Pressure To Win Could Account For Canada’s Stanley Cup Drought

Pressure To Win Could Account For Canada’s Stanley Cup Drought

Of Canada’s seven NHL franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only ones holding a playoff berth at the halfway point of the 2021-22 season.

Meanwhile, seven of the NHL’s 10 “Sun Belt” franchises – Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights and the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning – would make the playoffs if the season ended today. The Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks would be outside the postseason picture. 

It’s been 29 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.

A Canadian team last won the Stanley Cup in 1993. Since then, a Canadian club only reached the Final six times. Over the same period, a Sun Belt team has won the Cup eight times and reached the Final eight times.

It seems those Southern U.S. clubs have had better luck than their cousins in the Great White North. Actually, luck has nothing to do with it. The cold hard facts are those teams have been better managed and coached compared to their Canadian brethren over the same period.

That doesn’t mean those Sun Belt teams haven’t had their share of troubles. They’ve spent their share of time wallowing among the also-rans, in some cases for many years.

Some, like the Predators and Panthers, were dogged by whispers of relocation while the Atlanta Thrashers wound up moving to Winnipeg. Meanwhile, the Arizona Coyotes remain in place despite years of multiple owners and questionable management thanks to the sheer force of will of league commissioner Gary Bettman.

Most of those teams, however, still managed to find a way to get it right. They eventually put together a solid front office staff, draft and develop talented players, make shrewd trades and free-agent signings to augment their lineups, and hire the right coaching staff to turn their rosters into contenders.

Meanwhile, Canada’s teams stumble along, sometimes seeming on the verge of becoming serious Cup contenders, only to make costly mistakes that knock them out of the running.

It’s not as though the Canadian teams haven’t hired experienced general managers or coaches. Most have had various degrees of success with previous clubs. So why is it that they seem to struggle in Canada?

Once upon a time, Canadian fans could pin the blame on the low value of the Canadian dollar and the free-spending ways of the rich American hockey markets. That’s no longer the case with the Canuck buck at a higher value, a salary cap leveling the field and a revenue-sharing plan that ensures Canadian clubs will have the same competitive advantage as their American cousins.

The expansion of the league from 24 franchises in 1993 to 32 franchises is a contributing factor. More teams mean more competition for draft picks and established players through trades and free agency. Nevertheless, the Sun Belt franchises face the same challenges and most have managed to do all right for themselves.

Of course, many of those teams are in states with low or no state taxes, paid in American dollars which go much further than Canadian dollars. The warmer weather can also be enticing.

Being able to lead relatively normal lives in those markets is also a big draw for the players. They live and work in much larger cities compared to those in Canada where they’re not the only major sport in town. The NHL is well down the popularity pole in those markets compared to basketball, football, baseball and NASCAR.

The players can go about their lives without being constantly harangued by fans if they’re mired in a slump or their club is in danger of missing the playoffs. They’re not facing packs of reporters tracking their every word and passing harsh judgment on their efforts.

That’s not the same thing for their Canadian peers. Even in the smallest markets such as Winnipeg and Ottawa, the players face a fishbowl existence.

Management and coaches and team owners feel it too. They understand what hockey means to Canadians. They know about the rich histories of the Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. They know how much fans of the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators long to win their first championships.

In hockey parlance, those clubs have little time and space to build and maintain a champion. The mantra among the Canadian hockey punditry is the fans won’t have the patience to go through a long rebuild. They want a winner and they want it now.

Since 1993, every Canadian team has endured long droughts outside the playoff picture.

Ask Leaf fans how much fun it was making the playoffs just once between 2005-06 and 2015-16. Or Oilers fans if they were enjoying themselves while their club reached the postseason once between 2006-07 and 2018-19. Or Flames fans about the lost years between 1996-97 and 2002-03 and 2009-10 and 2013-14. Or Senators fans about the last four years. Or Canucks fans about reaching the playoffs once in the last six years. Heck, ask Canadiens fans how much of a kick in the junk it is to see their team dead last overall after reaching the Cup Final seven months ago.

Those teams, however, weren’t undergoing a rebuilding phase during those lean years. In most cases, they were trying to reach the playoffs.

