Let me take a moment out from everyone's clamoring for trading everyone who doesn't wear #19 for everyone else in the league to have a little fun for the weekend. While some of us may claim we can just watch hockey in a completely emotionless state, that's just a load of bull roar. Everyone needs a dog in the fight. We don't know how else to exist.
Last year was easy, anyone but Vancouver. It took until the last possible moment, but we got there in the end. This year? Not as clear. Where should Hawks fans go to find purchase for some of their allegiances for the rest of this spring? I'm sure there are some of you who want everyone to lose, and I understand that emotion. But sadly, someone's going to be having a parade in June, and we won't, so we might as well figure out who we can live with having that parade.
There are some we can throw out right now. They are:
Phoenix: While i actually feel no real ill will toward them, let's be honest here and say no one's going to be able to root for them. Next year when they're the Nordiques, it'll be much easier.
St. Louis: Hang up on yourself.
So that leaves us with five contenders. We'll rate them on likability of team, fans, and strength of their bloggers. Because why not?
Let's start in the East:
No one likes New York unless you're from Connecticut or New Jersey -- even lifelong residents of the actual city will tell you it sucks a lot of the time -- but this isn't the Yankees or Jets or something. Clearly there is a bond of an Original 6 team that really doesn't get any attention until it starts winning. You know how that goes. As for the team, they're not as defensive as some other competitors around, and no one plays harder. They have about six guys you'd kick a cat to get on the Hawks, starting with Ryan Callahan. John Tortorella is a blast, and a pretty good coach if only he didn't act like he knew how good. And of course, for the ladies (and a lot of guys), Henrik Lundqvist isn't exactly hard for the eyes.
Fan Likability: Well, no New York fandom is exactly palatable. But the Rangers' is as close as it gets. Two months ago, you could have walked around Manhattan for hours without seeing a single piece of Rangers gear, unless you were in the immediate area of MSG and it was an hour before gametime. A feeling we all know something about.
Blog Strength: The world's angriest man and one of our staunches supporters, Scotty Hockey.
Overall: Personally, this is my dog in the fight. I've always had a soft spot for the Blueshirts, maybe it's just listening to Sam Rosen. There's the Original 6 tie in, what at least used to be an amazing game experience at MSG, and loving the way the Rangers play. Plus, I always prefer a dominant regular season team to win the Cup, so at least I know that six months wasn't a complete waste of everyone's time.
Uh, these guys are still playing?
Fan Likability: Other than Puck Daddy, I've never met one so I couldn't tell you.
Blog Strength: IIn Lou We Trust does an excellent job for a team I probably couldn't pick out of a lineup.
Overall: It's like rooting for a background character or the music in the elevator. Even if you really like it, it'll be out of mind before you know it and you won't even remember you liked it.
At least they used to be fun. Now? Not so much. Have really reined in their attacking ethos, and pretty much strangled the Bruins out of the first round. Braden Holtby helped, and he's a good story. There's the ex-Hawk factor at work with Troy Brouwer, but then again I think I was the only Hawks fan that actually liked Troy Brouwer. Ovechkin has basically been reduced to a second liner, and it feels like this team exists to break your heart.
Fan Likability: They've spent the past few years being so beaten down by their rivals that they seem quite the passive bunch these days. Neither here nor there I guess.
Blog Strength: Japers Rink is as thorough as a place as you'll find.
Overall: Just not enough there there. At least when they were a firewagon led by Boudreau they had some personality and entertainment. Now? Not so much.
To the West:
Well, it's never easy to get behind a division opponent. But if there's one you can, it would be this one. Not as boring as they've been in the past, there's some real talent here -- even outside the enigmatic Radulov. Yes, Legwand and Erat are still ugly and annoying, but I've always liked Mike Fisher. Weber and Suter are as good as it gets, and Klein and Josi were marvelous against Detroit. Yeah, I know, Tootoo. It's hard to get around that. And there's this whole "We'd better do it now because we're losing people in the summer" vibe with this crew that Hawks fans will recognize instantly.
Fan Likability: Anyone who was with us for our trip to Music City or has been there on their own knows just how welcoming and passionate Preds fans are. As knowledgeable? Of course not, but they've had a team for barely a decade, how could they be? And how many Hawks fans have been around that long? Time to get off that high horse. Yeah, they love to tell you "you suck!" through chant, but if there's a more fun game experience than Bridgestone Arena, feel free to point me in that direction.
Blog Strength: No one does it better than Dirk Hoag at On The Forecheck. Dude even got banned from Winging It, and you gotta have some love for that!
Overall: There's the Central Division thing to get around, which isn't to be dismissed. But they're far more talented than they've been, and it's not the trap of death any more. I certainly wouldn't mind, and seeing as how they've built a genuine hockey market from absolute scratch, I won't argue they don't deserve it.
Well, they finally became what I thought they would be in September. Though that they had to do it under Darryl Sutter kind of grates. Boring as shit, which is disappointing with as many players they have that should be exciting. Still, I have a man crush on Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar might be the most underrated center in the league, Mike Richards is a total badass, Drew Doughty can be a blast when he's not trying to do everything, and Slava Voynov is better than Jack Johnson ever was. They're big, they're nasty, and they don't care. Oh, and they have probably the best goalie remaining.
Fan Likability: You'd be shocked to hear that any SoCal fandom can be likable, but the Kings' group is it. I've seen it first hand. Kings fans are the guys at the metal shows in Hollywood that scare off the glitterati. They're the crew members on set. They're the door guys at the bars they hate working at. They're the black sheep of L.A. But trust me, if you're sitting in one of the few genuinely good bars in LA, talking with someone actually genuine who's drinking a beer other than PBR, you're probably talking to a Kings fan. And anything's better than that abortion in Anaheim.
Overall: I'd be more about this if their games didn't put me to sleep. But they have a lot of players to love, and they did take out the Canucks. So we owe them a fair amount of gratitude.
Me? Rangers-Preds or Rangers-Kings would be just fine.