For all the hoop-de-blah about the Stanley Cup Final that begins tonight, it really only boils down to one thing: Are you, the very casual fan who doesn’t dare tempt the gods by watching Suns-Clippers 4: The Festival Of Shrapnel, obligated to root for the team whose fan base cares a hell of a lot more about how this turns out?
In other words, do you root for the Montreal Canadiens because of their location and underdog status and despite their overly rich history, or do you root for the Tampa Bay Lightning because ‘Murica and because you like modern dynasties more than you do ancient ones?
I mean, sure we could break down lines and goalies and lucky red suits and the French-Canadian language v. the Floridian ties to Cuba and the Caribbean and the magic of the interim-interim coach and positive COVID tests and squishy salary-cap overages and Corey Perry’s divoted face and Andrei Vasilevskiy as the new Carey Price, but we know what you don’t care about and it’s all of the above. What you want to know is whether you should root for the folks who care about hockey the way your yob friends care about football. What you really want to know is this:
Does a town that already has an excellent baseball franchise and Tom Brady and the Toronto Raptors need another Stanley Cup more than people who haven’t basked in its radioactive glow for 28 years? How generous are you, really?
(Well, I think I know the answer you’ll give to that: Screw Canada. America has had the Cup since Bill Clinton first found the Oval Office and all the rogue delights to be found therein, and to the extent that it cares at all, it thinks of the Cup as just another possession, like its assorted guano islands, or British Columbia [and don’t pretend you don’t know that invasion is in an advanced state of planning]. Indeed, Americans like the Cup mostly because of how much beer it can hold, not what has to be done to obtain it.)
Some weenies will remind you that the Canadiens benefited greatly from beginning their journey to now by drawing the historically asphyxial Toronto Maple Leafs and following that with an easy matchup with the never-not-goofy Winnipeg Jets to get to the round formerly known as the conference finals. But they also did the thing that people say they like the most about sports: the obstinate underdog wizarding its way through difficult tasks by refusing to allow for the fact that they should be getting their asses handed to them on the toe of a skate blade.
In fact, unless you live in or around Tampa, you’d find that tale sufficient to assemble a decent rooting interest, particularly since the NBA is all about strangers in strange places and the eradication of the concept of between-games momentum, a false premise first exposed by Darryl (The Prairie Orator) Sutter two decades ago when someone had the delusional cheek to ask him about it. The reporter got the answer, and the gob of phlegm on his pants cuffs, that he deserved. The NBA playoffs have been hard on the eye and get worse with every passing evening; Milwaukee’s 113-102 win over Atlanta Sunday only looked appealing when stacked up against the homage to the Rochester Royals and Syracuse Nationals recreated for no good reason Saturday by the Clippers and Suns.
Canadiens-Lightning at least is starting without many preconceived night terrors, except the one where Tampa just plays like the best team it is and defenestrates Montreal so convincingly that midway through Game 3 NBC, which no longer has to give a damn about the sport, returns the remaining inventory to the league and says, “We have lousy old game shows and people who think they can sing grumbling backstage; clear off, you weaselly grifters, and take this mess with you.”
Which still doesn’t get you to a solution for your rooting interest problem, because, well, there really isn’t one. If Tampa wins, nobody outside the 813 is going to care all that much because an American’s attention span is briefer than a shift from a fourth line, while the 514 is desperate to get something out of this odd seasonal tableau. So it’s simply a question of your definition of generosity. Do you want people you’ve never met from somewhere else to be deliriously happy or you to be your typically indifferent self?
It’s a loaded question, of course. You of course want Montreal, even if you’re from Canada and hate Montreal because you live somewhere other than Montreal. It’s been an entire generation plus some years, and everyone should get a parade some time just to learn how to be intoxicated outside without annoying the cops or your fellow drunks. Les Canadiens Sont Là, because why the hell not? It’s not costing you anything.