The question is being asked and it’s causing minor annoyance and outright rage: why are there no Canadian teams left in the NHL playoffs? With the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs already underway and the last two Canadian teams making an exit, the question is popping up and causing more than one aggravating Twitter stream or Canadian identity crisis.
The question is wrong. There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘Canadian’ team, which by definition would be a team comprised of Canadians. The NHL has players of several origins and the teams don’t belong to their cities, the franchises do. The majority of players left in the playoffs are Canadian-born, so there isn’t a lack of talent in our hockey mad nation. So brush aside the identity crisis, hockey in Canada is still king.
On the surface, Canada has everything it needs to be a contender every year, from a deep pool of talent to a rabid fanbase to a consistent revenue stream. The seven franchises in Canada are well supported and well attended. Overzealous fans? We have a few. Players with mad skills? Check that box too.
The question should be: why are there no Canadian franchises left in the playoffs? Understandably, the question is a lot less sexy, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Putting aside our feelings of pride and passion, and dissecting the question like an analyst, this question is about business.
Management of Canadian franchises lie closer to the heart of the matter. Consider the management issues for Montreal, Toronto and Calgary this year. These teams had coaching issues, players issues, locker room conflict and more rumours and intrigue than the Kardashians when it came to their Captaincies. Of course, constant media scrutiny and fanatic fans only amplified these issues and made them that much harder to solve. As a result, the solutions proposed seemed more reactionary than anything else and the end results were unsatisfying.
Apologizing to the fans and holding highly defensive press conferences were some of the worst PR moves that they could do and both Toronto and Montreal did them. Montreal in particular caused more problems for themselves by not having a legitimate back up plan after firing their head coach and not backing up the interim head coach, discrediting him and themselves in the process. Toronto ‘apologized’ through Burke without proposing any solutions and his angry rebuttal of the Pittsburgh model was entertaining, but not insightful.
Calgary has a bad habit of re-signing old players who didn’t work out so well the first time around. Edmonton used their draft picks to market their team, but failed to elevate their game by not providing them with proper development or a solid corps of veterans to support them. Winnipeg is its own case with their re-entry into the league and won’t be dealt with here. Ottawa and Vancouver fared better in the playoffs after making smart decisions in the offseason to fill in key gaps and create more depth within their lines. While far from perfect, they were legitimate contenders.
You know that saying that you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good? It’s true in management of sports. So Pittsburgh won the lottery and got the best player in the world. Something which wouldn’t have amounted to beans if they didn’t build a solid team around him and if Lemieux hadn’t returned to mentor their Captain. Hockey remains a team sport and individuals do not win the Cup. Goaltenders, defensemen and forwards all do their part- and that little thing called coaching.
The hapless reporter who asked Burke the question probably meant that Toronto should consider rebuilding through the draft. Indeed, the draft represents an excellent opportunity to build the future of the team and as history has shown, one does not need to ‘win’ it to win it. How many first overall picks turned out to be less than promised? How many superstar players went late or didn’t even get drafted? The point is that scouting for talent, knowing what’s out there, knowing how to mix it up and create a solid core and putting in place a coach who inspires confidence, are all part of the winning formula.
Easy enough to say. Which is why we probably shouldn’t be so hard on teams or their management. And why the whole question is absurd. While Canadian franchises obviously have lessons to learn and issues to resolve in the offseason, nobody has the perfect formula worked out. Winning a Cup involves so many factors beyond our control.
We can’t make wins happen, but we can make our teams as competitive as possible with smart decisions, good scouting, solid coaching and good directives from up top. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves why more Canadian teams aren’t winning the Cup. We should be asking ourselves what teams can do to become a solid contender every year.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.