No Canada: Nation’s Stanley Cup drought approaches 26 years

16 Comments

Whenever Eric Desjardins reunites with his 1993 Montreal Canadiens teammates, the topic of Canada’s ongoing Stanley Cup drought doesn’t come up in conversation.

”We don’t see it that way. Canadian team, American team, it’s just that we were part of the NHL,” the former star defenseman said. ”Sure, it’s been a while in Montreal, but we don’t really talk about the 26 years.”

That’s right. With the NHL playoffs set to open Wednesday, it will be going on 26 years since the Canadiens – or any other Canadian team – brought home the Cup.

Desjardins, who enjoyed a 17-year career split between Montreal and Philadelphia, chalks up the drought to NHL expansion across the United States and league-wide parity ushered in with the introduction of the salary cap in 2005.

”It’s supposed to be our national sport, and we’re supposed to be the best at it,” said Desjardins, who’s from Montreal. ”But now, the way the league’s structured I think it could go anywhere. … I think anybody can win it now. And I think it makes it more interesting.”

Still, the 49-year-old acknowledged a quarter century between Cups in Canada is far too long, and Desjardins can see himself rooting for any Canadian team making it to this year’s Final.

”If the Final’s between Pittsburgh and Winnipeg, yeah I would root, even though I like Pittsburgh,” he said. ”But yeah, against Calgary, Winnipeg, I would cheer for the Canadian team.”

Canada’s Cup hopes this spring rest on three teams – Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto – to end the drought. Of course, most current Canadian-born NHL players weren’t alive to see Desjardins and Co. celebrate their five-game series win over the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings.

Sabres forward Jason Pominville is among the exceptions.

He was 10 when his hometown Habs won, and Pominville still vividly recalls Game 2 of the series in which Desjardins scored all three goals in Montreal’s 3-2 overtime win after the Canadiens lost the opener.

”I remember watching that and celebrating in my living room, and fist-pumping when he scored,” Pominville said. ”I was a big fan of Gretzky, too. But when you’re in Montreal, it’s tough not to root for that team when you’re growing up.”

In Montreal, there was a time when winning the Cup was considered a birthright. The Canadiens still top the list with 24 championships, 23 coming after the NHL was founded in 1917.

And yet, Montreal hasn’t reached the Final since ’93, while only five Canadian teams have done so; Vancouver is the only one to make two appearances during the drought, in 1994 and 2011.

Then there are the Maple Leafs, who haven’t reached the Final since winning the Cup in 1967, the last year of the NHL’s Original Six era.

The low point might have been the 2016 playoffs, the first since 1970 to not feature a Canadian team

This was not always the case. From 1927 to 1995, the lengthiest stretch for a Canadian team not appearing in the Final was two years. It last happened in 1991-92, when Pittsburgh won consecutive championships by beating Minnesota and Chicago.

As for Canada’s lengthiest Cup drought before the ’93 Habs, it was a six-year span from 1936-41.

The current drought has gone on for so long, former executive-turned broadcaster Brian Burke said the math simply doesn’t add up.

”It doesn’t make sense. There’s 31 teams, so seven out of 31 teams, a Canadian team should win every four-and-a-half years,” said Burke, who has worked in the front offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary.

The problem, Burke said, is Canadian teams are at a disadvantage because many players don’t want to play north of the border for several reasons.

The first, he said, is a lack of privacy and the amount of pressure placed on players to win north of the border. Burke said a large number of players, including Canadians, often list all seven Canadian teams on the no-trade clauses of their contracts.

”Even in Calgary, we had our lists where players got to put 10 teams on a no-trade list, and all the Canadian teams were on those lists,” he said.

The second issue is Canada’s taxation rate.

”There’s no privacy. Horrible personal criticisms on social media, and then you take home way less money, so it’s pretty easy,” Burke said.

He can only imagine how much national attention will be paid to the next Canadian team to win it all.

”The next GM that wins a Cup in Canada, they’ll be naming schools after him, and streets,” Burke said.

