Welcome back to Northern Exposure, your weekly NHL Canadian tour. Join me as I make a stop in each of the six Canadian NHL cities, discussing stories of interest in each.
Now that we know there will only be 2 clubs from Canada in the rodeo that is the NHL playoffs, it is a chance to examine the drought that Canada has had. Way back in 1993, the Montreal Canadiens capped off an incredible and surprising run to win the Stanley Cup with a finals victory over Wayne Gretzky and the LA Kings. From that year to the present, the Cup has been handed out 16 times, and has been received by 10 different franchise’s captains, all from American teams.
Over that 17 year span, Vancouver (1994), Calgary (2004), Edmonton (2006) and Ottawa (2007) have all come within an eyelash of ending the slump, but all were turned back in the finals. Each time, fans across the country put their individial loyalties aside and joined the fan club for that team, if just for a series. Each time, all ended up disappointed. Could this be the year the drought ends?
The weight of a nation will be on the shoulders of the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens as they embark on their quests to end the streak of the Stanley Cup residing in the US, and to return the silver chalice to its rightful home, CANADA.
Now for the tour…Since we started out West last week, we will start in the East this time around.
The pressure to win in Montreal is immense at the best of times, but this Habs’ club is in its longest drought in team history without having tasted the sweet champagne from the Cup.
Fans in Montreal have fallen in love with this edition of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, but a poor playoff showing will have fans calling for heads to roll. PK Subban‘s antics are great and exciting while the team is winning, but the moment they cost him in a crucial moment of the playoffs the tide might turn. Carey Price could run for Mayor in Montreal right now, but anything short of matching Jaroslav Halak‘s heroics of last season will not be enough.
In his 13 seasons as an NHL Head Coach, Jacques Martin has been in the playoffs 9 times. In those 9 seasons he only won 6 rounds, going deeper than the first round only 4 times. Keep in mind, he was at the helm of the Senators when they were expected to win Cups, not just series’. How deep does he need to go, and if the Habs are knocked off early, does he need to worry about his job?
In Vancouver, the time for excuses are over for Roberto Luongo. He has the supporting cast around him, and has had the rest that he hasn’t enjoyed in prior seasons. Also, his kryptonite (Dustin Byfuglien), will definitely not around this time. He is no longer acting as the Captain of the team. If Luongo falters again, there will be serious questions about him, especially with Cory Schneider, his potential and recent s success waiting in the wings.
Vancouver enters the playoffs as the heavy favorite to win the cup, and anything short of captain Henrik Sedin receiving the Cup from Gary Bettman at centre ice in June will be considered a failure. Their biggest hurdle might come right off the bat, as they get to face down their recent playoff nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks. Defeating the Hawks could make the Cancuks either: A) get the monkey off their back and coast to the cup or B) make them think the task that they couldn’t do previously is finally done and they could have a mental letdown. Either way, this series will be one to watch.
The Calgary Flames‘ playoff hopes were extinguished late in the season, and the off-season will hinge on 1) finalizing the GM role, and then 2) finding a centre who can play with Jarome Iginla, before he has to retire having essentially wasted his career in Calgary. The future Hall of Famer has made his career without ever having a top flight pivot, and has reached legendary status despite the clubs constant failure to give him a dominant line-mate.
The Edmonton Oilers ended their season knowing that they would either be picking first or second in the draft, adding to the bounty of youth they already have. They will be getting a player who will be able to step in next year, whether it be Adam Larsson on the blue line or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog up front. Even if they select Larsson, the Oil will still be looking for more help on the blue line this summer.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to build on a surprisingly strong season that saw them keep fans interested in a playoff run right up until the last week. James Reimer was the story of the second half, and definitely has the inside track for the starters job next year. Brian Burke‘s shopping list will include a top centre, and a backup goalie this summer. The backup netminder might come from within the system. If JS Giguere is willing to take a significant pay cut to stay in Blue and White, Jonas Gustavsson might be the odd man out, at least to start the season.
Ottawa Senators‘ GM Bryan Murray did enough after the All-Star break to earn a 3 year contract extension from Owner Eugene Melnyk. Head Coach Cory Clouston was not so lucky as he was dismissed upon return from the season-ending loss in Boston. The Senators hope to win the Draft Lottery on Tuesday and get the first overall pick, otherwise they will be picking either 5th or 6th. Their most pressing needs in the offseason are a head coach, a scoring forward and a backup goalie for Craig Anderson.
So ends our Canadian Tour for this week. Regardless of who you root for, the playoffs are always ripe with great stories, games and upsets. If your team is in, good luck, and if your team isn’t in, there is always hope for next year.
Topics: Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Dustin Byfuglien, Edmonton Oilers, Henrik Sedin, Jarome Iginla, Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Stanley Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks