No Canada

Has it really been twenty-two years since the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup?

It seems hard to believe we could witness such a long drought; you’d figure at least one of the north of the border teams would have raised the hardware high in the last two decades, as an “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” fluke if nothing else. But no, the true north has remained strong and free and Cup-less since Montreal beat Wayne Gretzky in 1993.

I had a feeling that was going to end this year. My spidey-sense (skatey-sense?) was tingling as the playoffs approached. This just-concluded season seemed so odd and out of sorts that a Canada-based team winning it all felt like a reasonable ending to the weirdness that was.

Then I got a look at the playoff seedings. Ok then, thanks for coming…

The DFR logo with hockey stick and puckCanadian fans can rejoice, in that the playoff field includes five clubs who play their games in the home and native land. Unfortunately, four of those five teams are playing against each other in the first round, thus guaranteeing that two of those teams, at least, will be finished before the division finals start.

Of course, that may be glass half empty thinking. The seeding does guarantee that at least two Canadian teams will make it through to the second round; hope will stay alive for at least another couple of weeks. And after that…maybe we’re looking for the fluke again.

 “…there’s a systemic problem that renders almost of quarter of the league into patsies for the other teams…that problem also serves as a slap in the face to an entire nation.”

One wonders how this state of affairs could have persisted for so long. Since we all love a good conspiracy theory, many hockey fans probably believe that Canada’s Cup drought has been engineered by Commissioner Gary Bettman–always and forever known to me as “old ratface”–on the theory that stateside champions would mean a higher profile (and thus more TV and merchandising revenue) for the NHL. But this year’s seedings actually belie that. The two first round Canadian vs. Canadian match-ups resulted from the teams’ respective records. Those teams aren’t beating each other out due to any puppeteering by corporate forces; it just worked out that way.

What else could have caused this drought? Is it the money? Maybe it was for a while there, especially back in the late ’90s; but lately, and especially since the global financial crisis, the US and Canadian dollars have been trading pretty close to each other. Only recently has the US dollar risen against the Canadian dollar (and other currencies, for that matter). All the teams in the NHL have been playing on a largely level sheet for a while now.

I have to admit that I’m at a loss to explain this. I know: our friends to the north feel much the same way,  and with just a tad more bitterness, I’m sure. But I’m hoping that the Canadiens, or the Canucks, or even the Flames, find a way to pull it off and end Canada’s long national nightmare. (I don’t hold out much hope for the Jets or Senators, but if they get hot, that’s fine too.) I want to see one of those teams win the Stanley Cup this spring.

And why would a transplanted Philadelphian living in Northern California want to see that? Well, I admit–that wish comes a lot easier with the Flyers and Sharks at home working on their golf games. But that feeling also comes from a simple desire, something that runs through and informs much of what the DFR is all about: a desire for competitive balance–for fairness in all things and all games.

The NHL has spread the wealth during these last twenty-two years. Detroit had a lot of great teams and won several Cups; Chicago and Los Angeles both won a brace of Stanleys, though not in back to back years. There has been no dominant team during this period. But when you have an entire collection of teams with a common profile, who’ve been shut out of the sport’s championship for so long, that means there’s a problem with the game. It means there’s something out of sorts that goes beyond a mere bounce of the puck. It means there’s a systemic problem that renders almost of quarter of the league into patsies for the other teams–and in this case, that problem also serves as a slap in the face to an entire nation. And such a state of affairs shouldn’t be good enough for hockey fans, no matter where they call home.

So do whatever it takes, Canadian teams. Bury a loonie in the ice. Exile Don Cherry to ESPN. Burn down a city. Whatever gets it done. (Well, OK, maybe don’t burn down a city; that didn’t work out so well in Vancouver in 2011.) Just make sure one of your teams brings the Stanley Cup home this year. The NHL, and hockey fans everywhere, will be better for it.


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