If I were to pick who WNY wants to win the Finals, I'd probably say the LA Kings. LA just seems cooler and fresher. They are a fun group of scorers and partiers. A number of fans seem to have enjoyed their rise to the Finals as no one saw them coming. As for New Jersey, eh...been there done that. However, they do have some nice stories about their run. Plus, they aren't the same trapping and stifling Devils. Instead, they are sound defensively and offensively.
Of course, maybe some of you haven't decided which side you want to take. That's where I come in...
Why should we root for the Kings?
Kings are better for the NHL
For years, the NHL has been trying to work its way up from obscurity when it comes to what America watches on TV. Every year around this time, hockey fans and media members try and decipher what would be good for the NHL. Do the Finals really matter in the end if it were the Coyotes or Rangers winning the Cup? Probably. Will it propel the league into a new stratosphere? No. The Devils still represent a collective yawn by NHL standards. The tri-state area doesn't give two shi#s about the Devils. They don't care about them. Sure, the Kings could be viewed the same way because LA is a bandwagon city with a bunch of transplants, but news of 2,000 fans greeting the Kings at the airport after beating the Yotes is pretty tough to ignore. Yes, it would be better for the NHL if LA won.
Of course, you have a portion of the WNY population who wants to cheer for someone who represents us in a father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate connection. Brian Gionta, who hails from Rochester, is not a Devil anymore so that is a huge blow for NJ. (Editor's note: His little brother, Stephen, is a Devil. Does that count? No? Okay. -HB) For a local connection, you gotta go with Ithaca product, Dustin Brown. OK, so you don't exactly think upstate love with Ithaca in terms of Buffalo, but it will do for now. Plus, Brown is a hell of a player. A guy who can hit, score, and lead, all three things the Sabres are in desperate need of it seems.
Kings are way more exciting
Maybe if the Devils played in Philly or Detroit, I'd be more inclined to root for them, but I still can't shake the stigma of NJ. I know they are a lot more entertaining than our childhood Devils squads and offer a much more entertaining opponent than the Rangers, but I just can't get excited about them. The Kings are new and fun. They don't have a checkered past of boring hockey in a boring state. I think Jay-Z should buy the Devils and move them to Brooklyn.
Fu#$ the Flyers
Remember when the Flyers traded Carter and Richard last summer, and a number of Philly fans were upset at the moves because they were getting younger and were losing arguably their best players? Then when the regular season started and the Flyers looked good while the Kings were firing their coach and Carter was stuck in NHL purgatory, Philly fans had a huge smile across their faces about the trades. Now things look a weeeeeeeheee bit different. Yes, it is possible for both teams to make out in a trade, but it has to be tough for Flyer fans to see Carter and Richards just four wins away from winning the Cup. Well, if it is tough for Philly fans, it is just right for Sabres fans. Let them rot! Let them feel like some Sabres fans felt when we saw Briere make the Cup Finals. Squirm baby, squirm!
We all know the history of the Buffalo Sabres pretty well, right? No Stanley Cups and only six division titles in 41 years. Not exactly the Yankees, right? The Kings...1..count them...1 division title in their history (est. 1967). They have only made the Conference Finals twice and before the last three years, the Kings didn't make the playoffs for six straight seasons. Yeah, their history is way worse than ours, so you gotta feel some sort of love for them. The Devils have 3 Cups already. Do they really need another one? No. Give one to the team that hasn't done much in its history other than change uniforms 200 times and steal Canada's national treasure (Gretzky).
Why should we root for the Devils?
The Boston Celtics' Big Three are having their final tour during these NBA playoffs, and Martin Brodeur may be doing the same thing. It is amazing that it was almost 20 years ago when he out-dueled Hasek in the opening round of the NHL Playoffs. I'm not sure how much time he has left, but if this is it, I think rooting for him would be kind of ideal.
Do LA Fans really need this?
LA fans are the biggest bandwagoners in the country. Period. Tickets are ridiculously expensive and the fans with the court-side seats are celebrities or CEOs who can expense their business perks. An LA team has to be a top-tier squad to get any interest from fans. You also need STAR players for that market. I assure you, if the Kings win, LA will forget by July when the Lakers are trying to move Pau Gasol. Plus, LA has always been rumored to steal the Bills from Buffalo. For that alone, we should wish for a 4-game sweep and Carter/Richards drink themselves to death.
