As we enter the second quarter of a fairly normal NHL regular season, Canadian NHL teams are looking to secure the cup once again after a long drought of no Canadian teams winning it in 28 years.
Canada was close to bringing it back last year with the miracle run the Montreal Canadiens had through the playoffs. I am a Canadiens fan and even throughout the playoffs I questioned to myself: “Is this really the team that’s going to end the 28-year Canadian Stanley Cup winner drought?”. The Vancouver Canucks were also oh so close back in 2011, when they gave up their 3-2 series lead to lose in seven games against the Boston Bruins. The Canucks also lost back in 1994 against the New York Rangers, while the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Ottawa Senators all lost in the span of four years between 2004-2007.
All of that is in the past. With a new season ahead comes a lot of promise with Canadian NHL teams. Which Canadian team has the best chance to win a Stanley Cup this year? Are there any sleeper Canadian teams that could make a good run in the spring? I’m breaking down every Canadian team a quarter way through the season and evaluate who could finally end the 28-year drought.
Let’s start from the bottom of the standings.
The Ottawa Senators
The Sens have had a tough season so far. They have had games cancelled due to players contracting COVID-19 and even before games were suspended, they had about half their squad out of the lineup due to NHL COVID-19 protocols and policies they had to follow.
The team has had a couple of highlights this season, the biggest being signing Brady Tkachuk to a seven-year contract right before the 2021-2022 campaign kicked off. A lot of NHL fans seemed to be surprised with the AAV coming in at just over $8.2 million for Tkachuk. It’s fair to think that was a lot of money for him, although you can’t let a guy like that go. One of the rarest kinds of players these days are players who can have a multi-point night for the team, then stick up for their teammates later in the game, all while frustrating his opponents by getting under their skin. That’s a player you keep at all costs.
On the ice, the Senators haven’t had too much success. Four wins in 19 games and only one in their last 10 games. It seems as though some of their rookies including Tim Stutzle and Erik Brannstrom haven’t exactly taken another step in their development. Their goaltending has also been subpar to say the least. It is easy to say this team will not have a good chance of making the playoffs and ending that 28-year drought.
The Montreal Canadiens
Montreal is having a serious regression from last season, where they barrelled through the Leafs, Jets, and Golden Knights to eventually prevail to the Lightning in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Over the summer they lost some of their core pieces including Shea Weber, Philip Danault, and Carey Price (for the start of the season). There is no denying that these players led the charge last year during the post-season and the team is feeling the effects of the presence of these players in the locker room.
Nick Suzuki had a slow start to the year but has picked it up while also growing into a number one center for the NHL’s most storied franchise. Other than that, there hasn’t been a lot of positives after making it to the Stanley Cup Finals back in the summer. Jeff Petry has taken a step back with only two assists in 24 games for the team. Cole Caufield was sent to the minors 10 games into the season. To top it off, they have let in the most goals in the NHL this year. Don’t expect this team to make much of a push for the postseason this year, unless somehow Jeff Gorton transforms this team into a contender. Expect the beginning of a retool for the Canadiens very soon.
The Vancouver Canucks are an odd case, where it looked as though they would be on the upswing this season, even though they had a couple of questionable off-season signings (Tucker Poolman being the most strange). It seems as though the isn’t clicking the way they have before, including their surprise competitive run to the second round in the bubble playoffs in 2020.
Personally, I have not watched a lot of Canucks games this season, but their team looks strong on paper. Conor Garland said in a recent interview that “it’s a great group of guys” who are in the locker room. He mentioned they all get along and everyone is meshing well. They have strong leadership with Bo Horvat as captain. So what’s wrong?
Goaltending hasn’t been horrible, but Demko and Halak haven’t been a stellar tandem in net by any means. Letting in 74 goals in 23 games is not the best stat line out there. Demko is currently second in shots against for any goalies in the league as well, so the players in front of him need to help him out right now. Although goaltending hasn’t been great, they also need to generate more offence. With the likes of Elias Petterson, JT Miller, Brock Boeser, and Conor Garland, they surely have weapons up front. Petterson hasn’t eclipsed success from previous seasons. He needs to get back to being that weapon on the ice that we have all seen before.
The Canucks could be a team where a couple of trades or a coaching change could shake things up, but with the emergence of the Ducks and each team steadily improving in the Pacific division, it could be too little too late if they decide to change something a quarter way through the season.
This is where it starts to get interesting for Canadian teams and their chances to bring back lord Stanley to Canada. As of December 1st, Winnipeg is currently tied for a playoff spot, but they have played more games than the Stars and Golden Knights. If they started today, they wouldn’t qualify, but sometimes if you are hungrier in the regular season it prepares you more for the gritty post-season the NHL brings.
In terms of goaltending, Hellebuyck hasn’t been the top goalie in the league this year (so far), but he has been good. Comrie has been able to back him up this year and he has been steady for the Jets. If Comrie can continue to give the Jets a chance to win each night he’s in between the pipes, that’s all the team can ask for, especially if it gives Hellebuyck a chance to breathe throughout the season.
Up front, Kyle Connor has been a force for the Jets offence. His 14 goals in 22 games is tied for fifth in the league, with Pierre-Luc Dubois not far behind with 11 goals in the campaign so far. The team could use a little bit more productivity from Scheifele and Wheeler in my opinion. They have been key players in the Jets successful years as a team and they need to take it to the next level if they want to make a serious push.
