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The BSH bandwagoner’s guide to the North division

No Cups since ’93, eh.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens - Game Four Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

As we near the end of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s time we review another division’s contenders for the ultimate prize in a continuation of the Broad Street Hockey bandwagon extravaganza. In keeping with in the original article (a guide to the Central division you can read here, and the West here), this article will be a brief overview of the remaining teams featured in the all-Canadian North division, through the eyes of me, Eamon Smith, a college student with nothing better to do besides watching hockey all day. The goal here is to ascertain at least one team within the division that you’re rooting for to win out, or at least for you to be more informed about these teams than before you read. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

The Toronto Maple Leafs

Why are they likable?

This Leafs team is one that you root for to come out of the North if you want the most aesthetically pleasing hockey possible when the divisions begin to clash with each other in the Conference Finals. Toronto plays with pace, oozes skill, and possesses one of the richest forward groups in the NHL, particularly in the top six (haha, get it, because they’re all getting paid a lot of money and they’re very good).

Auston Matthews shoots the puck like nobody else in the league can, William Nylander has been a consistently underrated scoring presence, Mitch Marner is one of the premier playmaking wingers in the game, and Zach Hyman acts as the Clark Gillies to everyone else’s Bossy and Trottier by providing grit, forechecking tenacity, and power that enables him to dunk rebounds with gusto.

In addition to the primary reason listed above, there’s a pair of B-plot motivators for why Flyers fans can root for this squad. On one hand, we have the storyline of John Tavares, whose value as a narrative is twofold. Tavares suffering a terrifying injury in the first game of the Leafs’ playoff run and then having the team rally behind that moment to go on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967 would be a fantastic moment in history, but it would be additionally sweet thanks to the copious heaps of pain that Islanders fans would feel as the captain who scorned them was ultimately rewarded for his decision. The other reason to pull for the Leafs is the presence of Flyers favorite Wayne Simmonds, who is currently without a Stanley Cup victory to his name. Seeing Simmonds win a championship elsewhere would be bittersweet, but it’s hard not to root for Wayne Train regardless of the uniform he wears.

We asked Hardev Lad from Pension Plan Puppets what he thought:

Can anyone from another fanbase really like the Leafs? The team has a lot of fans (and therefore a lot of annoying, bad fans), they throw their money around, and the Lou Lamoriello era had a lot of shady cap stuff. So I get it if teams don’t like us. Putting all that aside, I think a lot of people will admit they like Auston Matthews. He’s an incredible talent, potentially the best American hockey player of all time, and at the very least will be the country’s best goalscorer. He has a funny, cocky personality on the ice that some might not like, but some that really do.

I’m sure Flyers fans respect some good trash talk. We have Wayne Simmonds and we love him to death. Hopefully we have your blessing to treat him right and give him a chance to hopefully win a Cup. Jack Campbell became our starter this season and he’s an almost unbelievably nice person to everyone on and off the ice.

And I will say internally it’s been noted that the Leafs have done a lot of anti-racism work in the community to tackle the elitism hockey has in the GTA. It’s been a long-held belief among minorities (like my family) that hockey is like an access card you need to have verified to feel welcomed. The Leafs have done a lot with outreach and hiring practices to de-stigmatize the sport.

Why are they hateable?

It’s Toronto, man. Leafs fans are the Eagles fans of the NHL, as pointed out by BSH’s Steve Jacot and The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor on a recent Flyperbole. They treat the outcome of every game of an 82 game season as a season-defining moment, religiously follow local talk radio, have a strangely toxic yet wholesome relationship with the franchise, and live and die by their success or failure. That’s wonderful when you’re part of the enclave of fandom sustaining those feelings (as an Eagles fan I’d know), but it’s not so fun when you have jackasses screaming at you that Alex Kerfoot by himself is worth Mattias Ekholm plus a pick.

