By Rob Ficiur
In last week’s column I wrote about Canada’s Stanley Cup drought. Since Canadian based teams account for about 20% of all NHL teams, why has no team north of the border won the Stanley Cup since 1993? In the last eleven seasons four Canadian teams have made it to the Stanley Cup final and lost. Try as they might, the core of each of those teams could not make their way back to the championship round. This week we will look at each team, their playoff success in the last decade and how close they are (maybe) to a Stanley Cup championship.
Montreal Canadiens – Made the playoffs eight of the last ten years; twice the Habs won two rounds and made the playoffs’ final four. In the next three seasons Montreal seemed to be building into a contender; averaging more than 100 points. Two months into this season, the Canadiens looked like Canada’s best hope at winning a championship. Since MVP goalie Carrie Price went on the injury list on November 26, the Canadiens have been the worst team in the NHL. Now making the playoffs will be an accomplishment. (However, if their elite goalie comes back to his former level, who knows what could happen come playoff time.)
Vancouver Canucks – Made the playoffs seven of the last ten years and lost in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. The Canucks were the last Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup final. Since then the team has not won a playoff round. From 2007 to 2013 the Canucks were Stanley Cup contenders. The winning window seems to be closing what is left of that 2011 Sedin lead Canucks. The twins are 35 years old and fans can’t expect the twins to do what they did eight years ago. Don’t tell Canucks fans, but it is time for a full rebuild, they missed their best chance at a Stanley Cup back in 2011.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Made the playoffs once in the last ten years. The last time they won a playoff round was in 2004. Two great news items for Leafs’ fans. This past off season they hired a new coach and a new general manager who are determined to build a winning team the right way. In the past Leafs’ leadership seemed consumed with winning now; and mortgaged the future. Other good news is that this month the Maple Leafs have come to an peace treaty with Stanley Cup captain Dave Keon. After more 40 years of estrangement from the organization the captain of the 1967 Stanley Cup champion Leafs will now be part of the team’s off ice celebrations. Can they sign him to play as well?
Ottawa Senators – Made the playoffs six of the last ten years but have won only one playoff round since losing in the 2007 finals. From 1999-2007 Ottawa was one of the elite teams in the NHL. After great regular seasons those Senators faltered in the playoffs. When that core could not win it all, pieces were added and players were traded. Ottawa has been a borderline playoff team for the last five years. This year they will be lucky to make the playoffs.
Winnipeg Jets – Made the playoffs twice in the last decade with no playoff victories to their credit. The Atlanta Thrashers team that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 was a perennial door mat in the league. Building a contender from a losing team is difficult. The Jets surprised everyone with a great regular season last year. This year they surprised us again by playing like the Atlanta Thrashers of old. Winnipeg fans will think they won the Stanley Cup if their team made the playoffs and won a series. Don’t plan on either for this year.
Edmonton Oilers – Made the playoffs one year in the last ten years. Despite three first overall selections in the entry draft their rebuild has lasted twice as long as it should have. The team hired a new General Manager and Coach last summer. With a fourth first overall pick this past summer, the Oilers and Connor McDavid are improving, but being a championship team is way down the road.
Calgary Flames – Made the playoffs five of the last ten seasons; wining one playoff round. The Flames were only one win away from the 2004 championship so when the NHL restarted in 2005-2006 all the resources (draft picks) went to the win now mentality. Four years in (and three coaches) later they never got out of the first round of the playoffs. Like Ottawa, it took Flames’ management six years to realized the core of 2004 was not going to win a championship.
Today all seven Canadian based NHL teams are out of a playoff spot. With Canadian teams occupying four of the six bottom (and five of the bottom eight) spots in the NHL standings, it looks like we will wait a few more years before the Stanley Cup returns to Canada.