Whether you call it a drought, a curse, or by some other name (I personally call it the Bettman curse, as it almost perfectly coincides with Gary Bettman’s tenure as NHL commissioner), Canada hasn’t had a Stanley Cup Champion for a very long time. Sadly, 26 years might not be long enough to turn things around.
Related: Longest Stanley Cup Droughts
With both the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets eliminated, it’s now beginning to look like Canada’s rather unfortunate streak will continue beyond this season.
Habs’ History Lesson
The last time a Canadian club was crowned champion was way back in 1993 when Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Cup. That year, the Habs put together a record streak of 10 straight overtime victories after losing their first OT venture of the playoffs to the now long-gone Quebec Nordiques.
Growing up a Habs fan, I remember 1993 well. Cam Neely and Raymond Bourque were enormous pests to Canadiens fans back then, and the Bruins had eliminated Montreal in the Adams Division Final in three straight seasons, from 1990 to 1992. However, in 1993, the Buffalo Sabres pulled off a first-round upset of Boston to clear the way for the Habs.
Not that the Canadiens needed any help! Patrick Roy was on fire throughout the entire playoffs that year, and overtime contributions from a variety of different players made the workmanlike Canadiens team virtually unstoppable.
In fact, the feeling that year was that on any given night all the Habs needed to do was keep things even through regulation time, because Patrick Roy was simply unbeatable in overtime. It was a thing of beauty to watch, and it was also the last time that the Cup went to a Canadian team.
If you’re like me and would enjoy reliving the moment, this Montreal Gazette article entitled “An oral history of the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup win” is a great read with several quotations from the principles involved.
Canada’s Close Calls
Since the last of the Habs’ glory days, there have been a few near misses with other Canadian clubs. The Vancouver Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994 against the New York Rangers, and they did it again in 2011 against the Boston Bruins. Both times the result was the same (I don’t mean riots in Vancouver), and Canada’s Cup-free streak continued.
One of the best opportunities for a Canadian team to break through and win the Cup came in 2004 when the Calgary Flames took the Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games in the Final. That playoff year saw dominant performances by Jarome Iginla and Brad Richards, but, in the end, it was Richards that took home both the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Unfortunately, 2005 saw no Stanley Cup Champion at all as the season was lost due to a labour dispute between the league and its players. Let’s just assume that Canada would have broken the streak that year!
In 2006 it was the Edmonton Oilers that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, but they too missed out on a Cup after taking the series to a seventh and deciding game.
Finally, in 2007 the Ottawa Senators got their turn to make the Final, where they would ultimately lose in five to a superior Anaheim team.
What About Winnipeg?
This season I expected the Winnipeg Jets to make a strong push for the Cup. They are arguably Canada’s most well-rounded club, and I thought that they might build on last year’s impressive performance. But alas, the St. Louis Blues came on incredibly strong in the second half of the season, just as the Jets were faltering.
The timing of those two trends simply could not have been worse for our friends in Manitoba, as the Jets were made to look like a mere shadow of last year’s promising team. Even so, I think that the future could be bright for the Jets, with no more than a few minor tweaks necessary for them to seriously contend next season.
It may be something as simple as getting a few of the squad’s existing members to show a bit more focus and attention to detail in their game. For instance, even though Patrik Laine had three goals and was a plus-two in the series against the Blues, the season for him was far from stellar, and I expect him to bounce back in a major way next season. Let’s hope!
Incidentally, if any fans across North America deserve a Stanley Cup Championship, it’s surely the good folks of Winnipeg, who for several years didn’t have a team to cheer for at all.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Canada’s Last Remaining Hope…
As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I’m not saying that they won’t put together a championship run or two in the future, but I honestly don’t think they’re ready to do so just yet.
Related: Leafs vs. Bruins: Rivalry Renewed
For all their speed and skill up front, the Leafs still have problems on the back end, and there’s also the perception (at least to me) of commitment issues among some of their younger players. After all, it’s difficult to believe that a guy like William Nylander really wants to win when one watches him closely throughout an entire game, and it’s going to take more than good possession metrics to convince me otherwise!
As I sit writing this, the Boston Bruins have just finished off a convincing win against the Leafs in Toronto to force a decisive Game 7 back in Boston. After Brad Marchand’s first-period power play goal to tie the game at one goal apiece, there was no looking back for the Bruins.
If the Leafs hope to advance to the second round and beyond, they’ll have to play considerably better on Tuesday night than they did today, where they were outshot 41-24 and were convincingly outplayed for most of the game.
But even if the Leafs can get past Boston, how might they fare against the giant killers from Columbus, or potentially against the defending Stanley Cup Champions from Washington if both teams go deep? In other words, I’m not exactly optimistic about the Leafs’ chances right now.
Let’s just say that with the Leafs as the last remaining hope this season to end Canada’s long Stanley Cup drought, divine intervention may well be required.