Is 2015-2016 Canada's Season?
There are plenty of impressive streaks in NHL history- the longest win streak, 17, set by the '92-'93 Penguins; a 24 game point streak, by the Chicago Blackhawks, in the shortened 2013 season; 53 consecutive penalty kills, by the Washington Capitals, in the 1999-2000 season; and Wayne Gretzky's 51 game point streak, with the Edmonton Oilers, from 1983 to 1984.... And then there's the not-so-impressive streaks- like Canada's 22 year Stanley Cup Championship drought...
The last time Canada brought home a Cup was when the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1993, against the L.A. Kings. It was L.A.'s first ever Stanley Cup appearance, and Montreal's 34th.
Montreal, coached by Jacques Demer, ousted the Kings, coached by Barry Melrose, four games to one. Montreal would drop the first game, at home, 4-1, with the Habs only goal to come off of Wayne Gretzky's deflection into his own net (Even the best makes mistakes sometimes). Games 2, 3 and 4 would need overtime, as the Canadiens would win 3-2, 4-3, and then 3-2 again to take a three games to one series lead. Kirk Muller, of Montreal, would net the game, series, and Stanley Cup winning goal en route to a 4-1 victory in game five. And the rest is history.
Since then, Canada has only gotten to the Stanley Cup Final five times, only to see "The Mug" raised by the opposition each time. The most recent appearance was against Boston in 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks would let the cup slip through their fingers (see what I did there? I'm talking to you, Michael Ryder!!!). But with all the variables in place and moves that have been made, thus far, Canada could very well be getting to bring the Stanley Cup home fairly soon- If not next season. But by whom?
Does Canada stand a chance?
Does Canada have a legitimate shot at winning a cup this year?
It's pretty safe to say that the Ottawa Senators impressed quiet a few people this past season. After being 14 points out of playoff contention during the regular season, Ottawa still managed to hang on until the very end. In an epic race for the final two wild card spots that came down to the very last game, Ottawa found themselves going head to head with playoff regulars, Pittsburgh and Boston.
Ottawa might be a long shot to be the team to bring home the Cup, but don't count them out just yet. While it’s true that not a single skater was able to break the 30 goal mark this season, they do have 2 quality goaltenders in Craig Anderson and Andrew “The Hamburger” Hammond. Robin Lehner is also a viable option for the Sens, but is still on injured reserve with a concussion after a collision with teammate Clarke MacArthur.
The Hamburger is most likely the main reason the Senators were able to make the playoffs this year, and just signed a contract extension with Ottawa, but lack of experience got the better of him in playoffs. Good news- He now has that initial playoff shock out of the way, and the Sens Army can expect to see more of him in the future. With all the goalies currently on the payroll, however, Robin Lehner looks to be the one getting ready to pack his bags in the offseason, possibly to ship off to Edmonton.
Rookie sensations Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone led the charge on offense during the regular season, netting 27 and 26 goals, respectively. Veterans Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris were amongst the top 3 in points for the team. As Ottawa’s young rising stars develop, it is possible that this upcoming season, they COULD be a contender for Lord Stanley’s’ Cup.
Toronto Maple Leafs
More commonly known as the team who couldn't even tank a season right, the Leafs decided that at the very end they were going to pack up their toys and go home. They had high hopes and expectations that Connor McDavid would be theirs for the taking and even dealt off some key players in questionable deals. Too bad for them, they still aren't as bad as most would think.
They would eventually finish 7th in the Atlantic Division(27th in the league), far from their coveted last place, and they would also lose the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes, getting bested by Edmonton, who finished 28th in the league. Draft rankings everywhere show that Toronto, who will have the 4th pick in the 2015 draft, will most likely pick up Dylan Strome- younger brother of the Islanders' Ryan Strome, and teammate of Connor McDavid.
Dylan, who is coming off a pretty good season in the OHL, with Erie Otters, would most likely be thrown right in the mix and would probably start on the 2nd or 3rd line. But let's not think a 4th overall pick is going to lead the Leafs to a Stanley Cup in his very first year. That's where Mike Babcock, former Redwings bench boss, comes in...
Mike Babcock signed on to the Leafs after Detroit took an early first round exit to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has already promised things to be different and has said "If you think there is no pain coming, there's pain coming". If Babcock sticks to his words, and I'm sure he will, expect to see a change in the way players, like Phil Kessel, approach and play the game. We've seen a good draft pick and a coaching change lead a team from rags to riches before in Colorado, so if Babcock can change the mindset of the Leafs, he could very well lead them onto a deep Stanley Cup push.
Unfortunately for Edmonton, like Toronto(who would pick fourth in the 2015 draft), they would most likely have to rely on the services of their first overall pick and new head coach. Good new is, though, a lot of people consider Connor McDavid to be better than Sydney Crosby. That's quite the comparison.
Todd McLellan is no slouch either. After mutually agreeing to part ways with the San Jose Sharks, McLellan found a new gig with the Oilers. McLellan new won a Stanley Cup with the Sharks, but if you look back a little deeper, you would see he was assistant coach to Toronto's new bench boss, Mike Babcock, and was in charge of the forwards and the power play. During his second year as Babcock's right hand man, the Wings would boast the top power play in the NHL. In the 2008-2009 season he would also go on to win a Stanley Cup with Detroit. With San Jose, he would make the playoffs every year, except his last.
