Apr 11, 2001
What's going on here? Four Canadian hockey clubs have qualified to play in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs? Have our calendars backed up 10 years or have we catapulted into a time where the Canadian dollar is healthy and small market teams can handle player salaries? Probably neither. We just happen to be in an era when most Canadian GM's are doing a wonderful job drafting, evaluating talent and getting the most out of fewer dollars.
The Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will all be featured in this year's quest for the cup. Quite an accomplishment, considering the uphill battle that Canadian clubs face with taxes, a shrinking dollar and increasing player salaries.
A second round appearance by a Canadian team is even guaranteed, considering Toronto and Ottawa will meet in the first round. Hardly appeasing however, for Canadian fans. Though no team north of the border is considered a strong favorite, natives of hockey's homeland are eagerly awaiting a return of the Stanley Cup - a trophy not won by a Canadian team since the Montreal Canadians in 1993.
Canadian fans take the playoffs personally. They see the Colorado Avalanches and New Jersey Devils of the world dominating their game. Granted, Canadians fill the rosters of most American teams, but this is anything but satisfying. After witnessing their longest championship drought ever, Canadian fans want the Cup back on their soil. I'm sure Americans can understand. Remember when the Toronto Blue Jays owned the World Series for 2 consecutive years?
Ending the drought this year, may be a bit of a stretch. All four Canadian teams are capable of getting hot, but all have question marks. Vancouver was devastated with the loss of their leader and 40-goal man Markus Naslund earlier in the year. If that isn't enough, they were "lucky" enough to draw top ranked Colorado in the first round.
Edmonton has played well down the stretch and as always, they possess a talented, speedy team. Whether they have the depth to compete with the NHL's big boys remains to be seen.
Before the season began, Toronto looked like Canada's best hope in years of bringing home the Stanley Cup. But a poor regular season has all but ended such optimism. With their swiss cheese defense, Toronto will once again be looking to ride the back of goaltender Curtis Joseph.
Ottawa will look to add to their regular season success by making some noise in the playoffs. Though they possess great offensive talent, the Senators are once again questioned in the areas of goaltending and grit. A first round battle with Toronto will be a great test in erasing such doubts.
Just think. If a Canadian team is lucky enough to get hot and make a run at the Stanley Cup, it would be a David vs. Goliath type victory. It would make up for several years of defeat and frustration, temporarily erase bickering over currency and taxation dilemmas, and restore pride and hope in hockey's first nation.
On the other hand, if Canadian teams remain stepping-stones to the Stanley Cup, it will be back to the drawing board. Another off-season will mean further challenge in keeping core players together due to free agency. Rumors will once again swirl about teams like Ottawa and Calgary possibly relocating and debates over tax breaks will increase.
At this point, Canadian fans will have to take pride in the fact that 66% of their clubs were able to make the playoffs in a less than friendly environment. Small step maybe, but the payoff will be huge if one of them catches a hot streak. After all, in the playoffs anything can happen.
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