the scenario where Flyers fans start pulling for the Rangers because no one in Philadelphia wants to see Pittsburgh advance any further in the postseason. Bad blood between rivals is often cause enough for fans to consider rooting for another team. Very logical course of action here.
You bet on them (or you have them winning in your bracket)
The second easiest way to rationalize dumping your favorite team is by betting on another team to win the Stanley Cup. Hey, if your team isn’t going to win it, why not root for a team that has a chance to go all the way? Las Vegas—or your local bookie—loves fans that need to have action on a team to enjoy the playoffs. They see tons of two-month fans every year because money knows no allegiance.
You’re hoping your favorite team lost to the eventual Cup champions
For this fan, it’s only acceptable to root for another team in one scenario. Let’s call it San Jose Sharks Syndrome, because why not. If you’re a Sharks fan, you might consider pulling for the Kings until June—as gross as that might sound—because you want the reassurance that no other team in the NHL could beat them. If the Kings end up winning the Cup, then hey: the Sharks lost to the eventual champs. No shame in that. (Well, maybe a little shame.)
You want to see every team win the Cup at least once in your lifetime
For the magnanimous NHL fan, or the NHL fan who doesn’t take his fandom too seriously. (We should all take notes from this guy.) He doesn’t really care who wins the Cup since his team is out of the race, but it’d be kind of cool to see every NHL team win the Cup at least once. This guy is rooting for the Wild because a Minnesota-based franchise has never won the Stanley Cup. The North Stars appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals twice, but lost both times. And when they skipped town and won the Cup as the Dallas Stars, well that just wasn’t cool. Now that Minnesota has a team again, why not root for them to win one for their entire state?
Your favorite player got traded to that team mid-season
Nothing takes the wind out of a fan’s sails quite like seeing their favorite player shipped to another team in the middle of the year. But there’s a bright side: now that your favorite team isn’t in the playoffs anymore—or didn’t qualify in the first place—there’s a chance for you to do some guilt-free rooting (or close to it) for your favorite player’s new team. Matt Moulson has converted many Islanders fans into Wild fans; Marian Gaborik might be turning Blue Jackets fans into Kings fans; Marcel Goc could convince Panthers fans to pull for the Penguins; and guys like Thomas Vanek can convert Sabres fans (and Islanders fans) into…well…OK maybe that one’s a bad example.
You’re a terrible fan and you have 18 favorite NHL teams so it’s totally cool when your favorite team gets eliminated because you have, like, 17 backups
I’m kidding, I’m kidding. There are no bad NHL fans. (Unless you’re this guy. Don’t be this guy.)
You just want to root for a team because it’s a free country, OK?
The most important of all the reasons why someone can change fan allegiances for the playoffs is because there’s no law against it. And if you try to quote some unwritten rule of fandom about why this shouldn’t be allowed, then you are just the worst type of person. Hockey—and sports in general—is about emotionally investing yourself into a game for literally no reason other than because you want to. Luckily for hockey fans, the 2014 NHL playoffs have provided some of the most exciting action in all of sports no matter who you’ve been rooting for. Or why you’ve been rooting for them.
Follow me on the Twitter by searching for @MichaelWillhoft and clicking the ‘Follow’ button. When I’m not complaining about the “Random Red Couch” commercial, I’m usually talking about hockey. Which is basically the same thing, I guess.