NHL Rumor Mill – June 29, 2022

NHL Rumor Mill – June 29, 2022

Are the Penguins in danger of losing Malkin and Letang to free agency? What’s the latest on the Lightning? Could a couple of Golden Knights become offer sheet targets?

ARE MALKIN AND LETANG EDGING CLOSER TO FREE AGENCY?

THE SCORE: Josh Wegman cites The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reporting sources claiming the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t had regular contract talks with Evgeni Malkin since mid-May. A number of agents and several people within the Penguins organization believe the 35-year-old center won’t be returning. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 13.

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (NHL Images).

Yohe also reported the Penguins offered Kris Letang a three-year deal. However, the 35-year-old defenseman wants a five-year contract worth over $8 million annually. Like Malkin, he’s due to become a UFA on July 13.

Malkin was reportedly willing to accept a pay cut from his current $9.5 million annual average value. Letang, meanwhile, seeks a raise over his current $7.25 million.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A recent report indicated management intends to turn its focus toward Malkin once they’ve sorted out Letang’s situation. That could explain the lack of discussions.

Letang could be pricing himself out of Pittsburgh. What he’s asking for is two years too long for the annual salary he’s seeking. Perhaps the Penguins would agree to $8 million annually for three years. If that’s not acceptable to Letang he could test the market but I don’t see many teams lining up to meet his asking price.

Re-signing both players will bite deeply into the Penguins’ $23.2 million in salary-cap space for 2022-23. Yohe indicated a defenseman such as Marcus Pettersson, John Marino or Brian Dumoulin could become a cost-cutting candidate. One assumes they’d move one of them after signing Malkin and Letang. No sense doing so if one or both end up departing via free agency.

LATEST ON THE LIGHTNING

THE ATHLETIC: Joe Smith reports Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois indicated during his post-Stanley Cup Final press conference that he’s hopeful of re-signing Ondrej Palat, Nick Paul and Jan Rutta. The trio is slated to become UFAs on July 13.

The Lightning, however, once again has limited salary-cap space. To retain at least Palat and Paul would mean shopping a salaried player to free up sufficient dollars.

Smith believes they have several players with value in the trade market. One of them is Alex Killorn, who has a year remaining on his contract with an annual cap hit of $4.45 million and a 16-team no-trade clause.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The one advantage the Lightning have, apart from their championship pedigree, is the lack of a state tax in Florida. That makes it possible for them to sign players for less than market value because their dollars will go further in that state.

Paul was traded by the Senators because he reportedly spurned a four-year, $10 million contract offer. He could seek something between $3.5 and $4 million annually. Palat was earning $5.3 million annually on his current contract. He could get as much if not more on the open market, but maybe the 31-year-old winger will accept a little less to stay put.

Killorn was a frequent subject of trade speculation whenever the issue of the Lightning needing to free up cap room comes up. This time, however, it could become a reality. The 32-year-old winger only managed four points in the postseason but enjoyed a career-high 25 goals and 59 points in the regular season.

COULD TWO GOLDEN KNIGHTS BECOME OFFER SHEET TARGETS?

THE ATHLETIC: Jesse Granger speculated over whether Nicolas Roy or Nicolas Hague will be targeted for offer sheets by rival clubs. Both players are restricted free agents with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Roy is coming off a career-best 15 goals and 39 points in 2021-22. The 25-year-old forward was on a two-year deal earning $750k annually. Hague, 23, had 14 points in 52 games. The defenseman is coming off his entry-level contract and lacks arbitration rights.

The Golden Knights lack salary-cap space at this time to sign both players after shipping out Evgenii Dadonov to Montreal earlier this month. Another cost-cutting move could be on the horizon.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy recently reported at least two Eastern Conference clubs had “serious interest” in Hague. That could force the Golden Knights to make that cost-cutting move before he becomes eligible to receive an offer sheet on July 13.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 26, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 26, 2022

An update on Zdeno Chara, Bruins finalize contract extension for GM Don Sweeney, Alex Ovechkin scored in pro soccer debut, the latest on Ondrej Palat and Andre Burakovsky, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: Zdeno Chara’s agent said his client intends to make a decision about his NHL future in September. The 45-year-old defenseman is an unrestricted free agent after spending last season with the New York Islanders, setting the league record for most career games by a defenseman with 1,680. He had 14 points and was a plus-8 in 72 games with the Isles.

New York Islanders defenseman Zdeno Chara (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chara is no longer the perennial Norris Trophy candidate he was during his playing prime. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if a club signs him to an affordable one-year contract as a third-pairing blueliner if he decides to return for one more season. His preference would likely be to skate for an Eastern Conference club.

BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: cites the Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s Joe McDonald reporting the Bruins have finalized the contract extension for general manager Don Sweeney.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’m sure the Bruins fans who are regular commenters to this site will have some interesting takes on this news. The deal hasn’t been officially announced yet though that could be coming at some point this week. I’ll post the details when they appear.

