If the NHL playoffs started today, the Montreal Canadiens would be the only Canadian team to qualify.
By itself, that’s a story. There are seven teams from Canada in the league, and it’s not like they’re at a huge financial disadvantage compared to their American brethren. Only the Ottawa Senators have what might be deemed attendance issues. The rest play in front of full houses, and the tickets aren’t cheap.
On top of that is the fact a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993. Which is, frankly, one of the more amazing droughts in pro sports. Five times since 1993 a Canadian team has been to the Cup final, and five times it’s lost. And…AND…four times it’s lost in seven games, including twice by the Canucks, a team that’s never won the Cup.
Which brings us to the poll. We’re not going to include Montreal, for obvious reasons. And we’re also not going to include Calgary, because a vote for the Flames — a team nobody expected anything from this season — would just be downright wrong.
So here are the five candidates:
Ottawa — Lost the face of the franchise, Daniel Alfredsson, to Detroit over money, and also because he thought the Wings had a better chance to win. The Sens have been absolutely dreadful since the Olympic break and would need an absolute miracle to make the playoffs.
Winnipeg — Showed signs of life when Claude Noel was fired and replaced by Paul Maurice. Alas, the Jets have since gone back into a slumber, winning just twice in their last 11 games. The things is, this team is far from bereft of talent. If it played in a big Canadian market, its failures would get a lot more attention.
Vancouver — On pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. We’re not going to list all the things that have contributed to the Canucks’ nightmarish season, but if we had to pick a low point, it would probably be allowing seven third-period goals to the Islanders…at home…in a must-win game…that they led 3-0 after two periods. Because you really hate to do that.
Toronto — The Leafs are still alive in the playoff race, but we had to include them in the poll because they’re on the verge of their third epic choke job in the last three seasons. In 2011-12, it was a regular-season collapse. Last year, the collapse came in Game 7 of the first round. Even if they do manage to sneak in to the postseason, serious concerns will remain about a team that gives up more shots than any in the league and seems to wilt under the pressure of playing in Toronto.
Edmonton — This was supposed to be the season the Oilers — featuring three first overall picks — made a legitimate run at the playoffs. Instead, they’ll probably finish ahead of only one team, the Buffalo Sabres. The sight of fans throwing jerseys on the ice hasn’t helped the situation. Nor did the water fight between the star player and rookie coach.
OK, go vote: