Born in Ottawa and raised mostly in Montreal, the Stanley Cup is Canadian. But it’s been living in the United States for the past two decades and hasn’t come home once during that stretch. Why?
Nate Silver wrote a terrific exposé on the subject last year, titled "Why Can’t Canada Win the Stanley Cup?" I’ll highlight a few points from his research.
Money plays a role. After the Montreal Canadiens' victory in 1993, during the first portion of Canada’s Cup drought, all NHL teams were allowed to spend freely, but Canadian teams were hampered by a weak Canadian dollar. Since 2005 the dollar has recovered and Canadian teams are now turning large profits, but this period coincided with the advent of the salary cap, so once again Canadian teams were hurt, this time because they weren’t able to spend all the profits on superior players.
There is a shortage of NHL teams in Canada, based on revenues and markets. While non-traditional markets such as Raleigh, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Los Angeles have won recent Cups (you could also add Colorado, which has won two Cups) Canada has had just six or seven of the 30 NHL teams with a shot at winning each year.
According to Silver, it’s important to realize that, just because L.A. has a population of 17 million and Boston 6.2 million, it does not make those cities better markets for hockey than, say, Calgary. Based on Google search traffic information cited in Silver's piece, just six per cent of L.A.'s population, compared with 17 per cent of Boston's and 67 per cent of Calgary’s, can be considered serious hockey fans. In the end, each market has about 1.1 million devout fans. There are as many hockey fans in Saskatoon, with a population of 340,000, as there are in Houston, with a population of six million.
Canadian fans are so good, they show up reliably in spite of results. At least some do. Toronto is in a forever-sold-out situation. Alberta has withstood lean years. Montreal attendance swooned just over a decade ago when the team faltered. Vancouver is showing some apathy right now, and the Canucks ownership’s response was swift. In Ottawa you must win to draw.
It’s all interesting because here’s the most important data regarding Canada and the Cup. Over the past 19 seasons, 12 Stanley Cup champions entered the playoffs as either the No. 1 or number No. 2 seed in their conference, and another three champions were No. 3 seeds. Top seeds win most often. New Jersey (a No. 5 in 1995 and a No. 4 in 2000), Pittsburgh (a No. 4 in 2009) and L.A. (a No. 8 in 2012) are the exceptions.
A look at Canadian teams tells us that, during the 19 years since Montreal won the Cup, of the 76 teams who were a No. 1 or No. 2 conference seed entering the post-season, just 11 were Canadian clubs:
- 1994 Flames: No. 2 West
- 1995 Nordiques: No. 1 East
- 1995 Flames: No. 2 West
- 1999 Senators: No. 2 East
- 2001 Senators: No. 2 East
- 2003 Senators: No. 1 East
- 2006 Senators: No. 1 East
- 2008 Canadiens: No. 1 East
- 2011 Canucks: No. 1 West
- 2012 Canucks: No. 1 West
- 2013 Canadiens: No. 2 East
None got the job done. But those cities may have been better because fans demanded a winner.
Canada's only playoff representative this year, the Canadiens, are not a top seed. So by definition, they're not a favourite. But they’ll have huge support. Even those who said they detested the mighty Habs found themselves fully aboard after first- and second-round upsets of Washington and Pittsburgh in 2010.
Avs heaviest on Canadians
One last thing. By my count, 206 (give or take injuries and coaches' decisions) of the 320 players who will dress in Round 1 of the playoffs will be Canadian born. You can make it a Maple Experience:
- Newfoundlanders suit up for Detroit and Tampa.
- P.E.I has players in Boston, New York and St. Louis.
- New Brunswick’s Brad Malone is in Colorado.
- Nova Scotia claims players in Boston, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Colorado.
- Quebec obviously has the Habs. And Colorado has seven players from La Belle Province. Most of anyone.
- Ontario: L.A. leads the way with nine players. The Rangers and Flyers have eight each, so maybe that’s your series.
- Manitoba: The reigning champs in Chicago have three Manitobans. So does Dallas.
- Saskatchewan: 13 teams have your ambassadors. Philadelphia is tops with four. Columbus has three and would be a good choice for you.
- Albertans skate for 14 teams in the playoffs. Dallas has four, Minnesota three.
- British Columbia boasts players on nearly every team. Leading the way is Dallas with four and San Jose with three.
The team with the most Canadians? Colorado will dress 18. Dallas has 16 and Philadelphia 15. Detroit will likely go with seven to begin. Tampa Bay is next at nine.
So only one Canadian team this spring, but a whole host of reasons why you can get behind anything.