It’s become clear that the top three sports in the United States of America are football, basketball and baseball. But as we’ve seen this year, hockey has been criminally slept on as one of the most intense and exciting games in professional sports today. The back-and-forth action, hard hits and smooth skating make it as exciting as those other top three sports, if not moreso. The only thing stopping it from becoming huge is that people don’t understand it as much as they do basketball or football, but that ends here. In today’s roundtable, the DC Sports Section will be giving our takes on the best hockey team to follow for new viewers just getting into the sport so it can start getting the viewership and recognition it deserves. Let’s get into it:
The Carolina Hurricanes should be the team for Connecticut fans to get into hockey. The first reason is the most obvious, the team is originally from Connecticut. The Canes are built off the history of the Hartford Whalers, and they embrace that fact. For the past couple of seasons, they play legacy games wearing the Whalers jerseys and blasting the Brass Bonanza. The governor invites them to play in Hartford all the time, and I hope they take him up on that offer soon. Now they aren’t going to give you year-after-year performances like the Bruins, but you know what is more satisfying than constant victory? An arc of development culminating in a total victory after you’ve watched the team develop. The Hurricanes have been developing for the past couple of years and are finally playoff contenders. You could watch the Boston Bruins, or you could actually have a fun viewing experience and follow our hometown heroes, the Carolina Hurricanes.
I gotta put this out there, I love hockey. And growing up in New England provides great opportunities to watch it at will. For the new fans though, there are 31, soon to be 32, teams to choose from. If you want to root for a franchise that will not disappoint this upcoming season and beyond, root for either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Dallas Stars. The Lightning are coming off their second Stanley Cup win in franchise history while the Dallas Stars have a young core that put up a fight in the finals over six exciting games. The Lightning have pieces such as Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and more that make the Lightning a consistent playoff threat. As for the Stars, their young core of Miro Heiskanen, Denis Gurianov, John Klingberg and more have mixed well with a veteran corps of Corey Perry, Joe Pavelski and Anton Khudobin, amongst others. Both organizations are well-run and will be in the playoff hunt for years to come. Again, this is your choice though, so choose wisely.
Call me a homer, but if you wanna get into hockey, there’s no team with a brighter future than the New York Rangers. After deciding to rebuild three years ago, they’re now at a point where their window of contention is about to kick wide open. They have a perfect blend of youth and NHL ready talent already on the roster, which is a big reason why they qualified for the postseason play-in tournament in the Summer. They have Artemi Panarin, who finished third in MVP voting, Mika Zibanejad, who led the NHL in goals-per-game, Adam Fox, who looks like one of the best young defensemen in the league and Igor Shesterkin, who went 10-2 in his first 12 games as a starting goaltender in the NHL. Add in the fact that they’ve gotten extremely lucky in the draft lottery, being awarded the second overall pick last year where they selected winger Kaapo Kakko and the first overall pick this year where they selected Canadian phenom Alexis Lafreniere, and you can see how this team expects to compete very soon. With an NHL roster already flush with stars and the consensus best or second-best prospect pool in the league, the Rangers could be very good for a very long time.
There is an obvious answer here that nobody has said yet. If you have never followed a game of hockey in your life, your best bet is to join the fanbase of a team that hasn’t played a game of hockey in its history yet. I’m talking about the Seattle Kraken, the 32nd and newest NHL franchise that is set to start playing in 2021. If you start following them now, you will be able to witness the naming of their first head coach, the drafting and signing of their first roster and the playing of their first game. In doing so, you will be able to say something that very few people in the world of sports can say: “I’ve been a fan from the very beginning.” So start hyping up the Kraken today, and you will always be able to claim yourself as an original fan of the franchise. Your first hockey memories will be synonymous with theirs, and that’s pretty cool.