Nearly a quarter-century has passed since a Canadian team hoisted the Stanley Cup and that drought continues into the 2018-19 season. Why?
It has been an agonizing 25 years for a nation that stakes claim to the invention of modern hockey. One has to go back to the 1993 Montreal Canadiens to uncover the last time a franchise from the Great White North has won the NHL championship. What are the odds? Well, if a title winner were randomly chosen form all the teams in the league competing during each season, the chances a team from Canada would win one at least one Stanley Cup are more than 99 percent.
This assumes all forces are equal, but sports bettors know better. Bad luck has certainly been a main factor. The playoffs are close to a crapshoot with implied probability of picking a winner often within 10 percent on the NHL odds board. But the cream eventually rises to the top, evident by the fact 14 of 23 Cup winners in this span were seeded one or two in their respective conferences (the league canceled the 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute). Twelve Canadian teams have held one of the two top spots in this span, including this year’s Winnipeg Jets, who lost to Vegas 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals.
Economics, Market Excuses
So why are Canadian teams failing to hoist the Cup? There are numerous theories bandied about, including arguments concerning economic structure, supply and demand, general mismanagement, environmental factors and more. The most practical reasoning is economic. For the first two decades, the country lagged partly behind because of a sagging dollar. This particularly hurt because teams were able to spend freely on players during this time. Owners north of the border were at a big disadvantage if wanting to assemble a rich, superstar team. In 2000, the Canadian-to-U.S. dollar rate equaled roughly 1.5:1. The currency gap closed considerably right around 2005, the same era in which the league instituted a hard salary cap for paying players. Talk about bad timing.
General mismanagement is another concern, be it poor team building, administration, lack of chemistry, complacency, you name it. Analyst Nate Silver of FiveThiryEight crunched the numbers and suggests some of this negligence is market-driven. Silver showed heightened fan interest north of the border coupled with fewer teams to support fosters an environment of uncritical satisfaction. Not to mention, players might struggle to play in a media fishbowl. No matter how poor the product on the ice, Canadian teams regularly sell out their games and draw sizable television ratings. Nearly 40 percent of NHL television revenue, for example, comes from the seven Canadian teams. Competition there is waning, and franchises possibly fall into the “lovable losers” trap. Rabid fan loyalty and devotion could offer less incentive to win and compete. The biggest hockey market in the world is Toronto, and it hasn’t paraded the Cup since 1967. Perhaps another team or two in the area would help cultivate another title.
Jets Came Up Short
The Jets have the size, speed, and quickness to win hockey’s coveted prize as soon as 2018-19, but it will likely take added experience, leadership, and a couple of more pieces to claim the Cup. Twenty-year-old sensation Patrik Laine, who finished second in the league with 44 goals this past regular season, fuels a high-powered offense, while young goalie Connor Hellebuyck posted a .924 save percentage between the pipes. Winnipeg, in fact, was the only team in the NHL to finish in the top five in goals scored and fewest goals allowed per game. But the team’s success was unexpected. Over the last decade, the eventual NHL champion ranked as a Top-10 preseason betting choice, and at odds of +2000 or lower each season:
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The Jets, although a two-seed in the 2018 West playoffs, ranked 24th out of 31 teams at +5000 odds when the first puck dropped on the 2017-18 season in October. The Cinderella ran came to a halt in the Western Confernce Finals, but expect this bunch to be a Top-10 selection next year. Experience and smart team management make legitimate contenders moving forward.