Under Sweeney’s management, the Bruins reached the playoffs in each of the last six seasons, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 and winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2020. However, the club has declined over the past two seasons, raising questions about his efforts to maintain a contender. The recent firing of head coach Bruce Cassidy raised eyebrows around the league and the ire of Bruins fans.

WASHINGTON HOCKEY NOW: It turns out Alex Ovechkin is also a scorer in professional soccer. Signed to a one-game contract with FC Moscow Dynamo, the Capitals captain scored a goal against FC Amkal in a Russian Premier League friendly.

YAHOO! SPORTS: Ondrej Palat’s performance in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs could help him cash in as an unrestricted free agent next month. Coming off a 49-point performance in 77 regular-season games, Palat leads the Lightning with 11 postseason goals and three game winners.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Palat is completing a five-year contract with an annual average value of $5.3 million. If he and the Lightning fail to reach an agreement on a new deal, he’s bound to draw plenty of interest from contenders looking for a clutch player like him. He leads all active players with 12 playoff game-winners.

COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said winger Andre Burakovsky (hand injury) remains day-to-day but didn’t rule him out for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday night in Tampa Bay.

PUCK PEDIA (via KUKLA’s KORNER): listed several upcoming key NHL offseason dates, starting with the first contract buyout window opening on July 1 and closing on July 12. July 11 is the deadline for teams to issue qualifying offers to restricted free agents. July 12 is also the deadline for teams to sign their pending unrestricted free agents to eight-year contracts. July 17 is the deadline for players to file for arbitration, which starts on July 27.

SIRIUSXMNHL host Jonathan Davis reports the Vegas Golden Knights have hired Sean Burke as their director of goaltending. Burke held that position with the Montreal Canadiens.

TWINCITIES.COM: The NHL is experiencing significant growth among female and young fans. 37 percent of its fans are female, a growth of 26 percent in that demographic since 2016. Nearly 40 percent of its fans are under 50.

NHL.COM: The Chicago Wolves defeated the Springfield Thunderbirds 4-0 in Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals, winning the series in five games to become champions of the American Hockey League. The Wolves are the affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes while the Falcons are affiliated with the St. Louis Blues. Wolves winger Josh Leivo was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first time the Calder Cup has been awarded since 2019. Congratulations to the Wolves on their championship run this season.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 16, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 16, 2022

The Avalanche take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, highlights of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s annual state of the league press conference, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: Andre Burakovsky’s overtime goal gave the Colorado Avalanche a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

Colorado Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky (NHL Images).

Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin each had a goal and an assist while Mikko Rantanen collected two assists for the Avalanche, who took a 3-1 lead into the second period. Nick Paul, Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev replied for the Lightning, who rallied to tie the game and force overtime.

Game 2 will be on Saturday, June 19, at 8 pm ET in Denver.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’re in store for a very entertaining, fast-paced series if Game 1 is any indication. The Avalanche dominated the play in the first period and much of the third, while the Lightning once again showed their poise and experience by overcoming that early deficit in the second period. Penalty killing was crucial for the Avs as they successfully killed off three shorthanded situations.

The Lightning’s Brayden Point made his long-expected return to the lineup from a lower-body injury suffered in the first round. Avalanche center Nazem Kadri remains sidelined with a thumb injury with no timetable for his return.

NHL.COM: Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league generated record revenues projected to exceed $5.2 billion as it continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. He anticipates more significant increases to the salary cap within the next two-three years.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per the NHL-NHLPA Memorandum of Understanding from 2020, the salary cap will increase by $1 million annually until the players have paid back their overage of hockey-related revenue still owed to the owners for 2019-20 and 2020-21.

THE ATHLETIC: Bettman indicated the 2022-23 season will return to a normal calendar schedule beginning on Oct. 11.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league doesn’t believe at this point that there need to be changes made to the long-term injury reserve system. It had been discussed during the general managers’ meeting in March with an idea of a playoff salary cap.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That came about over complaints of teams garnering a salary-cap advantage by placing a player on long-term injury reserve, using the cap relief to add players for the postseason, only to see the LTIR player return to action in the playoffs.

The insinuation was that some teams may be attempting to circumvent the cap by leaving players on LTIR when they may be healthy enough to return to action. However, the league hasn’t found any instance where this was the case.

Daly also said the league has begun its investigation of a sexual assault lawsuit filed against Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The suit alleges eight players, including some members of Canada’s 2018 World Junior team, sexually assaulted a young woman in 2018.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some of the players on that team are now in the NHL. It has yet to be determined whether any of them were among those who assaulted the woman.

