This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on February 10, 2016.
Thirty years ago, the Stanley Cup Finals featured two Canadian teams, Montreal and Calgary. That same season, six of the seven clubs from the Great White North finished above every American franchise in their respective divisional standings. Fast forward a generation and the NHL standings appear upside down.
Heading into Tuesday’s play, Toronto and Winnipeg are in last place in the Atlantic and Central divisions, respectively, while Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton occupy the bottom three spots in the Pacific Division. Only Montreal and Ottawa are currently floating above an American divisional rival – the Buffalo Sabres, who had the worst record in the entire league each of the past two seasons.
While this year may be an aberration – this is the first season since 1999 during which Canadian teams collectively are under .500 – it has been a rough stretch for the nation that invented, and subsequently dominated, the sport of ice hockey. Two years ago, when Montreal was its lone postseason representative, Canada sent its fewest number of clubs to the NHL playoffs since 1973.
From 1976-1990, the New York Islanders were the only non-Canadian team to hoist the Stanley Cup. Even the World Hockey Association crowned four straight teams from north of the border during that time before its merger with the NHL in 1979. Since then, however, teams from Canada are merely 1-5 in the Stanley Cup Finals; the lone victory occurring when Montreal defeated Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings back in 1993.
Adding insult to injury, all seven teams from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and California (warm weather states, where fan interest was supposed to be too low to support a hockey team) are currently in playoff position this year.
(photo by Kaz Andrew)