Defence is steady for the Jets with Pionk and Schmidt leading the defenceman in scoring. If they were to trade for a player at the deadline, a top-3 D-men should be on their radar. An additional D-man along with Wheeler and Sheifele elevating their offensive game should be enough to give them a good push this year in the playoffs.
I don’t even know what to say about the Oilers offence this year. They are electric in every aspect. It seems like McDavid is scoring off the rush every game with highlight-reel goals. Draisaitl’s power and skill are unbeatable across the league. Their powerplay is deadly. The players surrounding the teams’ stars’ are doing exactly what they need to do for this team to win.
Their defence is in the middle of pack at 2.95 goals allowed per game. If they can sustain their offence though, their defence shouldn’t even be a problem. Although that is a dangerous game to play when it is much harder to score in playoffs.
The scary part about the Oilers is their goaltending and lack of playoff experience. Last year during the playoffs they were embarrassed by the Jets in 4 games. It was so sudden and surprising that I think the leaders on the Oilers will be more prepared through this years playoffs. Although goaltending is still the biggest question mark for Edmonton right now. Who would be between the pipes if the playoffs started today? Does Dave Tippet even know?
It looks as though Koskinen would start if they did start today. His 2.88 GAA is a bit risky so you don’t know what you’ll get from him in a pressured situation. Mike Smith may be Tippets first choice, but he has only played 3 games due to injury this year. Could they trade for someone at the deadline? Only time will tell. This team has so much potential and it’s hard to cheer against them when McDavid and Draisaitl are entertaining every hockey fan on the planet right now.
The Calgary Flames may be the most interesting team when evaluating Canadian teams this year. After missing the playoffs last year and even rumours about trading away core pieces such as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames are hot a quarter way through the season.
Calgary’s goaltending has been incredible so far this year. Not very often do you see both goalies on an NHL team under a 2.00 GAA 22 games into a season. Markstrom and Vladar have a combined seven shutouts and are easily the best tandem in the NHL right now. They’re getting goal support as well from the players up front. Andrew Mangiapane has one of the weirdest and most impressive statlines in hockey with 15 goals and two assists in the regular season so far. Johnny Gaudreau is back to being a point per game player with Lindholm and Tkachuk right behind him for the team lead in scoring. On the back end, the defenceman in the rotation have meshed well to create a skilled, big, rugged group that is scary on both ends of the ice. What could go wrong?
Are the Flames a legitimate Stanley Cup contender? It just seems odd for team to all of a sudden bounce back like this where last season they were not playing up to standards. Maybe their potential wasn’t shown last year due to COVID-19 and all of the problems that brought to multiple teams across the league. The goalies could potentially cool down eventually, but their offence is firing on all cylinders. I seriously think this could be a team that could go deep in the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Most people following the Leafs essentially say the same kinds of things. “Nothing matters until playoffs”, “Im not getting my hopes up”, “Wake me up in May”. Leafs fans truly just want one thing: To get past the first round and go on a deep playoff run.
I don’t think it’s bad to reward the Leafs a little bit here. They have been playing great hockey and are the hottest team in the NHL with a 9-1-0 record in their last 10. Their big four players up front all have been productive and are hovering around a point per game.
Jack Campbell has been the MVP for the Toronto Maple Leafs so far. There is absolutely no debate he is the reason they are winning hockey games like they are right now. Absolutely incredible season for an incredible player and person. 18 starts and still has 0.948% save percentage? Sign me up.
An area that concerns me a bit is the lack of offence on the backend, other than Morgan Rielly. Jake Muzzin and Rasmus Sandin are tied for second in Leafs defenceman scoring. Not exactly the most ideal players you would want to be leading the backend. Another defenceman on the back end who could move the puck and add some size and grit is definitely a need for the team, although the rest of their team looks very solid right now.
My Canadian Stanley Cup Winner
The Leafs, Jets, Flames, and Oilers all have dynamic teams this year and we love to see the strength up north. Only one of these teams though is geared for playoff hockey this year and has the best chance to win the Stanley Cup in 2022.
The Calgary Flames have skill, grit, size, and elite goaltending that could push this team to the Stanley Cup Finals this year. First off, Markstrom is becoming the player the Flames paid for when they signed Markstrom in October 2020. Their defence is a great blend of skill, size, youth, and veteran leadership. Their forwards clearly have the skill you need to score goals, but the forward group is also balanced with Stanley Cup winners including Milan Lucic, Blake Coleman, and Trevor Lewis.
The storyline just seems so real as well. After a team has struggled to find identity and consistency over the years, they are finally able to showcase their team to the potential that they know they always could. The topic of adversity is definitely stringed to the Flames as well after multiple head coach firings and struggling to make playoffs consistently. It just seems right this year for Calgary to break the 28-year Stanley Cup drought in Canada.
That’s it from me! Neville Madill signing off. Had a great week summoning my inner Rear Admiral to inspire this blog post.
Statistics and Standings of this blog were taken from Monday November 29th 2021 and before. Tuesday November 30th games and Wednesday December 1st games may or may not be accounted for throughout this blog.