O Canada! Is this the year the Stanley Cup drought ends?


Canada’s identity as a hockey nation was forged, at least in part, by ubiquity. Between 1893, when the Stanley Cup was first awarded, and 1994, there never had been a span of more than two seasons in which a Canadian team didn’t play for the NHL championship, and only 16 Stanley Cup finals over that century-long span featured zero Canadian teams. And even when the NHL expanded well beyond its Original Six, Canadian teams still were at the forefront: The Stanley Cup finals featured at least one Canadian team in 9 of 11 seasons between 1983 and 1994, and eight of those teams lifted the cup in the end.

But since 1994, when the Vancouver Canucks lost a taut seven-game series to the New York Rangers, the NHL’s Canadian teams have been only fleeting competitors for the Stanley Cup. Only six teams from up north have reached the NHL’s championship series. None of them have won, though the Edmonton Oilers can end that drought on Monday night by beating the Florida Panthers in Game 7 of this year’s Stanley Cup finals.

“There has to be a curse,” Craig Button, a former NHL executive and scout who now serves as a hockey analyst for Canada’s TSN network, told the National Post at the start of this season. “What else could explain it all?”

Oh, there’s plenty of possible explanations: free agents who would rather play in the low- or no-tax Sun Belt cities that now populate the NHL, with the added bonus of nice weather; the feeling that playing in the United States offers players far greater chances to market their celebrity; the alleged economic disadvantages that smaller-market Canadian teams face; and the fact that Canadian hockey fans will buy tickets even if their team is bad, so why worry too much about being good? There’s also a convenient boogeyman in longtime NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, an American who has led the NHL’s drive to expand well south of the 49th parallel.

“They’re tough markets to be successful in,” Canadian-born Vincent Damphousse, a member of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens team that was the last Canadian franchise to win the Stanley Cup, told the Associated Press. “It’s been tough. There have been rebuilds and good years and bad years and I’m hoping for a success story in Canada, for sure. I don’t wish any bad luck on the Canadian teams.”

Whatever the reason, no Canadian team has hoisted the Stanley Cup since those 1993 Canadiens. It’s a statistical improbability: In 2022, the Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn found that the likelihood of such a drought by the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises to be 0.7 of a percent. There was a higher chance (1 percent) that Canadian teams should have won 10-plus titles over that span, based on the underlying metrics.

“The Canadian teams have been left out in the cold long enough,” Quebec-born former NHL player and broadcaster Bill Clement once said. “It’s their turn.”

Clement made this comment not recently but in 2002, when three Canadian teams reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. But it wasn’t to be. The Carolina Hurricanes, from that noted hockey mecca of Raleigh, N.C., first knocked out the Canadiens in the East semifinals, then the Toronto Maple Leafs in the conference finals. The drought continued.

There have been multiple close calls. In 2004, the Calgary Flames lost the Stanley Cup finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games, with some feeling that the Flames’ Martin Gelinas was robbed of what could have been the cup-clinching goal late in Game 6 (the play was not reviewed).

In the next Stanley Cup finals, the Oilers erased a 3-1 series deficit against the Carolina Hurricanes but also fell in Game 7. The Ottawa Senators played for the Stanley Cup in 2007, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five games. In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks had home-ice advantage and won the first two games of their series against the Boston Bruins, but they lost Game 7 at home after scoring only eight goals the entire series, the fewest of any team that played in a seven-game series in NHL history. The Canadiens were the most recent Canadian team to give it a shot, but they fell meekly to the Lightning in 2021.

The Oilers, who became only the 10th NHL team to erase a 3-0 series deficit, can end this baffling drought for Canada’s NHL teams on Monday night with a win in South Florida.

“All of Canada’s behind you. Let’s bring the Cup home,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on social media at the start of the Stanley Cup finals.



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