By Zachary Cormier
Does anyone remember when Canadian hockey teams used to be competitive in the NHL? When Canada’s teams were a force to be feared in the top professional hockey league in the world?
I mean, it’s been a while since one of our nation’s seven teams have been serious competitors for the Stanley Cup (the last time any of them won it was in 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the L.A. Kings), but there has always been at least a team that I could cheer for when the playoffs roll around.
Heck, last season five of them made the cut and two of them even won a round.
That won’t be the case this year, though. For the first time since 1970 it looks as though there won’t be a single team from Canada in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not only that, but if the NHL were to hold their annual draft lottery today there would be a 69% chance that one of Canada’s seven teams would come away with the first overall pick. (And yes, for those of you who haven’t really been paying attention, the Edmonton Oilers are right in the thick of that race with an 13.5% chance of landing their fourth first overall pick since 2010). In a 30 team league, that’s not great.
Well let’s start with the team that was supposed to be Canada’s best hope to at least make it back to the cup final this year: the Montreal Canadiens.
On paper the Habs were a serious threat and after they started the season with a nine game win streak, it looked like our country finally had a shot at reclaiming hockey glory.
Then 2015 Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price went down with an injury and the Canadiens’ house of cards came crashing down to earth.
Turns out having arguably the best active goalie in the NHL has its advantages. It also turns out that having a solid backup is probably a good idea when your starter has a history of getting hurt.
And therein lies the problem for most of Canada’s teams.
Heading into this season, only the Habs and Vancouver Canucks had consistent, established starting goalies on their roster.
The rest of them were either coming off career years that baffled statisticians like Calgary’s Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo, Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond and Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec, or were consistently abysmal, like Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier.
You’re simply not going to win hockey games if you can’t keep the puck out of the net.
Now, I’m not saying that goaltending is the only issue that Canadian teams are facing. I mean have you seen the Leafs’ roster?
But goalies are kind of like quarterbacks in hockey. If you’re looking to build a consistently competitive NHL team, you’re going to want to start with someone who can stop more than 10 shots per game.
Alberta’s teams are a good example of this.
Both the Flames and the Oilers have struggled in net this year. In Calgary, Ramo and Hiller both regressed from last season’s numbers and they were dealing with the fact that they had three goalies on one way contracts and none of them are NHL-calibre starters.
In Edmonton they had Ben Scrivens. And defensive issues. And an offense that really should be better than it actually is. And — you know what? I don’t have enough room to list all of the problems with the Oilers’ roster at the start of this year. They’re the Oilers, what did you expect?
There is hope. Every team, with the exception of the Canucks, took steps at the trade deadline to ensure that they’ll be better in the future. But that doesn’t change the fact that this year has been a total bust.
So, in light of this lost year of hockey in Canada, I would like to remind all Canadian sports fans that they can find some comfort in one simple fact.
Baseball season is just around the corner and, man. Have the Blue Jays looked good in spring training or what?