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The BSH bandwagon’s guide to the West division

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“I thought you said Weast!”

Vegas Golden Knights v Minnesota Wild - Game Six Photo by Harrison Barden/Getty Images

Welcome, folks, to the final installment of this year’s Broad Street Hockey guide to bandwagoning. I’m your host with the most, Eamon Smith, and today I’ll be guiding you through the remaining teams in the West. This article will contain brief overviews of why each team is likable, hateable, and will conclude each segment with some final thoughts. If you’d like to read about the Central division or North division, click here and here respectively. Without further ado, let’s hop in.

The Minnesota Wild

Why are they likable?

This is a franchise with lovely fans who have witnessed what can only be described as profound mediocrity. The Wild have been a boring, pretty decent team for as long as anyone can remember, with heartbreaking playoff losses scattered about like a bunch of cookies haphazardly thrown about by a toddler in the “I like eating cardboard and also your hair” phase. Wild fans hate the Blackhawks (hey, same here), have dealt with Chuck Fletcher’s bullshit before (whoa, another parallel), and still remain passionate after having dealt with all of the above. They’re also a fanbase containing two of the most important figures in publicly available hockey analytics, the Evolving Wild twins (Luke and Josh). Overall, a pretty pleasant and diehard group more than worthy of winning their first Stanley Cup.

The icing on the cake here? The Wild are actually an entertaining team this season, ranking among the league’s best in offensive categories and boasting two legitimately electrifying talents in Kevin Fiala and “Dolla Bill Kirill” Kaprizov, the latter of whom will likely win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Minnesota plays fundamentally sound hockey, but they’re finally capable of razzle-dazzle stuff thanks to an injection of youth led by the aforementioned wingers and a collection of names like Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Calen Addison. The usual suspects like Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, and Matt Dumba are all here too, and former Flyer Cam Talbot has been solid in net behind them. Following Wednesday’s 3-0 victory in Game Six against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Wild have a real chance to upset a franchise that many people (yours truly included) loathe. They’re indisputably a fantastic blend of underdog and top dog that’s worth pulling for.

Their reverse retro jerseys are also pretty sweet, so that’s something.

Why are they hateable?

A few former Flyers killers lurk on this roster in Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise (ew, it smells like the 2014 Rangers and 2012 Devils in here). Ryan Suter was thought to be the future solution that Paul Holmgren was seeking for the top defensive pairing, and his decision to head to Minnesota can be indirectly blamed for a lot of the woes the team saw as the front office desperately traded assets and eventually forced a long, painful rebuild. Cam Talbot succeeding in the wake of a total collapse by Hart and Elliott this year stings, and former Penguin Nick Bonino isn’t exactly a beloved figure by any means either. Outside of some mildly maligned names, however, there’s not much to complain about here. I guess the franchise should catch a bit of shit for getting swept by the Blackhawks in 2015? I’m reaching here.

The bottom line:

The Wild are a fun team, and you should probably be rooting for them. Noted Flyguy and fellow BSH contributor Thomas Williams is the Managing Editor of Hockey Wilderness, SB Nation’s Minnesota Wild website, so there’s another tether worth noting. Kaprizov is ridiculous and reminds me that hockey isn’t always dreadful and full of losing and pain, Fiala is speedy and can dominate a game when he’s hot, and that blue line is seriously nasty. I don’t think they’re going to win the Cup this year, but they’re a team worth pulling for and they’ll likely make some noise in the offseason regardless... (cough) they’re gonna go after Jack Eichel (cough).

The Vegas Golden Knights

Why are they likable?

If you like Vegas, it’s probably because they’re very, very good at hockey. Rather than going the coward’s route and building their expansion franchise up slowly through shrewd transactions and smart drafting, a combination of luck and the stupidity of other general managers (looking at you, Dale Tallon) has made Sin City the home of hockey’s most active front office. Vegas has gone balls-to-the-walls in pursuit of a Cup after sniffing Lord Stanley in their inaugural season, and the fans are all about it. Let’s follow a timeline here: this team made the Cup Final, added Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, and Tomas Tatar, decided they weren’t enough and traded for Mark Stone, and then responded to whiffing on Erik Karlsson at the deadline by going out and signing Alex Pietrangelo at all costs? Wild stuff (although not Minnesota Wild) for a young franchise to be doing, but the right stuff. If Vegas wins the Cup, not only would one of the best teams in hockey get a deserved victory, but it would also encourage teams to be more aggressive in pursuit of a championship. God knows the NHL needs less cowardice in its GMs.

