Canada has only one team in NHL playoffs
For the first time since 1973, there is just one Canadian team in the NHL postseason. The Montreal Canadiens represent the nation’s only hope of ending a 21-year Stanley Cup drought, and that’s a long shot.
Across the rest of the country, disappointment reigns.
”It’s not fun, for sure,” said Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri, who spent parts of three seasons with Montreal. ”The players on the team, I can tell you for sure, feel it. It weighs a lot on you, no doubt.
”That’s part of also what makes it so special to play in a Canadian market. When it goes the other way, there’s no more rewarding feeling.”
Playoff hopes slipped away at different times during the 2013-14 season for Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary, culminating Tuesday night when the Leafs were the final team eliminated.
Change has already come for some clubs and more is on the way. Flames general manager Jay Feaster, Canucks GM Mike Gillis and Jets coach Claude Noel have already lost their jobs as part of this lost season.
And already, Vancouver hired Trevor Linden and Toronto brought in Brendan Shanahan to oversee what comes next.
The biggest collapse has been by the Canucks.
All seemed well at the start of 2014 for the perennial contenders who came within one win of capturing the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. Daniel and Henrik Sedin had new four-year contract extensions, and a 10-1-2 December had Vancouver in playoff position.
Then the bottom fell out. Seven losses in eight games to start January brought signs of trouble. Mercurial coach John Tortorella’s infamous attempt to enter the Flames’ locker room after a brawl made things worse.
In March, Gillis blamed injuries and the locker room incident for the Canucks’ free fall that also included trading goaltender Roberto Luongo to Florida less than a year after sending Cory Schneider to New Jersey.
Now Gillis is gone and Linden must pick up the pieces.
Shanahan gets to do the same in Toronto, where the Leafs fell apart down the stretch, losing eight straight games in regulation. What seemed like a bright future when they nearly upset Boston in the opening round of last spring’s playoffs has turned murky.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier’s groin injury March 13 began the spiral, and even Bernier’s return couldn’t stop the Leafs from disappearing from contention.
Unlike the Canucks, the Leafs didn’t begin firing people immediately. Instead, they hired Shanahan away from the league office.
Ottawa also made the playoffs last season and now is on the outside. Like Toronto, the Senators fell apart in March, a six-game losing streak the most damaging.
High-profile addition Bobby Ryan, acquired in a trade with Anaheim, played much of the season in pain before finally having sports hernia surgery.
The playoffs might have been unreachable from the outset for the other three Canadian clubs: Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.
The Jets’ third season in Winnipeg ended like the first two: early. Not even a midseason coaching change from Noel to Paul Maurice made much difference.
”It’s been a difficult year, where we are, where we’ve come from, everything we’ve been through,” winger Blake Wheeler told The Canadian Press.
No expectations were placed on the Flames in a hard-core rebuilding year under new president of hockey operations Brian Burke. They had 10 players make their NHL debut this season, as coach Bob Hartley was tasked with instilling a work ethic in a young team.
Edmonton, despite so many recent top draft picks – Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov – has yet to meld that talent. Popular coaching hire Dallas Eakins couldn’t work much improvement, especially on defense, and the Oilers once again will be among the early choosers in the draft.
For now, other than in Montreal, Canada is the Not So Great White North on the hockey landscape.