Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg. Seven cities with little in common except their country, the presence of an NHL team and no recent Stanley Cup success.
It’s now been 25 years since one of Canada’s seven NHL teams took home a Stanley Cup. No team north of the border has even made the Finals since Vancouver lost to Boston in 2011, and three seasons ago, no Canadian team played past the regular season. That said, the tide appears to be finally turning up north, and Canada looks ready to be a force for years to come.
In the Eastern Conference, both Toronto and Montreal are sitting in playoff spots. Of the two, the Maple Leafs look more likely to break their more-than-50-year championship drought. Still, the fact that both Canadian Original Six teams are relevant in their division as we approach the quarter mark of the season is significant.
In the West, all four teams are jockeying for playoff spots. Winnipeg looks like a serious contender to reach the Western Conference Finals for a second straight year. Farther west, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are starting to see results at long last from their respective rebuilds.
It’s still early, but at the time of writing, every Canadian team other than Ottawa is at least tied for a playoff spot. But beyond this early success, which looks tenuous in Vancouver and Montreal, the current state of these teams has set Canada up to succeed not just this year, but for the better part of the next decade.
Toronto may have the advantage of luring big names like John Tavares in free agency, but in the less glamorous Canadian cities, slow, methodical rebuilds are starting to turn their teams competitive. Winnipeg is seeing the success of its rebuilt core now, and only a few losses to the Golden Knights kept them out of last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Both teams are already legitimate contenders with key pieces under team control and looking to pace their respective conferences this year.
Meanwhile, several years of losing in Alberta and British Columbia are finally paying dividends. Edmonton has built a core around perennial Hart Trophy candidate Connor McDavid that can compete with the Pacific Division heavyweights further south. Calgary is still working out the kinks of its own rebuild, but the pieces seem to be falling into place. In Vancouver, the team’s surprising early season success is being met with skepticism that their own rebuild is not as far ahead of schedule as it seems. But even if this year’s team fades, the Canucks are not far from being competitive as their deep prospect pool continues to mature.
Similar to Vancouver, the Canadiens are experiencing unexpected wins this year but may not be able to sustain them as the season grinds on. But if either team can keep winning, Canada will be well-represented in the playoffs for the first time in a long time. Beyond Toronto and Winnipeg, at least two and as many as four other teams could still be standing after 82 games, a far cry from the country being shut out of the playoffs entirely. While the Senators still look destined to be on the outside looking in come May, trades made with the future in mind have Ottawa only a few years behind their countrymen.
This year might not be the year for Canada to finally shake off the long, harsh winter its hockey teams have been weathering for two and a half decades, but don’t count out the possibility. Even if this isn’t the year for a Canadian Cup, the window is open for one, and it isn’t closing anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, Canada is a force to be reckoned with in the NHL.
Patrick Nugent ’21 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.