With the regular season coming to a close, most hockey fans are preparing to tune into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even fans whose teams failed to qualify often pick one or more teams to get behind in the spring. Oftentimes, this involves choosing a beloved former player who has since moved on and has a chance at hoisting the Cup.
For an expansion team, however, things become more difficult. After all, the Seattle Kraken haven’t even put together a roster yet, let alone played a game. There are no immediately obvious players to root for in the playoffs this year.
Fortunately for Kraken fans, there are other ways to pick a bandwagon team. No choice immediately springs to mind, but there are a number of perspectives that can offer the Seattle fanbase an entertaining playoff experience.
Ordinarily, three to five teams from each division qualify for the playoffs each season. However, with the league realignment this year, Pacific Division teams were scattered. As a result, only two teams from the usual Pacific Division qualified for the playoffs this year: the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers.
From a head-to-head standpoint, the apparent lack of competitiveness within the division bodes well for Seattle’s chances next year, assuming the league aligns itself back to normal. The Kraken will likely be entering the NHL’s weakest division.
This year, your initial reaction might be to root against these teams. They’ll be hated soon enough as divisional rivals, so why not start now?
Strategically, it may benefit the Kraken for one of the Knights or Oilers to win the Cup. Across all sports, champion teams have trouble retaining their corps. In a flat cap world, this effect is exacerbated. If a divisional rival wins it all this year, it may weaken them in Seattle’s inaugural season.
Another perspective that may appeal to Kraken fans is to support players from the Seattle area. Doing so adds something of a homegrown feel to whichever team wins support from the Kraken fanbase. In addition, given their roots and current circumstances on their respective rosters, some of these players could end up playing for the Kraken in a few short months.
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Of the five Washington natives currently active in the NHL, three are set to play for the Stanley Cup this season. The first is Washington Capitals veteran forward T.J. Oshie. The Mount Vernon native has already been discussed at length as an expansion draft option and is the current all-time leading scorer from Washington state. The next, another likely option in the upcoming draft, is Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson. The Spokane native has long been a productive top-six player, but salary cap restraints have pushed the Lightning to seek ways to shed him from the roster.
Both of these players are fine choices, but also have already won championships recently, in 2018 and 2020, respectively. If you’re a fan who appreciates first-time winners, forward Kailer Yamamoto is a better option. Also from Spokane, Yamamoto is in the midst of his first full NHL season, and offers yet another reason to root for the Edmonton Oilers. It will be fascinating to see what kind of impact he can have in his first NHL playoff run.
Even though the Kraken won’t hit the ice until October, it’s never too early to start watching hockey. The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs will undoubtedly be entertaining, and all hockey fans should take part.
The Edmonton Oilers seem like the team for Kraken fans to root for. It would be great to see a Washington native hoist the Cup, and any chance at handicapping divisional rivals for next season should appeal to the fanbase.
Really though, any of the 16 playoff teams can be supported depending on your personal allegiance. Fans should feel free to enjoy the NHL as they please for now, as all of Seattle will be behind the same team come the 2021-22 season.
I’ll be contributing as a writer for the Seattle Kraken at The Hockey Writers. I attend high school in New York City and I have written for my personal Substack page in the past. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @jakezrihen_ to see my latest articles and more!
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