For the first time in nearly 50 years and just the second time in history, not a single Canadian team has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Ottawa Senators were officially eliminated on Wednesday night when the Philadelphia Flyers picked up a 2-1 shootout win over the league-leading Washington Capitals.
While there are some in this country that turn this into a referendum on hockey in this country, the reality is that outside of the collapse that occurred in Montreal after all-everything goaltender Carey Price went down in December, it’s not all that surprising that the remaining six Canadian teams are free to start booking tee times when the playoffs kick off.
Toronto is at the start of a massive rebuild that already looks promising. Ottawa, despite their owner’s ambitious expectations, is a middling team that needed a miracle run to make the playoffs last season. Edmonton’s not close, Calgary kind of got lucky last year and Vancouver is taking the wrong approach to becoming relevant again.
The only other partially surprising Canadian team to miss the playoffs is the Winnipeg Jets, who got in last year only to be swept aside by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. But even in “The Peg,” it’s easy to see how they came up short this year as the club added more youth to the lineup and have played all year employing a three-headed monster between the pipes, as Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck have started 27, 24 and 26 games respectively.
Despite this rare occurrence, there is no real reason to be concerned that this is going to be a trend, as Montreal should bounce back with a healthy Price between the pipes next season, Winnipeg is close and Calgary can make a jump out West if they figure out their goaltending situation in the offseason. Ottawa could get their too and – as crazy as this sounds – a couple defensive improvements could put Edmonton in the mix for one of the final spots out West too.
Sorry Vancouver and Toronto; you’re going to have to wait another year or two before returning to the postseason, but stick to the plan (or develop one if you’re the Canucks) and you’ll get there sooner, rather than later.
You know who should be worried though? Sportsnet. The broadcasters inked a 12-year, $5.2B deal for NHL rights in 2013 and now they’re heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs sans Canadian teams, which could mean some scary-low ratings at a time when interest usually increases. As much as the intensity and excitement of playoff hockey will keep plenty of people glued to their televisions for the next couple months, having your hometown team or a Canadian squad to rally behind is a big part of the playoff experience and with those options being nonexistent this season, I’m not sure viewers in Regina are going to be all that jazzed about a first-round All-Florida match-ups between the Lightning and the Panthers.
You know who should be pumped? The Toronto Raptors, who picked up their franchise-record 50th win on Wednesday night and are locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course, they haven’t won a playoff series in 14 seasons and that was just one of those goofy five-game sets, so maybe don’t hold your breath on a deep run from them either. Good thing baseball season is about to start… let’s go Blue Jays!