Some great ideas have been posted - I was a Nordiques fan since the WHA days and when the franchise moved to Colorado I couldn't follow the team, mainly because the new owners have yet to embrace the history of the franchise like the owners of the Carolina and Phoenix franchises.
Going from a fan to a fan without a team was a challenge - I couldn't cheer for the Nords division rivals so I began to watch games and the Red Wings began to grow on me in 1995 with the players, the coach, the team's management, and the support of the fans. An added bonus was they were in the same conference as the Avalanche and the two teams have had some great games over the years.
I'm one of the old school guys who's team first, player second. Don't get me wrong, I'll always cheer former Nords like Sakic, Forsburg, Foote, etc..., but I'll never be a fan of Colorado.
With that said, you have a very exciting team in the Caps right in your own back yard. Give them a chance to grow on you, if they don't another team will catch your eye as your watching the Caps.
I appreciate all of your responses guys! You all were very helpful and (obviously) very passionate about hockey. I will keep you all updated on my desperate search for fanhood. Watched a few games tonight and I'm watching the Caps game now...
If anyone has any other helpful pieces of advice, please feel free to keep posting. I'm sure that this thread will help not just me, but someone else as well.
I'd pick the team that you get to watch the most on television or can go see live once in a while.
The real joy of being a fan is watching your team play. Better to be a fan of a team that's not the best then be one of those wings fans that's all over Canada who doesn't care about hockey until the conference finals come around.
Despite living in Leafs Nation for my whole life and having everyone around me being a Leafs fan, I didn't really get into hockey until 2002 as an 18 year old. I was taken to a Leafs vs Sens play-off game, one of their epic battles, and had 9th row platinum seats behind the net that Curtis Joseph was in for the 1st and 3rd period. The game ended up going into triple overtime, and though when I arrived for the game I was excited to see a live game but not overjoyed since I knew very little about how the game worked, by the end of it I was flipping out at every chance and taking notes on which players were good and bad. I basically fell in love with not only hockey, but the Leafs [and yes, the Sens, too] that night. It also helped that the person I was going with [also a non-hockey fan unaware of the "Battle of Ontario" rivalry] showed up wearing black and red and we were razzed all game about cheering for the Sens. That helped educate us on the hatred between the two teams, and was just another layer of the experience!
So my advice is to just go to a game. Get into an area where there's a lot of passionate fans, and just be engrossed. Don't try to be passionate, but let it flow into you. It will certainly give you a headstart.
If you're already going to a game, it shouldn't be too hard to do that.
Edit: As others have said though, it's a lot easier to build an interest in a team that you can follow closely by watching their games, whether it be live or in a bar. That's why there are so many hometown fans: it's simply the easiest way to get involved, since the team is always around! I know that I've tried to get into following the OHL, but my city doesn't broadcast any OHL games so it's difficult for me to follow a single team, because I have no exposure to the product.
So to the Habs fans out there...how many fans in your fanbase would you say speak only French? I've found it hard to follow the broadcasts on RDS because they are French-only. Too bad the Habs games can't be broadcast in English as well on CBC for every game (