Don’t think Flames GM Brad Treliving hasn’t given ending the drought some thought.

”Hey, that’s all you dream about,” he said, while attempting to keep the pressures of winning in Canada in perspective.

”You got to bed at night and it’s no different than any other manager or any other person involved in the game: That’s what you want to accomplish” Treliving said. ”If you really put the energy and the effort into doing the right things, the results will come.”

Having lost in the Final twice, Desjardins can’t remember a sweeter moment than winning the Cup.

”It’s a reward that’s indescribable,” Desjardins said. ”When you win, you can share it. You share it with your teammates, you share it with the coaching staff.”

In Canada, it will be shared with an entire nation.

—-

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

7 Comments

The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

NHL free agency likely for Alex Pietrangelo after Blues contract talks stall

Leave a comment

Back on Friday, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the St. Louis Blues told Alex Pietrangelo to “pursue unrestricted free agency” after contract talks broke down. In an interview with The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford, Pietrangelo confirmed that report.

The Blues star defenseman told Rutherford (sub required) that he hasn’t totally ruled out having a “change of heart” and returning to St. Louis. But it doesn’t really sound like the player and team see eye-to-eye on contract negotiations.

“We just think right now, with where things are at, that maybe it’s best for both sides to see what’s going on in free agency, what the team can explore, what I can explore and if there are better fits for each side,” Pietrangelo said, via Rutherford.

“ … We’re two weeks away. Not saying anything can’t change, but as of right now, that’s kind of our plan, and we’ll see where things go.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

What to know about Pietrangelo as Blues departure, free agency likely

Rutherford points to rumblings that Pietrangelo and the Blues didn’t just struggle with raw contract numbers, such as signing bonuses and cap hits. Apparently there likely were stumbling blocks, such as the topic of no-trade/no-movement clauses, term, and ways to protect against a buyout.

So, it’s likely worth considering that Pietrangelo would prefer term and a big number. Being that he’s been massively underpaid at $6.5M per year since 2013-14, it’s understandable that Pietrangelo wants to strike it rich.

And, even with massive pandemic-related financial uncertainty, Pietrangelo could get what he wants, or close to it. Defensemen like Pietrangelo simply do not hit free agency very often in the NHL’s salary cap era.

By just about every measure, Pietrangelo is an excellent defenseman. While he may struggle to maintain his 2019-20 scoring pace (career-high 16 goals, 52 points overall in 70 games), Pietrangelo can really benefit an offense. And he’s generally quite competent defensively, to boot.

But Pietrangelo is also 30.

If it’s term-or-bust, then some contenders might feel a little trigger shy. Or, frankly, they should.

Basically, signing Pietrangelo to big term and money could be very high-risk, high-reward. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that multiple NHL teams would be willing to roll the dice, even during these shaky financial times.

If Pietrangelo leaves Blues for free agency, which NHL teams might pounce?

This isn’t a comprehensive list, yet let’s consider teams under two broader categories.

Potential Pietrangelo suitors with a lot of cap space and chances to contend

  • Colorado Avalanche: As of this writing, Cap Friendly places the Avs’ cap space at more than $22.3M. While Andre Burakovsky and Ryan Graves rank among those who should eat up a healthy portion of that surplus, Colorado sits in a position to exploit an unstable market. This is close to the ideal situation if Pietrangelo prizes Stanley Cup contention.

But finding the right term could be the sticking point, and the Avalanche might make more sense as a fallback plan if Pietrangelo can’t thread the needle between contending and getting the biggest, longest deal possible.

At least, the Avalanche should really push for huge money, but short term. With Cale Makar‘s rookie deal set to expire in 2020-21, and other concerns (only three more seasons of stealing Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog due for a raise after next season), Colorado needs to be smart here.

