Canada or Columbus: A Stanley Cup Race

I know what you are thinking.  You probably are still laughing at the notion that the Columbus Blue Jackets will not only win a Stanley Cup soon, but will do so before ANYONE in Canada will.  I know what you are saying.  “Columbus has been one of the laughing stocks of the league since they arrived in 2000.  They haven’t even won a playoff series in their existence.  So now all of a sudden, they’re going to win the Stanley Cup, before any of 7 Canadian franchises will?”  Well, in a word, yes.  Let me make something perfectly clear here before we continue.  I am not saying that the Blue Jackets will win the Stanley Cup this season.  I am saying that they will win the Cup before any team in Canada does, regardless of how many years it takes.  The fact that I am making this statement says something about the current state of NHL hockey in Canada.  Couple that with the fact that Columbus has vastly improved over the last couple of seasons, and you start to see why the Blue Jackets can beat an entire country in winning hockey’s ultimate prize.  We are going to outline 3 major reasons why all of this will happen.

There are 3 major reasons why Columbus will win the Stanley Cup before Canada. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)
There are 3 major reasons why Columbus will win the Stanley Cup before Canada. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

20 Seasons Without the Cup

Think back in your life for a moment.  What were you doing on June 9, 1993?  You probably don’t remember, unless you are a fan of either Montreal or Los Angeles. That was the date that the Canadiens beat the Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.  Why is this important?  Because this was the last time that Canada won the Stanley Cup.  Since then, there have been 20 Cup winners, all of which reside in the United States.  One would think that in 20 seasons, at least one Canadian team would win the Cup.  Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary have each been to the Final in that stretch, with the latter 3 teams each losing in Game 7.  The Canucks have lost 2 Game 7’s.  So there have been chances.  However, a deeper look gives us insight into how bad it really has been for Canada since 1993.  In 20 seasons, there are 80 spots available for the Conference Final, 4 per season.  Of those 80 spots, only 11 of them were filled by a Canadian team.  That’s less than 14% of the time.  When you consider that 20-25% of teams in the league are from Canada (depending on whether there were 6 or 7 Canadian teams in a season), that 14% is a sign of underachieving.  To illustrate this further, 2 seasons ago, there were 4 Canadian teams who made the playoffs.  Last season, only Montreal made the postseason.  To go from missing the playoffs, to winning the Stanley Cup in 1 season, is very rare.  There is even a chance, if certain things happen, that Canada will be completely shut out from the playoffs this season.  This leads us to our 2nd reason why Columbus will win the race to the Stanley Cup.

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The Western Conference

Of Canada’s 7 franchises, there are 4 who reside in the war zone known as the NHL’s Western Conference.  In today’s game, this means everything.  To make the Cup Final from the Western Conference, means having to beat the likes of the Kings, the Blackhawks, the Ducks, the Blues, the Avalanche, the Sharks, the Wild, and the Stars.  These 8 teams made the playoffs last season.  To put a Western Canadian team in the playoffs involves having to take one or more of the above listed teams out.  Go ahead, which of those teams miss the playoffs next season? Chances are, none of them do.  As long as the Western Conference remains this nasty, it could take several years before Western Canada is represented in the playoffs again.  The fact that Columbus resides in the Eastern Conference is a huge break.  Regardless, it gives them a much easier path to the Stanley Cup Final.  Teams need to take advantage of what is given to them.  This leads us to our 3rd and final reason why Columbus will beat Canada to the Cup.

Playing Western Hockey in the East

When he first arrived in Columbus, Scott Hartnell was asked about playing against the Blue Jackets when he was still a member of the Flyers.  He replied, “Who are these little turds?”  He didn’t know many of the names, but he did remember how relentless they were.  It is that kind of play that makes it really hard for teams to play against the Blue Jackets.  They play a style of hockey that is very reminiscent of the style that is common in the Western Conference.  That style of game is a fast, hard nosed, in your face, kind of style.  This style matches up very well with Eastern Canadian teams.  There is really only one major threat from Canada to the Blue Jackets right now.  That threat is the Montreal Canadiens.  Ottawa is a very young team who is years away from winning the Cup.  Toronto could rise up and surprise some people, but they are generally considered a few years away from being a real threat to win the Cup.  That leaves Montreal.  The Canadiens did win the season series this past year 2-1.  The Blue Jackets did not have Nathan Horton in either of the losses, nor did they have Scott Hartnell playing for them yet.  They’ve gotten better.  They would give Montreal fits in a playoff series.

Yes, Canada might have 7 teams.  But given the current state of those teams, only one poses as a real threat.  It is not crazy to think that Columbus will soon lift a Stanley Cup, nor is it crazy to think that they will do so before anyone in Canada will.  Anything is possible.  The past no longer matters.  That was then, this is now.  Columbus is no longer a laughing stock.  In a race to see who wins the Stanley Cup first, even the team that has never won in the playoffs before can rise up and accomplish the ultimate goal before an entire country does.  In fact, you can count on it.