If you’re like me, it’s very hard to be a neutral bystander when everyone around you is taking sides. This becomes especially difficult when watching the rivalry-driven, rabid fan-fueled world of professional sport. Let’s face it, following sports – especially during the PLAYOFFS – is exponentially more fun if you’ve got a horse in the race. But what happens when your beloved home team had a disappointing regular season and won’t get a shot at competing in the postseason? Don’t worry heartbroken Calgary Flames fans, I’ve got you covered. Here are three NHL teams you can root for… (relatively) guilt-free!
Option #1: The Florida Panthers
Like a lot of people, I was really hoping Sam Bennett would eventually become the elite player he was projected to be at the 2014 NHL entry draft. When the Flames made him the highest pick in franchise history (fourth overall), he was supposed to develop into the team’s best centerman since Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk wore the flaming C. But after seven seasons plagued by wildly inconsistent production, the 24-year-old finally requested a trade out of cowtown to get a fresh start – and by golly, it worked. Since joining the Florida Panthers, Bennett has been lighting it up, scoring 15 points in his first 10 regular-season games.
The physical forward already has two points, two penalties (and one suspension) after the Panthers 5-4 opening game playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the “Calgary connection” to this plucky team from the Sunshine State isn’t the only reason Flames fans should be rooting for Florida. Outside of their Cinderella cup run in 1996, the big cats have had an abysmal postseason record, only making the playoffs five times in the past 24 years while losing every time in the first round. Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Flames fans can certainly relate to this particular brand of playoff disappointment – it’s almost like the panther could be Calgary’s “spirit animal.” After decades of being perennial underdogs, Florida finally posted a superior regular-season record than their state rivals in Tampa, but I fear they could be in tough against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. If Game 1 was any indication this first-round series should be a real doozy, but the OTHER “boys in red” are already down 1-0, so they need all of the positive vibes coming from the Stampede City they can get. So, GO PANTHERS GO!
Option #2: The Vegas Golden Knights
This is a squad that is exceedingly difficult to hate. The Vegas Golden Knights launched their inaugural season in 2017-18 as an expansion team, but they have always performed as a veteran club – even going to the Stanley Cup Final in their very first year of existence! Who does that? Led by veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights are only the fourth franchise in NHL history to make the playoffs in each of its first four seasons, making them a perennial contender. The fact that this group is still such a new entity means that very few NHL fans have grown to despise them.
This year, Vegas were in the running for the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best record in the regular season, but they fell just shy – losing out to the Colorado Avalanche via a tiebreaker. I really think these guys are primed for another deep playoff run, but outside of their obvious likability, why should Flames fans jump on this golden bandwagon? Well, for starters, who doesn’t love Sin City? I’ve only been there twice, but I can truly say that Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps! As for watching actual NHL hockey, I hear the in-game experience at the T-Mobile Arena is second to none.
To top it off, there were rumours the affable Fleury was primed to join the Flames at the end of the 2016-17 season and was prepared to waive his no-trade clause to make it happen. He obviously went to Vegas in the expansion draft and has since gone on to become the third most winningest goaltender in NHL history. Fleury started the 2020-21 season behind Robin Lehner on the depth chart, but the three-time Stanley Cup winner has had another great year and was tapped as the #1 netminder for the Golden Knights series opener against the Minnesota Wild. Like the Panthers, the Knights are already down 1-0 in their opening round, so they also need plenty of support from the C of Red. So, GO KNIGHTS GO!
Option #3: The Winnipeg Jets
Now this one might be a tougher pill for some Calgary fans to swallow, but how could I not have a Canadian team on my list? For my money, the Winnipeg Jets are the obvious choice… rather, the ONLY choice for the playoff-starved Flames faithful to follow this postseason. Why do I believe this? It’s elementary, my dear Watson. This is all about a simple process of elimination. Trust me, when we look at the other Scotia North Division options, you’ll quickly get on board. Led by their underrated superstar Mark Scheifele, the men from Manitoba should definitely be Canada’s team and Calgary’s choice now that our boys in red are getting set for golf season.
Let’s recap the other contenders, starting with the Edmonton Oilers: um… NOPE. No self-respecting Flames fan would be caught dead rooting for Connor McDavid and his orange crew. That’s a non-starter, and I shouldn’t have even mentioned them. Sorry. Next up, the Toronto Maple Leafs: again… no way, no how, no chance. Here in the heart of the new west, there’s a deep-seated dislike for the team from the “center of the universe” (or really anything Ontario-related if I’m being honest).
Maybe it’s because we’ve had to suffer through decades of Toronto-centric national sports coverage, or maybe it’s their insufferable fans, or maybe it’s because Leafs Nation completely takes over the Scotiabank Saddledome whenever the Buds are in town to transform it into a de facto Leafs’ home game. OK, so that leaves the Montreal Canadiens: sorry… but that’s also a hard pass. Because the Flames have faced the Habs in both of their Stanley Cup final appearances, and because they were the team Calgary was desperately chasing down in the final weeks of the regular season, I just can’t see local fans getting on board with Montreal. So… go Jets go? I guess?
There is One Thing All Three Teams Have in Common
I’ve just given broken-hearted Flames fans three very unique options to cheer for as the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs begin: the first is a team that historically almost never wins, the second is a team that historically almost always wins, and the third is simply the lesser of four Canadian evils. But, there is a common thread that ties all three of these choices together – none of these franchises has ever won the Stanley Cup.
I actually love it when a team that has never hoisted up that big silver bowl finally gets its due. Remember that warm and fuzzy feeling you got when the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues recently got that monkey off their backs? Flames fans, this is your chance to emotionally invest in a team chasing that ultimate holy grail and enjoy watching the best “second season” in professional sports unfold over the next two months. Since Blasty is obviously not available, it’s time to get another horse in this race.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube, Facebook and all podcast outlets.