by Pat Iversen
The NHL is not the NFL.
It’s okay. I’ll wait for you to gather yourself. I know that was shocking.
There is no RedZone channel. With three or four or more games every night, you need to budget your time wisely. The great thing about hockey is that it’s almost always entertaining.
But there are degrees to that enjoyment levels! My editors tasked me with the daring mission to determine these levels for you, dear reader. It was a dangerous task, but I have emerged from my secret laboratory after weeks without nourishment bearing my findings.
While I go make a sandwich or something, prepare for your hockey-viewing season with these watchability tiers.
The "Cancel Your Plans" Division
Look. I know what you’re thinking. "Wow, a noted Stars fan thinks his team is the most entertaining team in the league."
I won’t stop you from sending your angry emails, but pause and consider this: what hockey fan doesn’t like watching the Stars? They are the embodiment of hockey in its purest, most unfettered form. They are young cheetahs testing their speed for the first time. Sometimes they overwhelm their prey immediately with blinding fury. Sometimes they trip over their own paws and go tumbling end-over-end into the waiting jaws of a large hippo.
With Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin at the helm of an explosive offense, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi manning the nets, and John Klingberg and Some Other Guys playing defense, anything can happen in a Stars game. But more often than not, the crashes and burns are just as thrilling as the victories.
Oozing with personality. Just gushing. Aleksander Barkov is a funny Twitter dude. Jagr is Jagr. Roberto Luongo is a comedic genius. Aaron Ekblad, hockey’s answer to Greg Oden, really loves seashells. They have beautiful new logos and uniforms. Their fans throw rats on the ice. They have an amazing relationship with Kevin Spacey.
Oh, and they spent the most money this offseason on the best players on the market. Need I go on?
The emergence of Artemi Panarin last season was just unfair. Patrick Kane and Panarin are capable of breaking a game open at any time. You can usually count on Jonathan Toews heroics late in games. Throw in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa and this team still has plenty of fun names to latch on to. Top prospect Nick Schmaltz could break through this year as well.
The erosion of Chicago’s defensive depth over the years has made them even more reliant on their potent offense. And when they let loose, the United Center scene is one of the best in the sport. Who knows how long the Blackhawks will stay competitive under their constant cap squeeze, but they remain top-notch entertainment that you love to hate but envy all the same.
It took a coaching change and half a season for the Penguins to figure out how good they could be. After that Stanley Cup run, consider me fully on board the bandwagon of fun.
Give the Penguins an inch of space in a tight game and one of Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin will burn you. They are the 3-on-3 nightmare opponents dream about. They’re also the rare defending champion with a goalie controversy on the horizon! They’re just wonderful. And they embraced the best uniforms in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning
There’s a reason the Bolts were a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup last year. Then injuries, Steven Stamkos’ contract drama, and Jonathan Drouin’s trade request decimated whatever momentum they had midway through the season. Not to mention the fact that Ben Bishop got hurt mid-playoffs and Stamkos missed most of the season.
AND THEY STILL ALMOST WON THE PRINCE OF WALES TROPHY. Seriously. They were two goals away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals again. Suddenly Stamkos got his contract, Drouin began to reach his potential, and they have two elite goalies.
Somehow, after all of that, they’re even more watchable than ever. I don’t know either, guys. But I’m excited.
The "Come for the Special Teams, Stay for the Goalie Duels" Division
There needs to be a national alert system for when a Capitals opponent takes a penalty. An NHL representative in every home to pour a water bottle on your head. I don’t know who would oppose this.
Forget their improved defensive prowess or the excellence of Braden Holtby. The Capitals’ power play is precision defined. You know Nicklas Backstrom is passing the puck. You can’t stop him. You know Ovechkin is waiting for a one-timer at the right circle. You can’t stop him. You know Evgeny Kuznetsov is going to slingshot behind the net. You can’t stop him.
And you can’t stop watching.
San Jose Sharks
The Capitals’ only rival in the power play entertainment department is the Sharks. San Jose proved in the playoffs that when their man advantage is firing on all cylinders it’s incredibly difficult to stop. Oh, and Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are a joy to watch on the ice together.
The other reason they’re lumped in with the Capitals? Martin Jones. Whether he’s at that elite level yet is certainly up for debate, but his ability to steal games that don’t belong to his team is unquestioned after that playoff run. If he shares anything with Holtby, it’s that quality.
Not the hair, though. That hair is singular.
