For the first time in almost five decades, not one Canadian franchise will compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sucks to be Canadian right now…
Or does it?
Sure, it’s a kick right square in the pride for Canadians to see an American-only playoffs, but that’s a heck of a lot different than a World Championship, wherein the notion of national pride takes centre-stage.
Ryan Getzlaf isn’t battling for national pride. Neither is Sydney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, Jaromir Jagr or Roberto Luongo. While these and other legends of the game are about to embark on a grueling war of attrition which will demand every iota of tenacity, focus, and determination they can muster, they are all doing so for the team colours they sport. It isn’t about a flag. It is about the city they play in and most importantly, its franchise.
Jonathan Toews represents his country in international competition as fiercely as he does when he’s sporting Blackhawk–red. That his cohort Patrick Kane is American is of absolutely no concern or consequence in the theatre of war that is Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. For eighty-two games a season, plus four playoff rounds, they are brothers, united by the crest they defend, not the colour of their passports. It’s all about team pride.
To be frank, I actually like that so much of the attention this year is focused on American teams. It’s great for the sport as a whole, and the emergence of high-end U.S.-born players bodes well for the future of hockey.
While Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are established NHL stars, you also have Jack Eichel emerging as a dominant force in hockey, as well as Calder Trophy candidate Dylan Larkin who has amassed 23 goals and 22 assists to date in his rookie campaign with the Red Wings. While Eichel will have to wait to get a taste of post-season action, Larkin will play an important role in the Motor City’s march to the finals, should they clinch a spot in the coming week. Pint sized sure-shot Johnny Gaudreau is a native of Salem, New Jersey, and has quickly acquitted himself as a legitimate offensive force at the NHL level. The list of high-end talent doesn’t stop there, either, as this season’s unanimous first-overall draft selection is bound to be Scottsdale, Arizona native Auston Matthews, currently plying his craft against grown men in the Swiss-A league with Zurich. In just 36 contests, Matthews has 24 goals and 22 helpers for 46 points. That’s pretty remarkable.
Chances are, Matthews will be drafted by a Canadian franchise, and not a single syrup-sucking, snowshoe-wearing puck-head will bat an eye over it. That is, unless he joins Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Taylor Hall – all former first-overall picks – in Edmonton. Most non-Oilers fans would rather see him in Buffalo, to be honest.
The other thing is this: Canadian teams have some fantastic emerging talent, and some of it is even Canadian in origin. The Calgary Flames boast high-end centremen Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett as well as behemoth defender Dougie Hamilton, a former first-round draftee of the Boston Bruins. While the Winnipeg Jets have a decidedly American core group (Wheeler, Stafford, Byfuglien, Myers, Trouba), Kitchener, Ontario native Mark Scheifele is also emerging as a pretty special player in his own right, with 27 goals and 29 assists to his credit this season. The Maple Leafs have a spectacular young defender just coming into his own in Morgan Rielly, who has effectively replaced former captain Dion Phaneuf as the team’s top back-ender. OHL phenom and former 4th-overall selection Mitch Marner is also soon to make his presence felt in the NHL, and if his last two seasons are any indication of what he is capable of, Marner could be the best prospect the Leafs have drafted since Wendel Clark. To summarize, the state of the Canadian game is far from in peril. From McDavid to Marner, there are genuine grounds for optimism among Canadian clubs, and it won’t be long before some of that playoff revenue, if not the cup itself, makes its way home to Canada.
Most fans aren’t sweating this north of the border, and for the most part, are enjoying the emergence of the U.S. as a hockey super-power. This great game benefits greatly from American success stories, and more and more we are witnessing high-end talent coming from NCAA programs as opposed to primarily Canadian or European developmental leagues. Sure, we hosers love to call it Canada’s game, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to compete in – and watch – when your opponent is every bit your equal on the ice. Well, almost…
Enjoy the post-season to come, puck heads, regardless of the flag you fly, because it’s all about the crest on the front, not the nationality of the competitors.