NHL.COM: Daly said the league is “very optimistic” that it will be able to stage a World Cup of Hockey tournament in February 2024. Discussions between the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation are ongoing.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I like the idea of a World Cup of Hockey in February rather than September as in previous years. After all, if the league was prepared to shuttered the season for two weeks to accommodate Olympic participation, they can do it for a World Cup.

Unlike the Olympics, the league and the players would reap the financial benefits from a World Cup. The players would be in midseason game shape, making for a better tournament and drawing more potential fans to the game.

DAILY FACEOFF: Daly indicated the players on the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning have been informed that the winner of this year’s Stanley Cup Final will not be allowed to take the Cup to Russia or Belarus in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Three Lightning players – Nikita Kucherov, Mikhail Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy – are from Russia while Valeri Nichushkin is the only Russian-born Avalanche player. There are no Belarussians on either club.

SAN JOSE HOCKEY NOW: Daly also said the arbitration on Evander Kane’s contract termination grievance with the San Jose Sharks may not be resolved until July 13, which is the start of the NHL’s free agent period. The arbitrator assigned to the case isn’t available to conduct the hearing until next month.

Kane is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 13. If his case remains unresolved by then, it’s not expected to prevent him from signing another contract.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That will have significant implications for the Sharks. They will have $7 million in salary-cap limbo until such time as Kane’s case is resolved.

It could also affect Kane’s efforts to sign with another club. Interested parties could prefer to await the outcome of his hearing before making offers to him.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: There won’t be any changes in how NHL teams report injuries. It was assumed the league’s partnership with gambling outlets would lead to more specific information being released on player injuries other than “upper-body” or “lower-body.”

OTTAWA SUN: It’s expected the NHL Board of Governors will be informed today that it is business as usual for the Senators since the passing of team owner Eugene Melnyk in March. The club continues to be run by a board of directors and a professional management group while Melnyk’s daughters do their due diligence on the franchise.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, the club isn’t being sold and it won’t be relocated to another city.

Speaking of the Senators, they signed center Dylan Gambrell to a one-year, $950K contract extension.

TSN: The agent for Johnny Gaudreau denied a report claiming his client had reached an agreement on a long-term extension with the Calgary Flames. “There is no truth to it,” said Lewis Gross.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s believed negotiations are ongoing between the Flames and the Gaudreau camp. Both sides agreed at the start of this season that they would keep those discussions out of the media.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets signed goaltender Daniil Tarasov to a three-year contract extension worth a total of $3.15 million.










Winning The NHL Trade Deadline Doesn’t Guarantee A Stanley Cup

Winning The NHL Trade Deadline Doesn’t Guarantee A Stanley Cup

​The NHL’s annual trade deadline, set this year at 3 pm ET on March 21, is always an exciting point on the league calendar for hockey fans.

Rumors always abound among the press and social media in the days leading up to the deadline over which notable players could be on the move, stoking excitement and expectation among the fans.

Most deals involve postseason contenders shipping draft picks and prospects to non-playoff clubs in exchange for pending free agents. Occasionally, a “hockey trade” involving a player-for-player swap breaks up the monotony. Sometimes, a multi-team deal takes place allowing a club with limited salary-cap space to acquire a high-salaried player by spreading his cap hit among three teams.

Once the deadline is passed and the dust settles, there follows a plethora of media assessments over which teams “won” and “lost” the deadline deals. The winners are usually the clubs that landed the best players and thus sufficiently improved their chances of winning the Stanley Cup

NHL history is replete with examples of teams acquiring key players before the trade deadline who helped them become Cup champions. The New York Islanders landing Butch Goring in 1980, the Pittsburgh Penguins dealing for Ron Francis in 1991, the Detroit Red Wings bringing in Larry Murphy in 1997, the Colorado Avalanche trading for Rob Blake in 2001 and the Los Angeles Kings taking on Jeff Carter in 2012 and Marian Gaborik in 2014 are several notable examples.

In most cases, however, the teams considered trade deadline “winners” don’t go on to win the Stanley Cup.

Boston Bruins winger Taylor Hall (NHL Images).

For example, the Boston Bruins were considered a winner at last year’s deadline for landing former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. So was the Toronto Maple Leafs after pulling off a clever three-team move to land forward Nick Foligno.

In the end, the Bruins only reached the second round of the 2021 playoffs while the Leafs were upset in the opening round. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup with their biggest move being the acquisition of depth defenseman David Savard.

In 2020, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Patrick Marleau while the Carolina Hurricanes landed Vincent Trocheck among three of their deadline moves. However, it was the Lightning who went on to win the Cup, thanks in part to adding depth forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. The Penguins, meanwhile, were bounced from the qualifying round while the Hurricanes came up short in the first round.

The 2019 trade deadline saw the Columbus Blue Jackets acquire Matt Duchene among several moves designed to turn the Jackets into a contender before Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky departed that summer as free agents. Those moves helped them win their first playoff round in franchise history but that’s as far as they got. The Vegas Golden Knights acquired winger Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators and signed him to a long-term extension. While the Golden Knights got themselves a top-flight two-way talent, it hasn’t helped them win that elusive Cup.

