Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Maple Leafs + Futility

So I obviously can't be a bandwagon jumper, so that eliminates teams like the Blackhawks, Kings, Ducks, Bruins and Penguins.  The Red Wings haven't really been capital-e Elite for a few seasons now but still, suddenly just becoming a Wings fan in the wake of their last 20 seasons of success would be pretty sketchy.  Choosing to root for the Leafs over the Wings back in their 1993 playoff series (and kicking off my Leafs fandom) was really THE major sports turning point decision in my life, and quite possibly my worst.

Though a few of these warm-weather markets have proven to be great for the NHL, I'm still not sure I could bring myself to actually root for one of them, so that eliminates the Panthers, Lightning, Stars, Coyotes, Predators and Hurricanes.

Moving to another Canadian franchise would seem a logical step, yet I can't bring myself to do it.  LOL at ever being a Canucks or a Senators fan.  The Oilers and Flames are both in ruins.  There's just something off about the Jets.  Going to the Canadiens would seem just a bit too traitorous, though really, my generation of Leafs fans hates Boston and Ottawa above all others; the Habs rivalry really hasn't inspired too much real bad blood over the last 20+ years since neither team has really been good at the same time.  Also, had I not been a Maple Leafs fan, I could easily have been a Canadiens fan, so there but for the grace of god…To use Chuck Klosterman's terminology, the Canadiens are the Leafs' nemesis, while the Sens or Bruins are the Leafs' archenemies.  This all said, it would be a step too far to suddenly don a blue-blanc-et-rouge jersey and cheer for Montreal.

The last thing I'd want to do is jump on the bandwagon for another sad-sack franchise, so that knocks out the Islanders, Sabres and (until they get a couple more good seasons under their belts) the Blue Jackets.  Somewhat controversially, I'm adding the Blues to this category as well, since while they're certainly a good team right now, what does it take with this franchise?  Something always seems to trip them up and prevent them from being an actual good team.  They looked like world-beaters for almost the entire year but then suddenly forgot how to play hockey over their last few regular-season games and were summarily dispatched by Chicago in the first round.  Tying myself to St. Louis just brings more heartache, and who needs that.

Rooting for the Devils, Rangers or Flyers usually coats one in an extra layer of obnoxiousness, so they're out. 

The Capitals and Avalanche might be the two most obvious jumping-on points for a lot of new NHL fans over the last 20 years, Colorado because of their Stanley Cups and Washington because of Ovechkin and their general success.  The Caps, however, seem a bit too stuck in the mud and might be headed for something of a rebuild.  As for the Avs, Patrick Roy automatically eliminates them from contention.

So this leaves a measly two remaining options, each with a flaw but what the hell, they're the best I've got.  The Wild are still a pretty new franchise and are called 'the Wild' but Minnesota is basically as Canadian as a U.S. state gets and I love their dark-green alternate jerseys.  As I've said before, if Minnesota and Anaheim worked out a franchise name trade and suddenly we had the Minnesota (Mighty) Ducks, I'd be completely on board.

The other option is to root for the Sharks, my (ahem) Stanley Cup pick.  There is a great argument to be made that San Jose is another long-term sad sack given their history of playoff chokes, none greater than blowing a 3-0 lead to Los Angeles this very season.  (You could also argue that they're a warm-weather U.S. team but have you ever BEEN to the bay area?  It gets mighty chilly there, even in the summer.)  My logic, however, is that this is the perfect time to jump on the Sharks bandwagon since nobody else is jumping on.  Plus, it creates one final chance for me to finally fulfill my lifelong dream of being nicknamed 'Mark The Shark.'

So there you have it.  These are my teams until the moment the Leafs finally wise up and can Randy Carlyle.  On the plus side, this may only take a few months into the 2014-15 season….given that Carlyle's assistants were all fired, you have to assume he's on a short leash.  That said, the fact that there's still a leash at all is mind-boggling, and the fact that Carlyle got a CONTRACT EXTENSION is just insane.  Brendan Shanahan is 0-for-1 thus far as the Leafs' latest hockey czar, and it doesn't fill me with confidence for the franchise's future even after Carlyle inevitably gets the boot.  By now I'm just outright expecting the worst over the coming Leafs' offseason; Gardiner, Kadri and Reimer all traded for "gritty character guy" Ontario players who will go into Clarkson mode as soon as they put on Leafs jerseys.

Go Sharks go.  Go Wild go.  Maybe at least Gardiner will end up with one of these teams.

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