The 2015-16 NHL season will go down as one of the more uneventful campaigns in the game's history, with not a whole lot of excitement on the ice or off of it. Sure, the Washington Capitals have blown away the competition and will finish the season with by far the best record in the league, but the most glaring factoid about this spring's upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs marathon will be the absence of all seven Canadian teams. I believe Lord Stanley of Preston is spinning in his grave as we speak, and actual tears have been spotted falling from the trophy that bears his name.
The last time the unthinkable happened was during the 1969-70 season when both the Montréal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs missed the playoffs. Keep in mind that this was just the second season following expansion, and the league was made up of only 12 teams. It was also, until now, the only season when the playoffs were sans Canada. In a 30-team league, the absence of the Motherland is even more glaring because there are now 23 teams playing in the U.S. That gives Canadians one more reason to hate Americans, and it gives American hockey fans one less reason to want to flee to Canada pending the outcome of next November's presidential election.
The white elephant no one wants to acknowledge is Canada's 23 year championship drought. The last time the Cup was hoisted in a Canadian city was when the Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in 1993. Think about it - there are hockey fans alive today who were either infants or not yet born the last time a Canadian team won a championship. This further exacerbates the sense of inferiority Canadians feel towards their neighbors to the south, and personally, I'm starting to feel a bit decrepit.
There are many theories behind why Canadian teams have struggled so mightily during the post-season, and many of them no longer hold water. A weak Canadian dollar can no longer be blamed (even though it is currently hovering around $.75 U.S.) because all the players are paid in greenbacks. Then there's the salary cap, which might bear a tad more responsibility for the consistent basement-dwelling, but then again, Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver are all in the top tier in terms of salary. As far as homegrown athleticism goes, three of the last four Canadian Olympic squads won gold, so it's definitely not a question of talent.
So, what gives? I'm stumped. And when I don't have an answer, I like to invoke the Hockey Gods. They've been pretty peeved at the Maple Leafs for going on 49 years now, and they've allowed the Canucks to get thisclose a few times before glory was snatched off the blades of their sticks. As for the Canadiens, that truly baffles me. Some of the classiest, most talented players to ever lace up skates played for that team (not counting Patrick Roy), and I have no idea, from a divine perspective, why things have been so dire. Perhaps Leafs' general manager Lou Lamoriello's recent trading deadline homage to "Honest Ed" Mirvish will bring the team some luck next season, but it will likely be a while before civil servants start planning a victory parade route.
Another possible reason for the widespread incompetence might very well be the Canadian fans themselves. Four out of the 7 teams consistently play before capacity crowds, which has long been a symptom of complacency, especially in Toronto, where an almost half-century championship drought doesn't stop the fans from filling the building. I've witnessed firsthand the love Canadians have for that team, on home ice and by expat Canucks in various arenas in major cities across the North American land mass. It can be somewhat nauseating, especially given the ineptitude with which that organization has been run over the past couple of decades.
This spring, Canadians will be given a rare opportunity to focus on other things besides hockey. That will not bode well for Rogers Sportsnet, considering viewership will likely be non-existent, if it isn't already. It's a shame, because playoff hockey is truly something special. There's nothing quite like the heart palpitations you get watching your team play during sudden-death overtime. The sheer mental and physical effort it takes to win four consecutive best-of-seven series to claim a 35-pound silver chalice is nothing short of miraculous. The planets must align just so, the winds must be at your back, and your composite blade must be firmly affixed to its shaft. Most of all, the Hockey Gods must be in your corner. Without them, your team will reside in the purgatory we now know, for hockey fans at least, as Canada.
Nava is a freelance writer based in the American Pacific Northwest. She loves to watch and write about hockey because she is also Canadian. During the off-season, Nava loves to cross-border shop, drink gallons of Tim Horton's coffee, and contemplate jumping in her car and driving to Alaska.