Maple Leafs fans are what would result if the purple ooze guy from the original Power Rangers Movie was a species that watched hockey; they’re mutants roaming a nuclear wasteland, depraved and starving for any modicum of success to shove in the faces of others. If Toronto’s long-suffering team won the whole thing, things would head to DEFCON 1 in a hurry.

The fanbase is awful to deal with, sure, but what about the players and the way the team plays? Auston Matthews did some questionable things to a female security guard, William Nylander has been semi-fairly labeled a primadonna after holding out for a pay raise, Mitch Marner did the same but was even more demanding, and Kyle Dubas is a giant nerd whose very existence probably offends Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke. This team was built by Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello, two hated figures in Flyers history.

The Leafs winning a Cup for Simmonds instead of the Flyers would leave many people feeling sick, much like seeing Jeff Carter and Mike Richards winning with the Kings did. TJ Brodie was likely a target for Chuck Fletcher to replace Matt Niskanen in the offseason, but the rat bastard eschewed Philadelphia for Toronto instead. Finally, these are the damn Maple Leafs; if they go deep in the playoffs, the free rent Philly has been getting since 2004 will dissipate. The joy of watching Jeremy Roenick crushing the spirits of Canadians everywhere must never wilt. Tie Domi still stinks.

This was an easy one for Hardev to answer:

We’re the Leafs! You hear about us too much in the media, there’s a lot of us on social media, and we’re cocky when we shouldn’t be. Maybe this is a hateable moment, you probably don’t even remember, but Leafs fans still hold a grudge against the Flyers for beating our team in back to back years in the playoffs (2003 and 2004). I wasn’t a fan back then, those series seem to come up every time our two teams play. There’s a laundry list of reasons to hate the Leafs, but we hope you can put those aside for this one playoff run!

The bottom line:

The Leafs are going to be entertaining aside from this series with the Canadiens that might end this Thursday (more on that later). They’re everything that a rebuild via drafting and developing wants to be. The big question for them as they get deep into the playoffs is going to be how the goaltending holds up, but Jack Campbell has surprised and Big Save Dave (David Rittich) isn’t a bad “break glass in case of emergency” option. They’re well coached and play like greased lightning, but it’s tough to choose them as a bandwagon option when their victory would unleash the most insufferable fanbase in the hockey world. At least Sean McIndoe is cool.

When asked why the Leafs deserve to win The Cup, Hardev said:

All fanbases think they deserve to win the Cup and Leafs fans are no different. We haven’t won it in a really long time (you might’ve heard there’s a bit of a drought going on) and the team hasn’t even been competitive for the vast majority of that time. And now in this era, it’s hard to even feel competitive because the team keeps getting knocked out in the first round.

When I think of the most deserving teams, they’re usually the ones that have been going at it the longest and have had some real heartbreak during their window. The Leafs have a lot of old heartbreak, and thus expectations. Every year is meant to undo decades of sorrow and disappointment. I think at the very least the Leafs deserve to go deep in the playoffs and be part of the fight. I think if they get there they’ll have earned the right to be a winner if it ends up happening.

The Montreal Canadiens

Why are they likable?

Haha, well, you see, they really aren’t.

Justin Blades from Habs Eyes On The Prize had a little more to say about why we should like his stupid team:

The Canadiens have some young centermen with good talent, so if you like to see skilled play through the middle of the ice, Montreal will be a team to watch. Nick Suzuki ended the year on a roll and had a great post-season last year, so he’s one to keep your eye on. There’s also Cole Caufield who should make an appearance at some point, but Flyers fans probably aren’t nearly as excited about that.

Your other option in this series is to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so pick your poison.

Why are they hateable?

For innumerate reasons, Flyers fans should be rooting for this team to fail. The Habs played a physical series against Philly in the playoffs last year that probably left some lasting impressions on fans, particularly when it came to how damn annoying some of the members of this roster are. Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Shea Weber all made supporters of the Orange & Black grit their teeth and stare in horror as the Flyers got outplayed by a team that shouldn’t have even qualified for the postseason.

