With the North Division kicking off their playoffs Thursday night, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing. Fans of the teams in the playoffs know who to root for. Other hockey fans whose teams didn’t make the playoffs may have a tougher time deciding who to root for and who to root against.
Take Columbus Blue Jackets’ fans for instance. After being sellers at the deadline, former faces of the franchise will be suiting up for new teams in the playoffs. Here are some storylines for some of the teams still in the hunt that have players with roots to Columbus.
Central Division: Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning
These three teams all have players with ties to Columbus in some way. In Nashville, two former Blue Jackets are on the squad. Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene were key contributors in Columbus at one point during their careers.
Duchene was acquired ahead of the 2019 playoff push that saw the Blue Jackets knock off the Lightning. He left for Nashville after that season. Columbus traded Johansen for Seth Jones in 2016. An extra incentive to root for Nashville is for them to knock out Metropolitan Division rival, Carolina, in the opening round.
The Florida Panthers have put together a roster and staff of a lot of former Blue Jackets. Some players with ties to Columbus include Alexander Wennberg, Anthony Duclair, Kevin Connauton, Markus Nutivaara, Anton Stralman and Sergei Bobrovsky. With all of the former Blue Jacket players on the roster, it makes a lot of sense to jump on the Florida train for the playoffs this season. The Panthers’ first-round matchup is against the Lightning who have become rivals of Columbus in recent years.
The last team in the Central Division is the Lightning. Curtis McElhinney and David Savard highlight the former Blue Jacket players on the roster. McElhinney was a member of last year’s team who won the Stanley Cup. The primary reason to root for the Lightning would be to see Savard win a Stanley Cup.
In some scenarios, it may make more sense to root against the Lightning. In the Savard trade, Columbus acquired the Lightning’s first round pick for this upcoming draft. With that in mind, the earlier the Lightning are eliminated, the better the draft pick will be.
North Division: Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens’ first-round matchup will feature three former Columbus players. On Montreal, Josh Anderson will make his first Stanley Cup run with the Canadiens. Anderson was acquired in the trade that brought Max Domi to Columbus. Nick Foligno and Riley Nash will look to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto for the first time since 1967.
In the case of Riley Nash, Columbus fans need to hope that Nash appears in more than 25% of the Leafs’ playoff games. If Nash appears in more than 25% of the Leafs’ playoff games, the 2022 conditional seventh round pick upgrades to a 2022 sixth round pick.
Nick Foligno was sent at the trade deadline to Toronto to win a Stanley Cup. The former Columbus captain could be looking at his last shot at winning a championship. As much as Columbus fans may want to see Foligno win a cup, hockey is a business after all. It may be in the best interest of Columbus to root against Toronto.
Nick Foligno went to Toronto at the cost of Toronto’s first round pick in this year’s draft. In order to get a better draft pick, Columbus may have to hope to see Toronto lose earlier. The worst-case scenario for Columbus would be a Toronto-Tampa final since they currently own both first-round picks.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is the last former Columbus player in the North Division. He travelled with the Winnipeg Jets, but has been dealing with an injury. Given the nature of his departure from Columbus, there may be some better players to root for as a Columbus fan.
West Division: Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights
The Colorado Avalanche are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this year and their roster includes two former Blue Jackets in Brandon Saad and Matt Calvert. While Calvert is currently battling an injury, Saad is in the starting lineup. Saad found the back of the net in game two with an empty-net goal late in the game. Calvert’s gritty style of play made him a fan-favorite in Columbus so seeing him win a Stanley Cup would be a good sight for Columbus fans.
William Karlsson was picked up by Vegas in the expansion draft and he remains an impact player to this day for the Golden Knights. Seeing Karlsson succeed this postseason would be tough to see for Columbus fans, however, it would be somewhat relieving to see a former Blue Jackets player having a great impact for the expansion team.
Tough to Pick Just One
Of the eight teams to choose from, it may be tough to commit to just one team this postseason. As a Columbus fan, some players/teams may be more justifiable to root for compared to others. To some fans, it may be beneficial to root against Toronto and Tampa Bay because of the draft positioning. For others, it may be worthwhile to root for Toronto so Nick Foligno can have his shot at winning a championship. Regardless of where their heads are at, Columbus fans have multiple options on who to cheer for in this year’s NHL Playoffs.
Cover Image Courtesy of theathletic.com