This isn’t to lay the blame on the players acquired by the teams that “won” the deadline but failed to win the Cup. In most cases, they couldn’t be faulted for their new clubs’ inability to advance.

Acquiring a player at the trade deadline, even a very good or great one, can be a crap-shoot. Sometimes, the move pans out and sometimes it doesn’t. The player could be among the best on his new team but they fail to go all the way because of other roster issues that management failed to address or never foresaw.

That doesn’t mean a general manager shouldn’t avail himself of the opportunity to improve his roster at the trade deadline, even if it means sometimes overpaying in terms of draft picks and prospects for a short-term acquisition who could depart as a free agent in the offseason. Sometimes, it’s worth the gamble. It can also prove to be a worthwhile long-term acquisition if the player re-signs or still has term on his contract.

Trade-deadline moves can certainly help to improve an NHL roster be it for one playoff round or several. Those moves can even help a club remain among the Cup contenders for several years.

Nevertheless, one should never assume that the teams acquiring the best players at the deadline are assured of a Stanley Cup. Sometimes, it’s the team that makes the under-the-radar deals that wins the big mug. And sometimes, it’s the team that didn’t need to make any major moves because they already had the roster depth to become a champion.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 1, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 1, 2022

Recaps of Monday’s action, the three stars of the week are revealed, the league suspends business and social media ties with Russia and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: The Boston Bruins got a 34-save shutout from Jeremy Swayman and a natural hat trick from Jake DeBrusk to crush the Los Angeles Kings 7-0. DeBrusk finished the night with four points while linemate Patrice Bergeron had three points and Erik Haula potted two goals.

Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk (NHL Images).

With 68 points, the Bruins opened a three-point lead over the Washington Capitals for the first wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference. The Kings (65 points) remain three behind the first-place Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division and three ahead of the third-place Vegas Golden Knights.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: DeBrusk has been red-hot since being moved onto the Bruins’ top line alongside Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He has seven goals and nine points in five games since that move.

DeBrusk requested a trade three months ago. His recent performance could improve his trade value but could also make him worthwhile for the Bruins to retain. He’s a restricted free agent this summer so they aren’t under pressure to move him before the March 21 trade deadline.

Speaking of the Capitals (65 points), they dropped their third straight game in a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs blew a 3-1 lead but recovered on late goals by Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall. Sandin, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Justin Holl all finished the night with two points each. Tom Wilson scored twice for the Capitals, who hold the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot with a 10-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Leafs, meanwhile, are tied with the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division with 74 points. However, the Bolts hold two games in hand.

New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist to pick up his third straight win over brother Quinn Hughes in a 7-2 drubbing of the Vancouver Canucks. Jack was among seven Devils to collect two points on the night. Goaltender Nico Daws got the win with a 36-save performance. Canucks netminder Jaroslav Halak got the hook after giving up six goals on 14 shots.

With 58 points, the Canucks remain three points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

HEADLINES

NHL.COM: The league announced yesterday it was suspending its business and social media ties with Russia. It is also discontinuing any consideration of Russia as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL. The move comes in response to that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

SPORTSNET: The International Ice Hockey Federation has suspended Russia and Belarus from international competition until further notice. It has also pulled the 2023 World Junior Championship out of Russia.

TSN: Darren Dreger reports NHL agent Dan Milstein has raised concerns about threats to his Russian clients to the NHL and NHL clubs with Russian players. He’s asking for extra security for those players in North America.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having a ripple effect throughout the sports world. It’s also prompted some people to call upon the league to suspend Russian players on NHL contracts but there’s no indication that’s going to happen. That move would be strongly contested by the NHLPA.

DAILY FACEOFF: Frank Seravalli reports sources said the Chicago Blackhawks will name interim general manager Kyle Davidson as their full-time GM.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks are getting trolled a bit on social media for making a grand production of their search for a new GM only to remove the interim label from Davidson. That aside, Davidson could prove a worthwhile hire after working his way up the front-office ranks of the Blackhawks over the past decade.

Davidson’s yet to make a major move trade-wise but got positive reviews for replacing Jeremy Colliton as head coach in November with Derek King. Given the Blackhawks’ improvement under King, he could also be back behind the bench next season on a permanent basis.

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, Vancouver Canucks J.T. Miller, and Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos are the centers of attention as the NHL’s three stars for the week ending Feb. 27.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner is expected to start Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. He’s been sidelined since the All-Star break with an upper-body injury.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehner is said to be suffering a shoulder injury that will require offseason treatment. His absence sparked speculation the Golden Knights could be in the market for a goaltender.

OILERS NATION: The Edmonton Oilers placed defenseman Kris Russell on long-term injury reserve.










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.