  • Dallas Stars: After making it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (currently leading 1-0), the Stars rise as a credible future contender. Imagine a defense with Pietrangelo, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg. Considering the Stars’ near-$15.5M in cap space, it’s not outrageous, even after dealing with RFAs like Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. Dallas may want to figure out what Heiskanen’s next deal looks like, as he is entering a contract year much like Makar.
  • Calgary Flames: Maybe Calgary takes a wild swing with some concerns about their window closing?
  • Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck obscured serious issues on defense last season, yet you wonder how often he can pull a rabbit of a hat. Pietrangelo could patch up (some of) the crater left behind by defensive departures.

Lots of cap space, maybe not the best hockey fit from Pietrangelo’s perspective

  • Buffalo Sabres: Following that shrewd Eric Staal trade, maybe the Sabres can improve their defense by adding Alex Pietrangelo? Kevyn Adams boasts an estimated $34.46M in cap space, and only a few players to worry about re-signing. Granted, like with Makar and Heiskanen, the Sabres need to pencil in money for Rasmus Dahlin‘s second contract.

Yes, Buffalo has been burned badly by big free agent bets over the years. Still, with an angsty fan base and room to give Pietrangelo the blockbuster deal he craves, they could be an outside-the-box fit.

  • Florida Panthers: Hey, you’re dug in with Sergei Bobrovsky, why not try to protect that investment by giving him some defensive support? Sure, it could also mean about $20M spent on aging free agents but … uh … *trails off*
  • New Jersey Devils: What if this team isn’t quite as bad as it looked last season? That may be a stretch, but New Jersey has a ton of cap space.
  • Montreal Canadiens: When in doubt, assume Marc Bergevin has something weird and wild up his (challenged-by-muscles) sleeves.

A cap-strapped team gets creative?

OK, this is honestly meant to be a catch-all for the dreamers out there. Could the Toronto Maple Leafs really jump through hoops and sign Pietrangelo in free agency? It’s tough to imagine that if Pietrangelo steadfastly demands a long-term, big-money deal.

Now, if those deals aren’t out there? Maybe Pietrangelo accepts a short-term fix to have fun and chase a Stanley Cup. Then, ideally, he’d get that mega contract when things (hopefully) settle down.

(Take the money and run, Pietro.)

Any other teams or scenarios stick out as possible destinations for Pietrangelo in free agency? Could the Blues pull off a stunner and bring their captain back? Do tell.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bettman: Next NHL season could start in December or January

Leave a comment

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Gary Bettman will take his first sigh of relief in months when he presents the Stanley Cup.

”Maybe I’ll get a full night sleep,” the NHL Commissioner said.

Maybe one, and then the work begins on next season. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly had more questions of their own than answers next season, though it’s always been questionable if it will start on Dec. 1 as tentatively planned.

Bettman on Saturday raised the possibility of a start sometime later in December or even January, though the plan remains for each team to play 82 games and the league hold a full playoffs.

Much like its plan to resume this season, the league hopes to adapt to the pandemic circumstances in the U.S., Canada and worldwide and is open to adjusting on the fly as the situation evolves. Acknowledging there are factors like the U.S.-Canada border and local jurisdictions out of his control that could affect travel and attendance, Bettman indicated Saturday he wouldn’t be surprised if the season begins later than scheduled but would like to avoid playing deep into next summer.

”If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said during his annual pre- Stanley Cup Final news conference. ”It’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point and by some point in time maybe our buildings are open.”

There’s no way to know yet what a 2020-21 NHL season will look like, and the league is watching what’s going on in European hockey and the other North American professional sports leagues and college athletics to see what’s possible.

”Our goal is to get back to as great a sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented,” Bettman said.

One of the circumstances at play is the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel, which has more of an effect on the NHL than other pro sports leagues because it has seven teams in Canada and 24 in the U.S. until Seattle becomes the 32nd franchise in 2021.

Canada did not allow Major League Baseball’s Blue Jays to play in Toronto this season because of cross-border travel by them and other teams. The Canadian government approved the NHL holding its playoffs in quarantined bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton but has not allowed family members who aren’t Canadian citizens join, as had been planned by the league and players.

”That application remains pending,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. ”I think at this point, I don’t have a high level of expectation that it will be approved. But it has not formally been denied at this point, either.”