The "This Should Be Fun on Most Nights" Division
A couple of years ago, the Predators were the Kings: defensively stout but offensively stale. You respected them, but you definitely wouldn’t set things aside to watch them any given night.
No longer. Filip Forsberg is turning into one of the league’s best scoring wingers, and the addition of Ryan Johansen gives the Predators an added offensive threat down the middle they haven’t had in awhile. Nashville finished the regular season with a top-ten power play and that shouldn’t change a bit. They were also the tenth-best team when trailing after one period last year. And when the stakes rise, that building is ALIVE.
They also have that one guy they traded Shea Weber for. You know, the guy that
A) is a strong power play possession guy
I’m hopeful for the Avs this season. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie should make for a potent and exciting combo. For whatever reason, the Avalanche have failed to reach that promise the last few years.
But Patrick Roy is gone. MacKinnon and Duchene looked rejuvenated during the World Cup. (I mean, look at this. Just look at it.) Barrie didn’t get traded. Semyon Varlamov is still an above-average goalie.
They have the talent to run-and-gun with the other speed demons in their division. That promise alone makes Colorado worth tuning into every once and awhile.
Here’s the great thing about the Flyers: they haven’t been one of the league’s best teams in about five years. They’re a borderline playoff team.
But they’re almost always a blast to watch. They’ll get in your face. They’ll play above their talent level and keep things close. They have the Ghost Bear. They scrap, and sometimes they win games. For my money, they’re the best weekend matinee team to watch in the league. Whatever that means. You know what I mean.
Oh, and Ivan Provorov. Remember this name.
The "Could Be Fun, Could Also Be a Blowout" Division
Here is a team loaded with talent and potential for lots of fun, fun good times. Connor McDavid is going to take the league by storm this season. Even without Taylor Hall, the Oilers still have Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Jesse Puljujarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Milan Lucic is now there to punch things, glower and score every few weeks.
The Oilers could win a lot of high-scoring games and make your jaw drop.
But until the Oilers prove they can play any sort of defense, they’re more likely to lose a lot of games by high scores. You’re better off searching for those ridiculous McDavid highlights the next morning.
Jack Eichel might be enough for most to tune into the Sabres, but I’m here to tell you they have a lot more! Trust me!
Sam Reinhart is fun. Kyle Okposo adds some personality. Their play-by-play announcer is a blast. They have awesome goal music.
*glances over at elephants in room*
Okay, fine. Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly’s recent legal issues make them hard to root for. Their goalies are boring. Sometimes it feels like they forgot to turn on the lights in their arena. They aren’t good enough to truly compete yet. Or capture your full attention.
But soon. Soon, they will.
The Flames have one thing going for them: Johnny Gaudreau. Their second-most talented player, Sean Monahan, has a parody Twitter account named after him. It is called Boring Sean Monahan. It has more followers than the real Sean Monahan.
So, that’s what I have on that.
Their forward group is awesome. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are well on their way to joining the Benn-Seguin, Toews-Kane echelon of thrilling forward duos. And Dylan Strome should make a run for rookie of the year.
But don’t trust their defensive corps yet. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is excellent. Alex Goligoski is underrated and still solid. Beyond that? This might be a team trying to play catch-up most nights. Sometimes that’ll make for great finishes. Most nights? Nah.
The "Schadenfreude" Division
If you are part of the Canadiens organization, you will watch because it is your job.
If you are a Canadiens fan, you will watch because you hope against hope they do well.
If you are everyone else, the Sports Gods or P.K. Subban, you will watch in the hopes the Canadiens crash and burn as penance for treating P.K. so poorly, trading away the most exciting personality in hockey and/or not firing Michel Therrien nine months ago.
The "Watch While Doing Other Things" Division
New York Rangers
Nothing new from the Rangers this year. Tune in for the final ten minutes when Henrik Lundqvist is single-handedly keeping a one-goal game alive. Tune in when Rangers fans on your feed start groaning about what Dan Girardi just did. Tune in when opponents start groaning about Chris Kreider running their goalie.
I don’t know. It’s the Rangers. They’re the competitive safe pick that won’t blow you away most nights.
New York Islanders
John Tavares is great to watch! He’s great. Just great. So talented. So very talented. Many, many people say that about him. Tremendous. He’s a winner.
(I’m stalling for time as I try to remember who else is on the team.)
*googles Islanders roster*
Boy, that Tavares guy sure is fun to watch.