Edmonton finished 28th in the league, only doing better than the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres- hardly a place where their new coach wants to be. A new surge of life into the organization, in the form of generational player Connor McDavid, and new head coach, Todd McLellan, could mean good things for the Oilers and their fans for years to come.
When it comes to young, hungry talent, Calgary takes the cake. They may not be the biggest team in the NHL, but for what they lack in size, they make up for in speed, skill, and determination. The Flames' young superstars melded nicely with their seasoned verterans, and the result ended up being able to knock off their Canadian neighbors, Vancouver, in the first round of this year's playoffs.
With captain Mike Giordano(torn biceps) out for almost a quarter of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs, veteran Juri Hudler and rookie all star Johnny Hockey (Gaudreau) led the Flames into the 2nd round of the 2015 playoffs.
Kari Ramo and Jonas Hiller would share the load during the playoffs, but it was Hiller who carried the team as the number one during most of the regular season. Both goaltenders, though, posted a save percentage above .900 and have a ton of experience between the pipes, which allowed the Flames to succeed on offense while their defense missed out on the services of their captain.
It's pretty safe to say that if Mark Giordano can come back and be healthy next season (still on injured reserve), everything is already in place for them to steam roll teams into the playoffs and win their 2nd Cup in franchise history.
The Canucks were fairly quiet this year while a lot of news was happening throughout the league. They still managed to pull 2nd in the Pacific Division where they would coast comfortably into the playoffs. But maybe they were TOO comfortable. Calgary would get the better of the Canucks as Vancouver would enjoy yet another extended summer vacation, and some were left scratching their heads and asking "how?". While maybe somewhat disappointing to their fans, the Canucks sure didn't seem to worry... almost as if they were waiting to strike.
While the Canucks have an aging team, there no doubt that there's experience in the locker room. What Vancouver will need is a little more youth and speed. Which can be aquired by two methods.
Sitting at around five million under the cap, and no major contract upgrades due, expect Vancouver to be a lot more active over the summer than at the trade deadline. With teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, and L.A. having to offload some talent, Vancouver has a pool of talent that they can pick from.
Another way to get their hands on some young legs is to pick 'em directly from the draft. Only problem- draft picks are scarce in Vancouver, so expect to see some players dealt out in exchange for picks. This would also open up even more cap space for the Canucks.
As of right now, a few good moves here and there could be just what Vancouver needs to put Canada back on the map. GM Jim Benning has a lot of homework to do.
Since they came back into the NHL for the 2011 season, the Jets had not even been able to make the playoffs. This past year, they were able to sneak into the second wild card spot, only to be swept by the Anaheim Ducks. But at least Winnipeg was able to host hockey for the first time since April of '96. And the fans responded accordingly.
With possibly the least chance to bring home a Cup, Winnipeg sports about 6.5 million in cap space. After after their first round playoff exit, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff could also be going on a little spending spree of his own.
Captain, Mark Messier Leadership Award nominee, and prior Stanley Cup winner, Andrew Ladd led his team with 62 points during the regular season and was second in goals, but still couldn't break the 30 goal mark. Netminders Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson would combine for a 2.33 GAA and a .917 save percentage.
The main problem for the Jets, however, is that they lack that one stand out player to lean on. If the Jets can aquire that true franchise player, the rest of the team could rally around them and share in their success. Expect a busy offseason.
Probably the most likely of heroes for Canada, the Montreal Canadiens were able to win the most playoff games of any Canadian team with 6. Led by Hart and Vezina Trophy nominee goaltender, Carey Price, the Habs played fairly well in the playoffs before imploding and losing to Tampa Bay in game six of the second round. Most importantly, Montreal WANTED to win. So much, that discipline was the obvious enemy of the Habs.
Norris Trophy nominee, P.K. Subban, tuned his game to be more of a defensive minded threat, but was still able to contribute offensively when his team needed the extra push at times. But overall, it was the lack of goal scoring as a team that would be Montreal's downfall.
Max Pacioretty led his team offensively with 37 goals and was on track to be a Maurice Richard trophy candidate until he went down with a concussion in April. He was able to return for game two of the first round. However, Montreal would only manage 24 goals in the post season, averaging 2.08 goals per game, making them 13th in that stat.
With about 3 million to spend in the off season, the Habs will need to keep an eye out for an additional offensive threat. Recent reports say that they could be interested in Chicago's Patrick Sharp, but with little to spend, they will have to make some cap room to afford the high dollar players like Sharp. But nonetheless, the Canadiens still have one of the better shots at a Stanley Cup Championship and will be relied on heavily until the other teams can get it together.
Which Canadian team do you think has the best chance of winning in the 2016-2017 season?
BONUS! Quebec Nordiques
No, I'm not talking about the Colorado Avalanche. I'm talking about the Quebec Nordiques who, in 1995, relocated to Colorado. But how is a team that doesn't even exist currently going to win a Stanley Cup?
Well given the situation in Arizona, who are rapidly losing money (about 50 million in their first season in Glendale), the Coyotes may have their backs against the wall soon, and forced to relocate. Possibly to Las Vegas, Seattle, or- yup- Quebec City. But while the decision to move the 'Yotes is still up in the air, I wouldn't look too much into this option... But it could happen.