The league is less than two weeks away from pulling off a successful return, after the season was halted March 12. More than 30,000 tests inside the bubbles turned up zero positive coronavirus test results.

Before the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning opened the final, Bettman acknowledged he’s not taking a victory lap yet. He’s still focused on getting through this series even as preparations begin for next season.

Bettman said the league has ”started informally thinking” about it and conceded there will be a financial hit because attendance makes up at least 50% of revenue. He’s not worried about any franchises not making it through this and said Seattle joining the league won’t be pushed back.

”While we know it’ll be less (money), we know there’s a substantial revenue impact, I’m comfortable that our franchises will be strong enough to weather this,” Bettman said. ”Our franchises will get through this and will come out stronger on the other side.”

Those franchises will be better off when they can have some fans in their buildings, and Daly said everything will be done in the name of safety and in conjunction with national and local health authorities.

”We’re going to see what the circumstances are like and do the best we can,” he said. ”We certainly want to maximize efforts to create circumstances where fans can attend our games and we can wait a certain amount of time to try to accommodate that. But at the end of the day, we also want to play a season, so we’re going to see what circumstance are like and make decisions when we need to make decisions.

Anton Khudobin continues to be ‘a rock’ in goal for Stars

Leave a comment

Anton Khudobin preferred the postgame spotlight to be on the Stars’ effort in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, not him. But when you watched how the Dallas goaltender kept denying the Lightning’s never-ending scoring chances, it’d be hard to talk about much else.

The Stars are three wins away from their first Cup title since 2000 in large part because of the 34-year-old Russian’s play. As Ben Bishop deals with an injury, Khudobin has been the No. 1 star more often than not most nights. He stopped 35 of 36 Tampa shots during their 4-1 win Saturday night to continue his Conn Smythe Trophy worthy play since the Western Conference Final.

Via Natural Stat Trick, at even strength in his last six starts he has a .956 save percentage and stopped 130 of 136 shots faced. 

[Stars stifle Lightning in Game 1]

Keeping their goaltender busy has ended with good results for the Stars. Game 1 was the fourth straight game Khudobin made at least 30 saves and the team has won nine in a row when he’s turned aside that many shots. 

As the Lightning pressed and kept coming in waves, Khudobin was a calming presence amid all the chaos in the Stars’ zone. He even got to flash a little glove.

“His play’s been speaking for itself,” said Jamie Oleksiak, who scored Dallas’ second goal. “It looks like whenever he’s out there, he’s just having fun. I think we’re feeding off that energy. He’s been great. I can’t say enough about him.”

The Stars needed their goaltender big time in the second and third periods. Tampa outshot Dallas 23-7 at 5-on-5 over the final 40 minutes, including 14-1 in the third. Each time the Lightning tried to make a breakthrough, Khudobin was there to deny a chance.

“When he’s on, which he was today, he’s reading the play. He’s getting there, anticipating the shot,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “He’s not late, he’s not chasing the game around, he’s focused on where it’s coming from and he’s meeting the puck. His positional play has been great. His reads have been great, but more importantly, he’s a competitive guy, and he’ll do whatever he can to stop the puck. That’s why he’s so effective.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Dallas did their part to try and help Tampa get back into the game with three third-period power plays. But the Lightning could only muster four shots with the man advantage, all of which were stopped by Khudobin.

The Stars have received contributions from their depth players all playoffs. That was on display in Game 1 with Joel Hanley scoring his first NHL goal, and Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta adding to their postseason totals. They’re thriving with the “next man up” mentality, and Khudobin stepping in to the No. 1 spotlight in net is further evidence of that.

“He’s been a rock for us all playoffs, it was no different tonight,” said Stars forward Blake Comeau. “We got into penalty trouble there in the third and he was there to bail us out, and that’s been the storyline this playoffs. Every time we’ve needed a big save, he’s been there for us. 

“We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s playing great for us right now, and we’re going to need him to continue that moving forward.”

Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final is Monday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream)

MORE: 3 Takeaways from Lightning-Stars Game 1

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.