NHL Playoffs and the Myth of ‘Canada’s Team’

Canada is known for its love of hockey. Yet, having only seven cities represented throughout the NHL doesn’t give its fans many choices in keeping their loyalties close to home. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal are the only Canadian teams in the league. No true supporter of any would dare be forced into cheering for another, so why is that even contemplated come playoffs?

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Making up less than 25% of the active organizations may seem to align with having a lower population than our southern neighbours. Thus, impacting the buy-in across the country. However, Canadian players account for 42.6% of the NHL, illustrating the disparity between national interest and the number of cities represented within the league.

Bob Cole, Hockey Night in Canada
Bob Cole, Hockey Night in Canada (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Beyond our athletic contributions, we produce even more fans. Hockey is one of two national sports in this country and for good reason. Considered the birthplace of the best game in the world and with Saturdays designated to Hockey Night in Canada, that passion is ingrained in those who live here. It’s part of our culture.

Cities Vying for the Cup

With so few teams housed across Canada, it’s not uncommon that we fail to have much representation come playoff time, if at all. Even if every northern franchise were successful enough to earn a postseason spot, they still wouldn’t even comprise 50% of the 16-team playoff pool.

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2017 was great for Canadian hockey cities as five of the seven teams made it into the postseason. More realistically, it’s common to witness a year like 2019 when three were included. It’s also not impossible that a playoff has zero of our towns involved, which occurred in 2016. In any case, the probability always favours an American city being crowned champion every year.

St. Louis Blues, 2019 Stanley Cup
2019 Stanley Cup Champions, St. Louis Blues (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Regardless, hockey is a way of life across Canada. Whether we play, coach, or just watch, we’re all fans to some degree. Even if our team gets knocked out early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we still pay attention and follow along.

Although most would prefer to see Canadian teams succeed over the alternative, given the cross-border rivalry fuelled from international competition, there is no rule that dictates one must cheer based on proximity. You might live in Toronto and love the Chicago Blackhawks or reside in Vegas and follow the Calgary Flames. Both are permitted.

How We Got Here This Year

Why do Canadians face irrational pressure to collectively back their last remaining organization through any respective postseason? Just as there is no obligation to support a specific city’s team throughout the year, the same should apply for the playoffs.

This unique tournament began with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which included 24 teams. At that time, six of the seven Canadian franchises were involved with the Ottawa Senators the one team not taking part. By the end of the round, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Edmonton Oilers were knocked out. Canada’s representation was cut in half.

Then came Round 1, structured more like a typical Stanley Cup Playoffs, involving 16 teams and eight best-of-seven matchups. By the time this section of the bracket was done, so were two more northern cities. As Round 2 came into view, a single Canadian franchise remained.

And Then There Was One

The Vancouver Canucks should be given the respect they’ve earned thus far through these playoffs. After bypassing the Minnesota Wild in the qualifiers, they then surprised the masses with their upset over the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues for their Round 1 victory.

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Whether the Canucks can continue to prevail is yet to be seen. They’re now matched up against the top seed Vegas Golden Knights, who are favoured through this series and to win it all.

Picking Who You Praise

Wherever someone’s loyalties lie should be reflective of their individual fandom alone. Canucks’ followers hope they keep going, as Golden Knights supporters feel the same for Vegas, while those who don’t prefer either typically won’t care who takes it. It shouldn’t be that USA based fans are to back Vegas, while Canadians have to root for the Canucks.

The claim that our patriotism is correlated with succumbing to cheering for the last Canadian club left is nonsense. I continually remind those making this silly proclamation that every roster has players from Canada, let alone that all are inclusive of a variety of nationalities. Just because a team’s home rink is within this country’s borders, doesn’t mean all of its personnel call it home.

Mostly Canadian Representation

Although 414 players from Canada scattered across 31 locker rooms in the NHL is the highest representation of any nation, no individual lineup is completely made up of Canadians. The one and only organization that consistently maintains that standard is Hockey Canada.

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International competition, at all levels of play and within any tournament, is the truest form of what it means for a team to represent its country. With the maple leaf on their jerseys, those rosters include players all worthy of carrying our flag around the rink. (from ‘Golden moment, but at what cost?’ Vancouver Sun, 02/24/2011)

No NHL franchise will ever be deserving of the same national recognition that any Team Canada lineup inherently owns. They are, and always will be, Canada’s Team.

Emerance Maschmayer, Team Canada
Emerance Maschmeyer, Team Canada (Photo: Mika Kylmäniemi – Hockey Canada Images)

240 Canadian hockey players were involved as of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. With each passing series, more are forced to view from the sidelines in anticipation of applauding the last team standing. Even if that championship roster is mostly made up of Canadians they will have won it for their city, not the country.

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To be clear, even as a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, of course, I wish the Canucks continued success throughout these playoffs. However, will I be cheering for them any harder simply because my Canadian neighbours tell me to? Absolutely not and nor should you.

Stats courtesy of: QuantHockey.