Canadiens fans are also quite difficult to get along with, particularly due to their history with the Flyers (1976 Cup Finals, LeClair trade, six playoff series split evenly between both teams).

Adding a new twist to this unlovable bunch is Cole Caufield, a name that Flyers fans expected to hear Chuck Fletcher call during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The diminutive sniper has had an excellent career as a prospect, winning the Hobey Baker Award at Wisconsin as a sophomore before earning a call up to the big leagues. Caufield succeeding will only make Philadelphia’s decision to pass on him twice before selecting Cam York exponentially more infuriating, so it’s in the emotional interest of Flyers fans for the Canadiens to nosedive. The Habs were the most recent Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup and have the most of any franchise ever, so another Cup wouldn’t mean as much compared to our final team on the list.

Justin answered this one simply with two words: Corey Perry.

The bottom line:

The Canadiens are down 3-1 in the series heading into Game 5, with their only win coming after John Tavares suffered a brutal injury. They look like they’re down and out, they play the most disgusting, milquetoast, boring hockey of any team in the playoffs, and they’re a downright hateable team. If you’re rooting for them, you either hate the Maple Leafs with a burning passion, worship at the altar of chaos, or you really like Carey Price. Outside of that, there’s no good reason why they’re your pick.

Justin on why the Habs deserve to win the cup this year:

Well they actually finished in fourth place in their division to earn a spot, so they at least deserve the Stanley Cup more than when they got in as the league’s 24th-best team last year I guess.

The Winnipeg Jets

Why are they likable?

The Jets aren’t must-see TV, but they’re a fun team with exciting players and a colorful coach behind the bench. Winnipeg fans are among the most passionate in the league, and the team is the center of the city’s itty bitty universe. For a franchise that hasn’t won much in either of its incarnations, nabbing a Stanley Cup would mean the world. It’s very similar to the Nashville argument in that love of this group is mostly decided by how much you like Winnipeg fans. Personally, I find their loyalty endearing and admirable, so they’re a lovable underdog that would be a hilarious team to upset Toronto. Nik Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Kyle Connor, Neal Pionk, and Connor Hellebuyck are all quality players who anyone can enjoy (even if Wheeler had a down season), and a deep playoff run for the Jets might encourage GMs to make more of the bold “young star for young star” trades that the league so desperately needs.

Cara Thorington from Arctic Ice Hockey adds:

Mark Scheifele has two pet goats. You can find a picture online with them at the rink with him. Blake Wheeler is an actual good dude. Connor Hellebuyck seems cool. I would say Patrik Laine but *sobs*

Why are they hateable?

Winnipeg winning a Stanley Cup right as hockey makes the jump to Turner and ESPN isn’t exactly ideal for publicity and drawing attention to the sport’s most attractive teams for the new fan. The city is often described as boring, tiny, and freezing cold. There’s even a Weakerthans song detailing all the reasons why John Samson hates Winnipeg (in a loving manner), in which he states that “the Jets were lousy anyway.” This franchise hasn’t ever done anything to warrant serious hate from Flyers fans, but they’re just so bleh that there’s not a great reason to want them to win aside from the whole “the locals love them” angle. They also still don’t have an airport.

Nolan Patrick is also from Winnipeg. Do with that what you will, and ignore me as I continue to grasp at straws.

Cara is well versed in hating her team and suggests “Paul Maurice and his love of bad players”. When asked why they deserve to win The Cup, she added “The Jets do not deserve to win the Stanley Cup because their coach refuses to dress the best roster”.

The bottom line:

The Jets aren’t a fantastic bet to defeat the Leafs, but they sure as hell aren’t a bad one. The top six is talented, the blue line is improved, and their goaltending is spectacular thanks to one of the premier American talents in the game. It would rile up the Canadian media if they won, crush the souls of Leafs fans, and bring joy to a neglected city that birthed one of the best indie acts of the 21st century, but it would also be one of the worst (if not the worst) outcomes for the league from a popularity standpoint. It’s mostly a case-by-case basis if you like them.