Written by Jared Crozier..."/>

Written by Jared Crozier..."/>

Woe Canada!


Written by Jared Crozier

Not since 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens and Patrick Roy turned an improbable run of overtime heroics into a Stanley Cup Championship, has the Holy Grail of Hockey called Canada home. Since then, the Canucks (1994), Flames (2004), Oilers (2006) and Senators (2007) have all been to the brink, only to allow the Cup to call an American city home for yet another year. Will this be the season that the 18 year drought comes to an end? Maybe, or maybe not, but eventually it will happen.  I will look at the chances for each Canadian club to be the one to end the slump, whether it is this season or not.

Toronto  Maple Leafs

General Manager Brian Burke has now been on the job for more than two years, and it can be argued that although he has shown bravado and has tried to shake up the team, they find themselves in the same position they were when Burke took over. Burke has turned over most of the roster, and brought in “Brian Burke” type players, but to no current avail. They are still lacking a proven number one centre and still waiting for top flight goaltending that they haven’t had since the departures of Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour respectively. Until these key pieces are in place, the likelihood of the Leafs hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug remains very slim. They should focus more on not giving a division rival yet another lottery pick this summer than winning the Cup. The Leafs are a couple of years away from being a playoff team and even further away from being a contender.




Edmonton   Oilers

In the tough-slugging Western Conference, the Oilers have spent a lot of time floundering and trying to find an identity. They appear to finally be digging out from some of the ridiculous contracts that were handed out following the 2006 Cup run. The future looks bright in Edmonton, and if they can keep the young core including Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Gagner and Hemsky together for some time, they have a solid foundation on which to build. Perhaps the playoffs are a pipe dream this season, but in the near future the Oilers will have the powerhouse teams in the West looking over their shoulders. However, they are still a couple of defensemen and a solid goaltender away from being a serious threat. That development may come from within, but aging netminder Nikolai Khabibulin won’t be around to see the fruits of the losses they have put up over the past few seasons. Those struggles have given the club the bounty of young talent they currently are blessed with. The playoffs are in sight as early as 2011-12, and they are about three seasons away from being serious contenders.



Calgary Flames

The Flames’ window seems to have closed without them really getting a chance post-lockout. Some confusing player personnel moves (Jokinen, Tanguay, Phaneuf) and age have combined to put the Flames in a position that they are becoming all too used to… on the outside looking in come mid-April.  This club hasn’t won a post season series since their improbable cup run in 2004. In fact those three series wins in 2004 are their only series wins since their 1989 Stanley Cup win. The track record of the Flames in April is not good, and it doesn’t look to be getting much better. Age combined with wear and tear appear to be having an effect on captain Jarome Iginla, as he is no longer the dominant and fearsome power forward he was a couple of years ago. The high profile signing of Jay Bouwmeester has to be considered a bust so far, and the turmoil over the last couple of years has left the franchise in disarray. The talent seems to be there to facilitate a return to contender status, they just have to find a way to put it all together.



Ottawa   Senators

The latest Canadian team to taste the finals has had perhaps the greatest fall from grace of all. Once an offensive juggernaut, the Senators are a shell of their former selves. Their greatest weakness, goaltending, continues to be the Achilles heel for the club. The clubs skilled players do not seem to have the heart, while the grinders work hard but can’t find the net on a regular basis. Save for a freak eleven game winning streak last season, the Senators would be staring at a third consecutive playoff miss right in the face. What was said earlier about Iginla can be echoed in talking about Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, for whom it appears that the mind is willing but the body is no longer able. The Senators are at the crossroads, as both the GM and Head Coach are likely finished at the end of the season if not sooner. What direction the Senators take in the off season in terms of front office leadership will go a long way to determine if they club that takes the ice in 2011-12 will have any resemblance whatsoever to the one that skates off the ice in 2010-11. They do appear to have some building blocks in place, so it will be up to the new GM to determine what changes are made. If it is determined a complete rebuild is in order, the odds go down, but some tweaking in a couple of key areas and the maturing of Erik Karlsson and Robin Lehner could bring the Senators back to their former glory sooner than many people think.



Montreal   Canadiens

Coming off a shocking playoff run in 2010, the Canadiens parted ways with playoff hero Jaroslav Halak, in favour of current netminder Carey Price. Many wondered in the off-season what was going through GM Pierre Gauthier’s mind. All Price has done is reward his GM’s confidence by posting All-Star numbers, and almost single-handedly keeping the Habs in the playoff chase. The Montreal offense leaves a lot to be desired at times, but as they showed in the playoffs last year, all you have to do is qualify and anything can happen. Mike Cammalleri has a penchant for clutch goals, and the addition of defenseman James Wisnewski has helped to offset the lengthy injuries to Markov and Georges. The loss of these two stalwart defensemen may be the number one factor that Habs’ fans will point to should the Canadiens not break through and win the Cup this season. However it looks as though they will be one of two Canadian teams who even have a shot this year by actually qualifying for the playoffs. With Markov and Georges in the lineup I would like their odds much better, but neither player is expected back this season.



Vancouver   Canucks

The smart money will be on the country’s Western-most team to be the one that finally breaks through.  I cannot argue with that logic. They have the goaltending (arguably), the offense (double Sedin), and the defensive depth that it takes to win in April, May and June. Roberto Luongo will no longer have to deal with his nemesis in the playoffs, as Dustin Byfuglien is now plying his trade in the Eastern Conference.  The Western conference is a dog-fight for a playoff spot, but two clubs seem to be clear of the pack: Detroit and Vancouver. One major difference this season is that down the stretch Luongo has a more than capable backup in Corey Schneider, who can play key games and the Canucks will not have a huge drop in talent.  This will allow Luongo to be a little more rested going into the playoffs, which has appeared to be a problem in the past. Ryan Kesler has matured into a leader and an All Star and provides the Canucks with a 1-2 punch down the middle that can only be rivalled by one or maybe two other teams league wide. Simply put, if Luongo can be consistent during the stretch run and into the playoffs, this could be the season he gets a rather large playoff monkey off his back, and leads the Canucks to glory in the process.




It comes as no surprise that with two teams in the midst of serious rebuilds and two teams that are faced with the decision on whether or not to completely tear it down and start over, that the race for Canadian Stanley Cup glory is essentially a two horse race. I give the edge to the well balanced Vancouver Canucks over the Montreal Canadiens, who will need a bit of last year’s playoff magic to carry over if they are going to win the Cup. The Canucks’ window to win is wide open, and for now and the foreseeable future, they have the best shot of any Canadian team.