With only a couple days remaining in the NHL's schedule, the playoff picture looks pretty clear. In the West we know all eight teams that will make the playoffs; for those teams out East, we know who six of the eight playoff teams will be and it's down to just three teams battling for the final two spots. Since the Oilers are, obviously, not making the playoffs, I've been thinking a little lately about who I might cheer for when the post season begins.
And without a single Canadian team playing beyond game 82 this has proven to be more difficult that usual. Not because I typically root for a Canadian team, in fact it's the exact opposite, those are the teams I usually cross off first. I don't care about Ottawa one way or another. And I wouldn't totally hate it if Montreal won. But the other four, forget it, I wouldn't cheer for them if my life depended on it.
So who am I cheering for? Let's break it down team by team, starting with the Western Conference.
Why - Ales Hemsky. It's as simple as that. Maybe if Jussi Markkanen had been on the bench during Game 1 then Hemsky would already have a Stanley Cup ring, but even if he did I would still want to see him win one more. Hemsky killed himself for the Oilers, was the team's best player for many seasons, and was never given a team that was capable of being anything more than an also ran. And worse, he was criminally underrated by a lot of fans in this city.
Why not - Six playoff series in seven years between 1997 and 2003 and the Oilers won just one of them. 10 wins in 33 games. Even more than a decade later, it's hard to imagine cheering for team that kicked the Oilers that hard and that often.
St. Louis Blues
Why - They've got a couple of ex-Oilers on their roster, Kyle Brodziak and Magnus Paajarvi, and it's always nice to see players liberated from Edmonton succeed somewhere else. And Vladimir Tarasenko is an absolute joy to watch as well.
Why not - They could be pretty boring to watch. At even strength the Blues allow 1.86 goals against per hour, second fewest in the NHL, and score 2.17, 13th most in the NHL. And that's during the regular season. If I was a betting man I would expect those numbers to go down in the playoffs.
Why - Three Stanley Cup wins in six years and roster with multiple future Hall of Fames and a Hall of Fame coach on the bench. For some, seeing the Hawks win year after year is getting old, but what they've managed to accomplish in the salary cap era is nothing short of remarkable and should celebrated, in my opinion.
Why not - The off ice things that make you want to take a shower. And their logo.
Los Angeles Kings
Why - There is no good reason to cheer for the Kings.
Why not - This is a much longer list. And right at the top of the list is Dustin Brown. Yeah, I'm not cheering for a team with Dustin Brown on it.
Why - Simple fact is, the Ducks are damn good hockey team. The possession stats absolutely love them, and if not for an unbelievably low shooting percentage early in the season, the Ducks might have won the Western Conference. They're also paying one quarter of Patrick Maroon's salary and I can't thank them enough for that.
Why not - He's no Dustin Brown (and really, who is) but Corey Perry is a player that I just love to hate. To be completely honest though, as much as I dislike him, if he was a member of the Oilers I'd love him. That doesn't mean that I want to cheer for him while he's wearing another jersey though.
San Jose Sharks
Why - Is there a player that you want to see win a Stanley Cup more than Joe Thornton? If there is there can't be many. At 36 years old he's still a point per game player - 81 points in 81 games this season. He's now got 1,340 career points in 1,366 games and somehow there are still people who question whether or not he is a Hall of Fame player. It's mind boggling.
Why not - This really isn't the Sharks fault, but with Todd McLellan and his staff now coaching in Edmonton instead of San Jose I expected big things from the Oilers power play this season. That didn't happen. And meanwhile the Sharks power play continues along merrily. I'm a little bit bitter about that.
Why - I feel like the Predators are a team that deserves a little playoff success. They're made the playoffs eight times in the last 11 seasons, but have made it past the first round on only two occasions and never past the second round. Despite the restraints of an internal salary cap nowhere near the league's salary cap the Predators keep finding a way to be competitive. Something about that seems familiar.
Why not - The deeper into the playoffs that the Predators advance, the more we'll all hear about how great Shea Weber is. Without a doubt Weber is an excellent hockey player but he's not even the best defenceman on his own team anymore - that's Roman Josi by the way - but that isn't what you'll hear on the broadcasts. I don't know if it's because Weber is Canadian or because they just haven't figured it out, but whatever the reason, it's irritating.
Why - Devan Dubnyk. Here's a guy who gives the Oilers three years of average goaltending, or even slightly above average, and then an absolutely terrible 30 game stretch and he gets run out of town. It's been great to see him bounce back the way he has after landing in Minnesota and it wouldn't hurt my feelings one bit to see him have a little playoff success there as well.
Why not - The Wild are boring. Or at least they were when they used to play the Oilers eight times a season (thanks for that, Gary). I don't even know if this is true any more but I'm still upset about a lot of those games so I'm assuming it is.
So who will it be?
I'm going to go with Dallas. And I'll be paying a lot of attention to the Sharks as well. Which probably means that both will go out in the first round. To the fans of those teams, sorry about that.