Looking at the team, this is a roster flush with depth, scoring, and star power. Alex Pietrangelo missed some time, but he’s been as advertised: a legit rock and number one defender who can eat minutes and crush the opposition. Shea Theodore remains one of the best players in the league by expected numbers and had a career year in terms of production, Alec Martinez (another trade deadline addition) has been an excellent complimentary piece, and Nic Holden has turned heads with a breakout year in replacement of Nate Schmidt. Nic Hague has been one of the league’s best bottom pairing options, and Zach Whitecloud has been serviceable as well. On offense, it’s the Mark Stone show. The stud winger has asserted himself as a legitimate superstar since departing Ottawa, making an impact every night with beautiful stick lifts and sensational goals. Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith form a deadly second line, and Alex Tuch brings some extra power and scoring touch to pair with Vegas’s foremost star. The depth is less exciting, but Mattias Janmark is capable of scoring outbursts and Nicolas Roy is a fine 3C.

In goal is Marc-Andre Fleury, a lovable personality whose success brings nothing but suffering to Penguins fans. Mr. Flower’s zigzagging career maintained course, with the veteran netminder rebounding from a season that left him as a backup behind Robin Lehner and asserting himself once again as an elite goalie. Lehner remains a sterling rotational piece who can either relieve Fleury or act as an emergency option if he gets hurt or melts down. This team is loaded from top to bottom and would normally be the Stanley Cup favorite. They’re a treat to witness and seeing more of them in the playoffs would be exciting, particularly when it comes to the second round matchup they’d be getting.

Why are they hateable?

Vegas fans are some of the most spoiled and annoying people in the NHL community, and it’s not hard to see why. All of their success has come with expectations and a touch of arrogance, even when it’s wholly unwarranted from a fledgeling community like theirs. While our fantastic coworkers over at Knights On Ice are great, most of the interaction I’ve had with Vegas fans online has been getting angrily spammed after I made fun of Marc-Andre Fleury or seeing whining about losing to the Sharks in the 2018-2019 playoffs. Mark Stone has had a few questionable hits in his career, Pietrangelo acts as a reminder of how the Flyers weren’t aggressive this past offseason, and Peter DeBoer is arguably the reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Sharks in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. This combo of entitlement and a team that’s almost annoyingly good doesn’t make the Knights the best option, particularly when you compare them to their opponents in the Wild.

The bottom line:

Everybody who’s a totally neutral spectator wants to see Vegas play Colorado again in a battle of the league’s juggernauts, so that’s the main draw for the Golden Knights. Outside of that, you either need to be totally driven by the misery of Penguins fans or a fan of a player on this team to root for them winning it all. The fanbase is a bit toxic at the moment and needs to suffer quite a bit more before I’ll personally be okay with the team winning a Cup, and I’m sure many others feel the same.

The Colorado Avalanche

Why are they likable?

The Avalanche finished first in the league in CF% and xGF% at even strength. That’s absolutely absurd. This roster has been more dominant than any team in recent memory outside of the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning and the early 2000s Detroit Red Wings that were laden with Hall of Fame talent. Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Devon Toews, and Ryan Graves form the nucleus of a young, Uber-talented blue line laden with riches and bubbling with depth. Up front, Nathan MacKinnon remains one of the five best players in the NHL, flanked by Mikko Rantanen’s scoring prowess and one of the game’s premier captains in Gabriel Landeskog. Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Saad, Alex Newhook; these are just a few of the premier support players littering the roster, without mentioning guys like Tyson Jost or analytical darling Valeri Nichuskin. The only question for this team is in goal. Can Philipp Grubauer keep it together as the quality of competition ratchets up, or will he prove to be a bit lackluster as the number one option for a legitimate Cup favorite? Only time will tell. Join me in watching Landeskog kick Brayden Schenn’s ass, for posterity.

Why are they hateable?

If you hate the Avalanche, it’s probably because you’re sad that the Flyers aren’t as good as them, or there’s residual dislike remaining from the Peter Forsberg era. It’s depressing to see a team that looked far worse off than the Flyers five years ago dominating now, but having that envy or holding onto the Lindros trade feels a bit pointless when the deeper Colorado goes in the playoffs, the more glorious hockey we get to see. I know this is supposed to be a section of caveats, but I’m just end on the whole “Cale Makar being good when he was taken after Nolan Patrick” thing and move on. Here’s another highlight package to make you angry.

The bottom line:

The Avs are a meat grinder, and I want to see some beef getting ground up deep into the postseason. This is a squad deserving of a championship, and it’s another one that will encourage the construction of contenders with aggressive, unorthodox moves like the three-way trade Joe Sakic orchestrated all those years ago. I’m gonna roll another highlight video because it makes me feel a bit giddy.

This team is nasty.