By Rob Ficiur
On Thursday January 20, the NHL standings showed that all sixteen playoff spots were held by US based teams. The last time zero Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs was the 1969-70 season. Under previous playoff formats Canadian teams were guaranteed at least three playoff slots. The old Smythe Division had all four western Canadian teams and the LA Kings; four of whom had to make the playoffs. Before the 1990’s expansion began only five of twenty one teams missed the playoffs, so you had to be really bad to miss out.
Do not despair there will be playoff hockey in Canada (probably). Chances are that at least one of the seven Canadian teams will make the playoffs. On January 20, (the day that no Canadian team was in a playoff spot), Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa were one point out of playoff positions; Winnipeg was four; Calgary and Edmonton were six. On Jan. 21 (a day later) wins by Vancouver and Calgary put the Flames within four points of the post season; and put Vancouver in a playoff spot. The daily changing of playoff spots will continue for the rest of the season.
The bigger question is why has no Canadian team won a Stanley Cup since 1993? In the 1990’s we thought we had an excuse. Free agent stars from small Canadian teams would move south of the border and sign with big dollar American teams. With small population bases and a weak Canadian dollar, many of our teams could not compete dollar wise for the best players. Winnipeg and Quebec lost their NHL teams during this time.
In 2005-2006 when the NHL instituted its salary cap, which was supposed to help small market (Canadian) teams compete on the ice against big city USA. During these last ten years no big city USA team can spend more than a small market Canadian team.
In the ten seasons since the salary cap Canadian teams have not earned their share of the playoff spots. From 2006-2011 (six years) there were six Canadian franchises and when Winnipeg rejoined the league four years ago there have been seven teams north of the border. During this decade Canadian cities were home base for 21% of all NHL teams. Mathematically speaking, that means that about 21% of teams in the playoffs should be from Canada; 21% of teams in round two should reside north of the border and so on for each round. At the rate of 21%, two of the ten Stanley Cups awarded in the last ten years should have found a home in Canada.
Mathematical statistics – the “Should Have’s” – are not the numbers we have seen in the last decade. Instead of two NHL championships (21%), we have had zero percent of the championships found a home in Canada. Canadian teams have not accounted for their 21% of teams in any of the four playoff rounds. The percentages of Canadian teams in each round (for the past ten years) are as follows: Round One 17%; Round Two 16%; Round Three (the final four teams) 10%; Round Four (championship round) 15%. Rounds one and two are fairly close to the 21% the statistics say should be Canadian teams. The last two rounds are significantly below the percent; and of course 0% of championships is more than 20% less than what the numbers tell us should be our number of Stanley Cups.
Why can’t Canadian teams win? Here are a few possible theories:
-Hockey crazy Canadians want to win now so they are not patient enough for a team to rebuild. I think the reality is totally the opposite of this. Canadian teams sell out virtually every game. If (and when) they are in post season slumps the stands are still full. Since teams know that they have the time to rebuild without losing their fan base.
-Players are under more scrutiny in Canadian cities than in the USA. This is probably true. Does fan expectation mean there is too much pressure to win? There are hard core fans in every city. Pressure is what you make if it. Professional athletes can’t excuse their losing because fans are pressuring them.
-We are in a down cycle, in time it will average out. In the sixteen years from 1976-1990 Canadian based teams won twelve (75%) of the championships. This was a time when Canadian teams accounted for 33% of the teams. Overall from 1976-2015 (39 years) Canadian teams have won thirteen championships.
During the last thirty nine years 25.3% of all NHL teams have been based in Canada. (This counts all the expansion and transfer of teams). In that same period of time the Canadian teams (25.3%) have won 33% of the championships.
Overall Canada has won more than its share, but not in recent years. Since sports fans are more concerned about what have you done for me lately, next week I will do an analysis of each of the seven teams; how close they have come to championships; why they might have fallen short; and how much longer fans in those cities may have to wait until their team wins a Stanley Cup.