They changed management or coaches, traded away or acquired players, and set their sights on the postseason. And after they failed, they’d go out and try again and promise the fans and media that they were heading in the right direction, that they had a competitive team, that they were just the victims of injury or bad luck the previous year.

Rarely has a Canadian team told its fans it was engaging in a rebuild. The Leafs were a notable exception. In 2015 and 2016, they shed stars such as Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf for draft picks and prospects, warning its fans that several years of pain were ahead.

Rather than get upset, Leafs fans bought into team president Brendan Shanahan’s plan, or “Shanaplan” as it was later dubbed. They knew their club was long overdue for a true rebuild, that years of patchwork attempts to build a Cup contender wasn’t working. They handled it well throughout 2015-16, accepting the concept of short-term pain for long-term gain as their club rebuilt with young players.

That rebuild, however, didn’t last long. Powered by young guns Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the Leafs made the playoffs in 2017. The following season, they were among the league’s best, reaching a franchise record 49 wins and 105 points in the regular season. They were eliminated from the opening round by the Boston Bruins, but they seemed destined to become a Cup contender if they stuck to their rebuild.

Instead, the “Shanaplan” was quickly scrapped. They blew up their budget by signing free agent John Tavares to a monster contract and handing out big bucks re-signing Matthews and Marner. They became a club top-heavy in offense but lack sufficient defensive depth to match up well against the league’s best clubs. To date, they still haven’t won a first-round series since 2004.

It came down to impatience on the part of the Leafs’ front office, fueled by the heightened expectations of Toronto fans and media. Rather than stick with the plan, they tried to take shortcuts and are still dealing with the consequences.

The Canadiens appear poised for a rebuild under the new management following this disastrous season. Will they learn from the Leafs’ mistakes or repeat them? It will be difficult to avoid the pitfalls given the pressure cooker they face on a daily basis.

None of the Canadian teams have the luxury of rebuilding out of the harsh spotlight like the Sun Belt franchises. Their demanding markets simply won’t allow it.

Until that trend changes, Sun Belt franchises will remain Stanley Cup contenders while Canadian clubs will be mere pretenders.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 7, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 7, 2021

The Golden Knights tie their series with the Avalanche, the Canadiens take a commanding lead over the Jets, the Selke Trophy finalists are announced, Canada wins gold at the World Championships, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: A hat trick by Jonathan Marchessault powered the Vegas Golden Knights to a 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. William Karlsson collected three assists as the Golden Knights tied their second-round series at two games apiece. Game 5 goes Tuesday in Colorado.

Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vegas began outplaying the Avalanche midway through Game 2. Despite losing that one in overtime, they have been in control of this series over the last two games.

The Golden Knights dominated Game 4, prompting one Denver columnist to call upon Colorado head coach Jared Bednar to shuffle his lineup for Game 5. If the Avs don’t do something to regain the momentum they’ll be hitting the golf course before the end of this week.

The Montreal Canadiens took a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Winnipeg Jets with a 5-1 win. Joel Armia scored two goals and collected an assist while Carey Price made 26 saves. The Canadiens have won six straight stretching back to their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They can complete the sweep tonight in Game 4 at the Bell Centre.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Winnipeg tried to get off to a fast start but their game plan was quickly derailed when Corey Perry opened the scoring for Montreal in the first period. The Jets sagged like a slowly leaking balloon after that, looking nothing like the team that swept the Edmonton Oilers from the first round.

The Canadiens didn’t emerge unscathed from Game 3 as defenseman Jeff Petry spent the third period on the bench with a hand injury. An update on his status is expected later today.

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, and Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone are this year’s finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins center David Krejci was fined $5,000.00 by the NHL department of player safety for spearing New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal in the groin during Game 3 on Saturday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The initial call was a five-minute major for spearing but was changed to a two-minute minor for…slashing. Yet another puzzling call in a postseason that’s seen more than its share.

TSN: The Canadian government has issued a travel exemption to allow the winner of the North Division and their American opponents to cross the border during the semifinals and Stanley Cup Final. The NHL’s plan, approved by the provincial governments of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, includes a number of rules and protocols players and teams must abide by, including pre-and post-departure COVID-19 screenings whenever teams cross the border.

The restrictions include American teams playing in Canada and the Canadian team playing in the US to quarantine in designated hotels, allowed only to visit the arena where they’re playing. There are also restrictions on who the players can interact with.