Love him or hate him, you can't argue that Ryan Miller's Olympic year of 2010 wasn't one of the best seasons for a player in Buffalo history. For a good 4-5 months, we wouldn't have traded all the gold in King's Landing for him. Obviously, the biggest reason for his popularity had to do with the way he played in the Olympics. Everyone in Buffalo took pride in having a national hero. He was ours. Unfortunately, things have kind of changed over the last two years. Miller is not the greatest goalie in the world like we all thought he was and he's probably not even the best American goalie. Jonathan Quick has been lights-out this season with a GAA of less than 2. He's also an American and when you factor in Tim Thomas' play over the last two seasons, Miller seems to be a distant 3rd in the ballot for your starting Olympic goalie come 2014. A Stanley Cup win for Quick will pretty much mean that Miller will have to have Hasek-like numbers from here on out to bypass both of those guys on the US roster.
From Russia with love
For years, we have heard the likes of Don Cherry spew out venom against European players. You would have thought it would stop after Sergei Fedorov was the 2nd best player on the Red Wings during the 90's or when Chara hoisted the Cup last year, but it hasn't. Enter: Ilya Kovalchuk. For years, a lot of fans and media members have said that he couldn't win a playoff series much less a Cup because of his style of play. Of course, those Thrashers teams he was on were the pure sh#ts, but for many, that did not matter. I think some of the criticism toward the likes of Ovie and Kovalchuk have to do with being Russian and not being so open with the media. Frankly, I am sick of it. I don't care where you are from, but if you are good at hockey, you can play on my team any time. Kovalchuk is arguably the best Russian player in the NHL today. If the Devils win the Stanley Cup, you gotta think he'll be in the running for the Conn Smythe (18 points in 17 playoff games). Hopefully, this will shut up Don Cherry and whomever else thinks Euros can't win in the NHL. (Editor's note: Unless something drastically changes, I think Zach Parise is still the Devil most likely to win the Conn Smythe. But totally agreed on Kovalchuk. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike Harrington take back some of his criticisim of the Kovalchuk deal and his ineffectiveness a few days ago. For the record, Ilya is also a total cutie pie. -HB)
Hank (Take it away Heather B!)
Heh. It's true, there's no sadder music in the world than the music of a smiley, handsome Swede talking about the awful uncertainty surrounding his recent blood clots. Henrik Tallinder was never Chris Drury or Danny Briere, except in the hearts of, okay, maybe just me. But come on, seriously. Hank was super underrated during his time in Buffalo, and losing him and Toni Lydman in one fell swoop left more of a strain on the defensive side of the defense, especially the PK, than most expected. And even if you don't agree with that, you pretty much have to agree that he always seemed like a good guy and is really damn handsome. Okay, so the Devils don't seem to be particularly missing him. And okay, he might not even get his name on the Cup if he doesn't play in the Finals because he only played in 39 regular season games and you have to play in 41 which is really pretty depressing for him when you think about it. I mean, who wants to watch his team win a Cup from the press box and then not even get his name on the damn thing? Hmmm. This seems to have taken a nasty turn... Okay, yes, Hank is totally a reason to cheer for the Devils as long as you're also cheering for one Devils d-man to possibly get injured. I'm in!
The new battle cry
I actually had a much longer post about this, but I decided to save it for a post by itself. Plus, it got pretty venomous and didn't feel right with this piece. I can already feel it from Sabres fans and some in the media who will talk about how low seeds going to the Finals bolds well for the Sabres as they aren't far away. To that, I say hogwash. I'm in no mood to hear that from apologists, radio people and Darcy Regier if the Kings win.
I'm picking and rooting for the Kings. I just can't get behind the Devils. Even though they are more entertaining, the whole being from New Jersey and ghosts of boring Devils teams from Christmas past, is just too much for me to cheer for. Plus, I said in a podcast back in April that I felt the Kings could make a run. So, I'm sticking to it. Kings in 6.