Canada means hockey to many people. In Canada the sport is all-encompassing, with generation after generation playing it and watching it with unbridled zeal. Yet since 1993, Canada has not been able to cheer a team of its own as it hoisted the Stanley Cup. If this season continues on the path it is currently on, Canada will once more be resigned to the mantra, “maybe next year.”
The Stanley Cup was in Canada earlier this month. It was part of the hockey day in Canada celebration, arriving on skis in Kamloops. Sadly for the fans, special events and festivities may be the only venue they will be able to get a glimpse of the Cup this year. They’d much rather see it on ice in an arena at the end of a hard-fought series of games, being lifted in victory by a Hab or a Leaf or member of any other Canadian team.
Canada against the US
While Canada and the United States are certainly friendly to one another as neighbors in matters of politics, the US has dominated Canada in hockey for the past two decades. Since the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, teams from typical US hockey towns like Detroit, Chicago and Boston have won the Cup.
But, teams in places like Tampa, Florida have also hoisted it in victory since Canada has done so. So has Anaheim and Los Angeles, both in sunny California. What says hockey in places it never snows? For hockey’s most loyal and passionate fans, those in Canada who eat, drink and sleep hockey, seeing Lord Stanley’s Cup paraded on the ice in Raleigh, NC had to be a smack of grand proportions.
It's here! 🙌
The #StanleyCup is back in @PNCArena. #CanesCup pic.twitter.com/8vVQEKqYvd
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 12, 2016
The Carolina Hurricanes are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Fans of the team can remember the improbable run of team with Rod Brind’Amour, a young Cam Ward and a young Eric Staal leading the way. That series proved that anything can happen if a team can get momentum, catch a break or two, work hard and not give up.
Of course that is likely true for any team that wins the toughest trophy in sports. It’s not easy. But, for Canada, it’s been impossible for over two decades.
Eric Eisenberg wrote in the Wall Street Journal on February 6,
“While this year may be an aberration—this is the first season since 1998-99 during which Canadian teams collectively are under .500—it has been a rough stretch for the nation that invented, and subsequently dominated, the sport of ice hockey.”
It has not been a good run for Canada.
Of Canada's many exports to the United States, its most famous might quietly have become the Stanley Cup
— Dave Stubbs (@Dave_Stubbs) February 4, 2016
The Elusive Stanley Cup
It was easy to believe that this was going to be the season that the Stanley Cup might return to Canada. The Canadiens started like a house on fire, looking dominant at every level. I wrote on November 28, however that the Habs’ hopes of hoisting the Cup hinged on Carey Price’s knee. That post appears to have been spot-on.
The Canadiens have faded consistently over the past two and a half months, and are fighting along with the Hurricanes and others to climb up to a wild card spot. To make matters worse, Price’s recovery has now been put in question for the remainder of the season. According to HabsEyesonthe Prize.com, La Presse reported a day or so ago that Price may be out for the season. A best-case scenario would put him possibly back in time for the playoffs, should Montreal be a participant.
Without Price, the chances of the Habs getting into the playoffs and running all the way to the end are slim. Not impossible, but slim.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are comfortable knowing that they are in a rebuilding mode. Sitting last in points in the NHL currently with 47, the Leafs are not likely to make the playoffs this season.
The Edmonton Oilers have been successful for several years in snagging number one draft picks and remaining a horrible team. Last in the West with 49 points, this season looks to be another in which the Oilers will look to add to last year’s top pick, Connor McDavid.
Interestingly however, there are a few teams that could have a shot at bringing the Stanley Cup back to Canada. Not a good shot on paper, but a shot. The Ottawa Senators are not out of a wild card spot. The Vancouver Canucks are in the mix, as are the Calgary Flames, to a degree. The Winnipeg Jets are fading, but technically not out.
Time is running for these teams that are in the giant bottleneck of “close to a wild card spot.” Every loss pushes them farther down, and the gap gets harder to close.
The bottom line is anything can happen. But, as it stands right now, it does not look like Canada will taste the fruit of a Stanley Cup Finals win from one of its teams in 2016.
The Wall Street Journal put it into perspective last June. Ken Dryden wrote,
“Because of Canadians’ deep feelings for hockey, Canada is the best place to play, coach and manage if you are winning, but the worst if you are losing. Hope there soars higher, but unhappiness runs deeper. The Canadiens haven’t won for 22 years, the Edmonton Oilers for 25, the Calgary Flames for 26, the Leafs for 48, the longest current drought in the NHL. The Canucks and Winnipeg Jets have never won, nor has the modern Ottawa Senators franchise.”
The Canadiens looked to be Canada’s best hope at the start of this season. Now, it might be 23 years and counting for the Habs. Let’s hope Canada can see the Stanley Cup on home ice again before a place like Las Vegas does. The whole nation might implode.
Mark Shiver is a staff writer for The Hockey Writers credentialed with the Carolina Hurricanes. You can follow him on Twitter @markshiver