SI.COM/THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ottawa Senators forward Nick Paul scored in overtime as Canada defeated Finland 3-2 to win the 2021 World Championship in Riga, Latvia. Senators forward Connor Brown was the tournament’s leading scorer with 16 points while Calgary Flames winger Andrew Mangiapane was named tournament MVP.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This was an impressive victory for Canada, which dropped its first three games in the tournament before roaring back to win it all. Canadian head coach Gerard Gallant will likely draw even more interest from NHL clubs seeking new bench bosses during the offseason. Gallant is reportedly on top of the New York Rangers’ wish list.

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere was named head coach of their AHL affiliate in LeHigh Valley.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 20, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 20, 2020

Eleven players, including reportedly Auston Matthews, test positive for COVID-19. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

11 NHL PLAYERS TESTING POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

NHL.COM: The NHL released a statement yesterday indicating 11 players out of over 200 had tested positive for COVID-19 since the implementation of Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan on June 8. Those players have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols.

The statement also indicated the league will provide a weekly update on the number of tests administered to players and the results. It won’t provide information on the identity of the players or their teams.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (Photo via NHL Images).

The league’s statement came after the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily closed their training facilities after three players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The Lightning claimed the players have self-isolated and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever.

It also comes after the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons reported Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews tested positive for the coronavirus. Simmons claimed Matthews was self-quarantined at home and hopes to be healthy enough and eligible to travel to Toronto to take part in the Leafs’ camp on July 10.

The Leafs subsequently released a statement saying they would not comment on the Sun report and would adhere to the league’s policy. “A person’s medical information in this regard is private,” it said.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: These reports yesterday come as the league and the NHL Players’ Association continue negotiations toward opening training camp on July 10 under Phase 3 and staging a 24-team playoff tournament under Phase 4 beginning in August. The news generated plenty of reaction on social media among fans and pundits.

Many believe the league should cancel the season, citing those reports as evidence the players’ health and safety cannot be assured under the current return-to-play plan. Others, however, point out those recent numbers involve players living and training in two states (Florida and Arizona) where COVID-19 cases are rising. They also note players currently training under Phase 2 are more exposed to the general public, whereas they’ll be far more protected under the quarantine bubble envisioned by the league for Phase 4.

Nevertheless, these latest numbers should be cause for concern. Phase 3 sees the players returning to their NHL cities for a three-week training camp before moving on to the two host cities for Phase 4. While the teams and players will follow stricter health protocols for Phase 3, they’ll still face ongoing exposure from the general public, especially in areas where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

The NHL may have greater control over its playing environment under Phase 4, but getting to that point remains uncertain, especially if more players test positive in the coming weeks. It’s also likely to heighten concerns among the NHLPA membership, who have the power to shut this down if they lack confidence they will be suitably protected. 

The NHL also announced yesterday the approval of a cohort quarantine with the government of Canada for players entering the country, waiving the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. It paves the way for Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver to be chosen as one of the two host cities for the playoff tournament.

TORONTO SUN: Given the way COVID-19 cases are spiking in some parts of the United States, Lance Hornby suggests both host cities should be among those Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Las Vegas is considered among the favorites as one of the two hosts, but Nevada is also reportedly among the American states where coronavirus cases are rising. That could force the league to consider host cities where the pandemic curve is flattened or declining.

IN OTHER NEWS…

TSN: The Pittsburgh Penguins may be leaning toward Matt Murray as their starting goalie for the qualifying round of the 24-team tournament. The Penguins are slated to face the Montreal Canadiens.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given Murray’s playoff experience, including back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, it shouldn’t be surprising. Nevertheless, his performance and health during training camp will also factor into determining if he gets the nod to face the Habs.

NEW YORK POST: Kaapo Kakko’s doctors and the Rangers’ medical staff have agreed the rookie winger can take part in the Phase 3 training camp next month. Kakko is a type-1 diabetic who could be susceptible to complications if he contracts COVID-19.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 19, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 19, 2020

The Canadian government clears the way for allowing hub cities, a CBA extension could be part of the return-to-play plan, plus updates on Seth Jones, Sean Couturier, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

THE SCORE: Josh Gold-Smith cites a Canadian Press report indicating the Canadian government has issued an order-in-council that would allow Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver to serve as one of the NHL’s two hub cities for its 24-team playoff tournament later this summer.

Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena could be among one of two host arenas for the NHL’s playoff tournament.

The order, which now awaits the Governor-General’s signature, would allow the NHL to work around Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine protocol for individuals entering the country. The league had to provide a plan that adhered to Canada’s public health requirements before the government went ahead with the order.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Those three Canadian cities are among 10 in the running to host the tournament. Las Vegas is reportedly considered the front-runner, but it’s also believed the league prefers placing one of those hosts in Canada.

THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Pierre LeBrun cites a source claiming the NHL and NHL Players Association are attempting to negotiate the layers for Phase 3 and 4 of the return-to-play plan while also trying to hammer out an extension to the collective bargaining agreement.

LeBrun’s source, who’s close to the negotiations, suggested the return-to-play plan and a CBA extension (or a memo of understanding for the latter) could be presented as one package to the players before the end of this month.

LeBrun also reports there are players with questions about such issues such as health concerns in their respective NHL cities, life under quarantine conditions during the tournament, and economic issues such as escrow payments.

Should the playoff tournament go off without a hitch, the Stanley Cup could be awarded in early October, with the draft and free agency beginning later in that month.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A CBA extension (perhaps to 2026) would be a silver lining in the COVID cloud hanging over the NHL. Because of the effects of the pandemic upon hockey-related revenue, both sides must work together to ensure labor peace in the coming years. Given the limited timeline and the myriad of issues to be discussed, it remains to be seen if they can work out an agreement by the end of June. 

TSN: Bob McKenzie reports if an NHL  player tests positive for COVID-19 we won’t know what team they belong to. Instead, the league could simply say a player has tested positive. McKenzie speculates it could be part of a weekly report going forward indicating how many players have or haven’t tested positive.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will raise questions over which teams those players belong to, how many of them could be sidelined, and the effect upon the proposed playoff tournament. 

McKenzie thinks most of the players understand the need to return to action is an important one but there is a vocal minority raising concerns. He feels a player could be allowed to opt-out of returning if he had strong objections of doing so.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: McKenzie and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the league and the PA are believed to be working on opt-out language in the plan for players who don’t want to return. Friedman also said part of the pitch will be the quarantine bubble the teams will be under will be safer than in some parts of North America.

McKenzie also said a decision on the two host cities could come next week. The league’s preference is a home team doesn’t play in its own hub. In other words, if Las Vegas is selected, the Vegas Golden Knights could play in the other hub city.

ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan reports the NHL has assured its coaches they won’t face any restrictions preventing them from doing their jobs. Those of a certain age or in an at-risk demographic won’t be prevented from being behind the bench. Health and safety protocols for coaches and their interactions with players are still being discussed.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The coaches could be required to wear masks behind the bench and elsewhere in the facility. We’ll learn more details when the league and the PA release their health protocol plans for Phase 3 and 4.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets defensemen Seth Jones (right ankle fracture and sprain) and Dean Kukan (knee injury) have been activated off injured reserve.

TWINCITIES.COM: Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin knows he’s at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because he’s a type-1 diabetic. Nevertheless, he remains focused on joining his teammates for the playoff tournament. “I don’t think it’s going to stop me from suiting up,” said Kunin.

NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA: Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov are among the Flyers that have taken part in small-group training at the team’s practice facility.

ARIZONA SPORTS: Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is among several Coyotes skating at Gila River Arena in preparation for the league’s return-to-play tournament.

TSN: Vancouver Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin signed a two-year contract with KHL club CSKA Moscow. He’s slated to become a restricted free agent at the end of this NHL season.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Former NHL player Dan Carcillo is one of two former CHL players to file a class-action lawsuit alleging they were routinely hazed, bullied, physically and verbally harassed, and physically and sexually harassed and assaulted during their junior careers. This comes days after a former Kitchener Rangers player claimed he was forced to do cocaine in a team bathroom during his rookie season in 2016.










One Hundred Years Ago, Three Future NHLers Led Canada To Olympic Glory

One Hundred Years Ago, Three Future NHLers Led Canada To Olympic Glory










World Traveler Thomas Puts Canada Atop The Junior Hockey World

World Traveler Thomas Puts Canada Atop The Junior Hockey World