The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the NHL Playoffs: Volume II

The NHL Playoffs are nearly here, as is Seattle’s professional hockey franchise. Until this team arrives, hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest may need some guidance on who to root for or pay attention to during the leadup to this year’s Stanley Cup.

In the first part of this series, we looked at playoff teams that have the longest odds to win the whole damn thing.  The underdogs.

This time around, we’ll move up to the teams that have more realistic chances to bring home the Cup but might not be considered “favorites.”  Four of them make up the conference champions of the past two seasons, while another shot up the standings out of nowhere only this year.

Let’s get to it.

Tier 3: The Regular Dogs

Washington Capitals

Storyline:

The Caps have been a fantastic team in the Alex Ovechkin era, but could never seem to get past the second round of the playoffs.  There have not been many teams that underachieved as much as them in the past decade or so, and the frustrations grew to such levels that fans began promising crazy things in exchange for a championship.

Last season, they finally did it, winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.  The celebrations that followed were enough to make a frat house jealous.

They’ll be heading back to the playoffs this year with much the same team as last year, but with less weight on their shoulders.

Player to Watch: Alex Ovechkin

Ovi is the best pure goal scorer of this generation, and it’s not particularly close.  He leads all active players with 658 goals, 100 ahead of Patrick Marleau, who has 8 more seasons under his belt than Ovechkin.  Sidney Crosby comes in at 3rd on this list with 444. The 33-year old has never missed more than 10 games in a season. If he has enough left in the tank to play past 40, he could join Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe as the only players in hockey history to amass 800+ goals at the professional level.  With 51 scores this year, he’s 100% followed up on his promise from the offseason:

Seattle connection:

T.J. Oshie was born and raised in Everett and played his youth hockey with the Seattle Junior Hockey Association all the way until high school.  He’s the best hometown player the greater Seattle area has produced. His father Tim Oshie, who still lives in the PNW, was on hand last year during the finals.  The moment he got to share with T.J. on the ice after the Cup was awarded was the most heartwarming moment of the entire year.  It would be pretty amazing to see the local kid win another one.

Cheer grade: 10/12

Nashville Predators

Storyline:

The Predators announced their arrival two years ago when they went into the playoffs as the bottom seed in the West and proceeded to dominate the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks for four straight games.  They made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, but couldn’t quite finish the thing. Since then, Nashville has been viewed as a dominant team in the West with an arena that nobody really wants to visit in the playoffs, except perhaps the Tennessee Titans offensive line.

Player to Watch: PK Subban

He is one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL right now and is also one of the few players with a big personality.  Subban and all his glorious hats will be hosting a new show called “The PK Project” this offseason and it looks delightful.

Seattle Connection:

Filip Forsberg doesn’t personally have a connection to Seattle, but he did play for the Washington Capitals before being traded to Nashville for a bag of peanuts, much to the chagrin of Caps fan/pode contributor Sean Clement.

Get wrecked, Sean.

Cheer grade: 6/12

Pittsburgh Penguins

Storyline:

The Penguins have won the Stanley Cup three times in the last ten years.  They aren’t quite as annoying as the Patriots, but they sure are trying. They are heading into the playoffs finishing outside the top two in their division for just the second time in the last twelve years.  They’re always there, always good, and frankly I’m over them.

Player to Watch: Sidney Crosby

I’ve been thinking about this goal at least once a week for 2 years now and I still can’t figure out how it is physically possible.

Seattle connection:

Justin Schultz is a pretty average defenseman that happens to share a last name with Howard Schultz, the man who stole the Sonics from Seattle.  Did Justin personally have anything to do with it?  No.  Should we hold it against him?  Also no.  Will I hold the Penguins responsible for this unforgivable thievery anyway?  Abso-fucking-lutely.

Cheer grade: 1/12

Vegas Golden Knights

Storyline:

Vegas was the most successful expansion team in NHL history, and probably in major pro sports history.  They made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before falling short to the Capitals. It was really fun to watch them win last season and sent my hopes (but not my expectations) skyrocketing for the expansion Seattle team. But when Seattle ran their season ticket drive and we all immediately compared the results to the Vegas season ticket drive, it became clear that everything Seattle does in regards to the NHL expansion will be compared to the Golden Knights.  And they will be in the same division.

Vegas is going to be Seattle’s biggest rival, for at least that first season. So let’s start it up right now.

Fuck the Knights.

Player to Watch: Marc-Andre Fleury

Okay honestly Flower is extremely likable and difficult to hate.  He won 3 Stanley Cups with the Penguins, and when his backup goaltender Matt Murray moved in on his starting job, he handled it with grace.  He was left open to the expansion draft and went on to experience a career revival with his new team, despite battling injury. He’s at the tail-end of his career but still a quality goalie.

Seattle Connection:

Shea Theodore spent four seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds and left as the all-time leader in points and assists for a defenseman, sixth all time in points for any position.  A true offensive threat from the blue line, Theodore was a first round draft selection by the Anaheim Ducks before being finagled by the Knights in a pre-expansion draft trade.  He will also always have the honor of scoring the first playoff goal in franchise history.

Cheer grade: 2/12

New York Islanders

Storyline:

The Islanders finished last season with a losing record and a captain leaving in free agency.  John Tavares was the face of the franchise for years, and his decision to sign elsewhere did not sit well with fans, to say the least.

This year, after losing their best player and doing very little to replace him, the Isles have obviously moved up near the top of the Metropolitan Division.  It is, quite frankly, one of the strangest results of the year. I suppose adding last year’s Stanley Cup winning head coach helped a bit.

Player to Watch: Mat Barzal

Coming into this season, the lone bright spot on the horizon for the Isles was Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal.  Barzal led all rookies in points and became the first player in NHL history with multiple 5-point games in his rookie season (he had 3 such games).  His point total dipped a bit this year, but he still leads the team and has solidified himself as their number one center.

Seattle Connection:

Barzal is now the best player on the Islanders, but for the four years prior to his award-winning rookie campaign, he was the best player on the Seattle Thunderbirds.  He missed half of his final season with the team playing in tournaments and with minor injuries, but still finished the year with 79 points in just 41 games. He was also instrumental in the T-Birds playoff run in 2017 that brought home the first WHL Championship in franchise history.

TL;DR: We stan Mat Barzal

Cheer grade: 12/12

Final Scores: Tier 2

New York Islanders: 12
Washington Capitals: 10
Nashville Predators: 6
Vegas Golden Knights: 2
Pittsburgh Penguins: 1

Rooting for the Penguins is like rooting for the Patriots.

Rooting for the Knights is like rooting for the Rams.

We just experienced this dilemma in the Super Bowl, and, if we’re lucky, we won’t have to revisit that horrendous occasion in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Predators are a fun team to watch, but offer nothing to connect with the Pacific Northwest.

The Capitals would’ve been a 12 last year, but they just won, so it’s time to move aside for OUR ISLES.