The question asked by many is when does the drought end for Canada? Yes, many Canadians have lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup but no team from Canada has in a long time. The last time was the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. There were some close calls along the way. Those include:
- 1994 Vancouver Canucks
- 2004 Calgary Flames
- 2006 Edmonton Oilers
- 2011 Vancouver Canucks
All these teams lost in a Game 7 winner-take-all situation. That is four seasons out of 25+ which is not a high rate. Consider that there are seven Canadian teams out of 31 in the NHL. One would think the odds could be a little better. However, they are not.
This season features three teams from Canada in the 16-team tournament. Those teams include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Calgary Flames. Let’s dive a little more into these three to see their chances.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Alas, the Maple Leafs are basically a slightly above .500 team since January 1st. That is a sobering thought. However, the second season just doesn’t start. It explodes! Toronto draws the Boston Bruins who have home-ice advantage. These teams have faced each other several times in recent memory. That includes the infamous Game 7 where the Maple Leafs blew a 4-1 lead and lost in overtime. Boston has truly had Toronto’s number when it counts.
Toronto has the worst odds just to get out of their conference at +1200. Questions abound as far as goaltending. Frederik Andersen struggled over his last ten starts of the season. He allowed four or more goals in six of those ten games. His two postseason appearances for Toronto have not ended well.
This is a team with an excellent power play, offense, but questionable team defense and playoff goaltending. Add in the fact that Toronto is facing their nemesis and the odds are stacked against them. Can they overcome their demons and stop Boston’s top line in this series? It looks like a question that Toronto may not be able to answer again.
Again, the Jets are another team that struggled over the second half but found a way into the playoffs. Injuries played a role with Winnipeg’s woes, but overall concerns surround spacing, passing, and zonal play. Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey losing chunks of time like they did hurt the team’s chemistry more than anything. The rhythm would often go wrong and quickly.
The results were a team that could still score goals but would give them up in abundance as well. Connor Hellebuyck’s goals against average swelled up to a 2.9 with a save percentage of just .911, a figure only slightly above league average.
Another dilemma with Winnipeg is they face one of the hottest teams in the league in the St. Louis Blues. Consider St. Louis was dead last 40 games into the season, they turned their season around and nearly won the Central Division. Jordan Binnington came out of nowhere along with a rejuvenated Vladimir Tarasenko to earn a playoff berth. They also went 8-1-1 in their final ten games where Winnipeg went 4-5-1.
Everything sets up for Winnipeg to fail and yet the Jets’ futures are still around +650 which is respectable given their second half play. Can the Winnipeg power play at nearly 25% steal a series? Can their top-six wake up from their even strength slumber of late? Finally, will the Connor Hellebuyck of last season finally show up? Without it, Winnipeg does not advance very far in the playoffs.
The team with the most question marks could be Calgary because they have the most potential of the three Canadian teams. Calgary rode a wave of scoring to a 50-win season because their goaltending often was hit or miss. Mike Smith had a run and then David Rittich had a stretch where he won 20 of 28 games. Rittich tended to have less amplified down turns compared to Smith. Their goals saved above average stats were telling. Smith was nearly a -13 while Rittich was +1.68. The problem is Rittich has no playoff experience while Mike Smith is battle tested.
Calgary features an offense that averages 4.26 goals per game at home! That is no misprint and is tops in the NHL. They draw a Colorado Avalanche team that can score some goals (Calgary does yield 3+ goals a game at home too). The Flames have a dynamic top-six that can beat teams in a variety of ways. Matthew Tkachuk’s breakout 77-point season is the X-factor during this possible playoff run. Can Tkachuk replicate that success? If he can, Calgary could get out of the West. Also, their odds are at +260 to survive the Western Conference gauntlet. The reasons are obvious. This is one of the best teams in the league at 5-on-5. However, their shorthanded play and goaltending causes more questions than answers.
When all is said and done, Colorado can test Calgary and we will find out a lot about the Flames early in this postseason. If they get up after taking a gut punch, then look out! They are the Canadian team with the best chance to win the Stanley Cup.
By Chris Wassel