The "Watch For The Youngsters" Division
Detroit Red Wings
I tuned into more Red Wings games than ever last season just to watch Dylan Larkin perform his magic tricks. By the end of the year he was joined by Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, who were doing things like this. Losing Pavel Datsyuk won’t hurt as long as that trio carves defenses up.
Detroit is capable of some fun things up front, and they’re totally worth your bandwidth time if your favorite team isn’t playing.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs will give up a lot of goals. The Leafs will be bad again. Mike Babcock will scowl at the same rate as last season.
But fans will smile more. William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov and Nazem Kadri showed electric promise last season. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews will join the fun as rookies, making the Leafs a favorite to lead in goal highlights this season. If you’re into rookies doing bad things to veteran defenders, this is your team.
Also, the Leafs are the Cowboys of the NHL. Unnecessary drama follows them everywhere.
Kyle Connor might not make this team. Jacob Trouba will probably be traded. Both of these things suck.
A couple of Jets guarantees make them unlikely to suck most nights. Dustin Byfuglien offering thunderous hits. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec is somehow still on the team, so Jets fans will be fun to watch while they pull their hair out every night.
If Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine live up to their immense potential, the Jets will have the young firepower to go to-to-toe with the rest of their difficult division. They should be intriguing, at least, most nights.
The "Eh, If Nothing Else Is On" Division
Here’s the most popular refrain when people watch the Wild:
"Wow, Ryan Suter sure is playing a lot of minutes."
That’s it. The most interesting thing about the Wild year after year is whether they’ll fire their coach, barely make the playoffs or finally break Ryan Suter’s will to live.
Luckily, the Wild are trying something different. Bruce Boudreau’s presence alone makes the Wild worth keeping an eye on.
New Jersey Devils & Carolina Hurricanes
Lumping these two together for a few reasons. First, they play the same way: suppress as many opponent shots as possible and capitalize on scoring chances when they appear. Somehow, this strategy worked in spades for both! Each of these rebuilding teams squeezed as many wins and points as they could out of inferior rosters. It’s super effective!
It’s also boring. But adding Taylor Hall and Teuvo Teravainen this past summer will help a lot.
Boston Bruins & St. Louis Blues
The philosophy of both teams is similar: grind opponents down through the neutral zone and along the boards until they make a mistake. Then you pounce. Choke them to death with your special teams.
The Blues inarguably do this better than the Bruins, who couldn’t keep the puck out of their net many nights last season. The systems might be effective, but it drains more watchable teams (like Dallas or Pittsburgh) of their watchability. The caveat here of course is Brad Marchand and Jack Edwards bugging the hell out of opponents. Slight edge to Boston here.
Thus, the Blues are the true black holes of fun. Only Matthew McConaughey willingly approaches black holes, and that was only in service of a flimsy plot premise.
The "I Can Either Go To Sleep Or Watch This Team" Division
Sometimes Erik Karlsson will make a great play or wink at the camera. You can find these on Twitter dot com or SB Nation dot com after the game. Read a book at night instead. Visit with your family. Make memories.
The "I Choose Sleep" Division
Yes, they mount a lot of comebacks. These comebacks are usually led by Corey Perry, which means you must shower after watching them. Ever wonder why there’s a water shortage in California?
And the memory of Randy Carlyle’s end in Toronto is too fresh to believe the Ducks will be anything but frustrating most nights with him now calling the shots. The Ducks are a hard pass unless they’re down a goal in the third period.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Do you remember anything the Blue Jackets did last season? Me neither. Nothing about John Tortorella’s systems screams "entertaining," and he’s in charge of a Blue Jackets roster bereft of must-watch talent. Case in point: Seth Jones is great, but would you carve out time to watch him play? No. You wouldn’t. Because he’s making breakout passes to Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell.
Los Angeles Kings
They’ll win a lot. They’ll make the playoffs. They’ll do it with Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, and a lot of guys who you won’t be able to name the next day. But they’ll be on super late half the time, playing a style of hockey perfect for putting you to sleep. By March you’ll wonder how they’re in the playoff hunt when you haven’t heard about them all season.
Watching the Sedins cycle the puck is still a joy from time to time, but nothing else about this squad excites me. This is a team with a general manager who spends two hours spinning the online NHL draft lottery simulator.
Which, incidentally, sounds like a lot more fun than two hours watching the Canucks.