Who will end Canada's Cup drought?
Canadiens last club to hoist Lord Stanley's Mug in 1993
A Canadian team has hoisted the Stanley Cup in Jonathan Huberdeau's lifetime. He was four days old when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings in 1993 to win the franchise's 23rd title.
"Of course I don't remember it," said the Florida Panthers forward and Quebec native.
Huberdeau and fellow Canadians have been waiting 20 years, and still nothing. The Habs were the last team to be crowned NHL champions, and since then four teams have come within one victory of claiming the Cup.
The theories behind the drought range from economic instability and U.S. teams outnumbering Canadian ones substantially to pure coincidence.
"It could be a coincidence, for sure. I mean there are a lot more American teams than Canadian teams, so you can put that in perspective," Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle said. "It's bound to happen eventually."
It will happen, but until then the question remains: Which team will end the drought?
With new coach John Tortorella changing the culture and Roberto Luongo back as the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender, the Vancouver Canucks appear to be the favourites in 2013-14.
The Canucks were one win away in 2011 before losing to the Boston Bruins, but centre Ryan Kesler doesn't recall it becoming a major distraction.
It could be a coincidence, for sure. I mean there are a lot more American teams than Canadian teams, so you can put that in perspective. It's bound to happen eventually.- Jordan Eberle
"I just remember we were quote-unquote Canada's team," he said.
Jason Spezza remembers that from 2007, when the Ottawa Senators reached the Cup final before losing to the Anaheim Ducks.
"As you find yourself drawing closer to the finals and when you get in the finals it gets talked about more and more," Spezza said. "The country seems to rally around the last Canadian team that's alive."
The Senators were the last Canadian team standing last spring, too, though they were eliminated in the second round. According to the online sports book Bovada, Ottawa has 33-1 odds of winning the Cup, behind the Canucks (16-1), Oilers (20-1), Canadiens (25-1) and Toronto Maple Leafs (25-1). The Jets are 50-1 and the Flames 100-1.
Betting lines aren't necessarily indicative of which team has the best chance to win the Cup. It's not a scientific process, either.
"It's such a tough thing to win," said Jets left-winger Andrew Ladd, who was on the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 championship team. "The Stanley Cup is extremely hard. It takes a great team but also a little bit of luck. A couple bounces a couple different ways, maybe a Canadian team would've won in the last little while."
But unlike years past when Canadian teams were among the front-runners, it will likely take some serious bounces to make it happen in 2014. That could mean Luongo or Habs goaltender Carey Price gets hot, or the Senators are able to stay healthy and show Daniel Alfredsson he was wrong.
"You hope to make strides as a group, and the guys did a great job with all the injuries we had to keep us competitive and keep us in it," Spezza said. "Yeah, we look better on paper and we should be a better team, but now it's our job to put it all together."
Close to the Cup
Spezza and Kesler have been close to winning the Cup. Meanwhile, players like Eberle have heard the tales of what it was like to almost do it.
"I've had guys that played in '06 when they made the playoffs and obviously made it to the Cup final," Eberle said. "That team was quite electric, and they still talk about that all the time."
The talk around the Oilers lately has been more about a young team needing to take the next step just to make the playoffs. They haven't qualified since that magical 2006 run that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Cup final.
Eberle figures he and his teammates need to "mature" when it comes to decisions they make with the puck. Much more than that goes into making the playoffs.
"I think we need to get a winning mentality back," he said. "I think we've kind of lost that the (last) few years."
The same could be said for the Jets. Winnipeg has just one player left (centre Jim Slater) from the only team in franchise history to make the playoffs: the 2006-07 Atlanta Thrashers, who were swept by the New York Rangers.
The Jets missed the playoffs by four points last season, so naturally Ladd has thought of what it would be like to play in a post-season game at MTS Centre.
"Not having been in the playoffs for three years now, I think that's what drives me and hopefully drives our team is thinking about that and maybe having the white-out in Winnipeg," he said. "And the atmosphere, I think everyone knows what it's like in the regular season, and to think about how much louder it would be in the playoffs, and crazier, I think would be great not only for us but the league to see."
A Stanley Cup in Winnipeg, or Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa would be a benchmark for the league, as well. The longest drought before this one was seven years, between the Montreal Maroons' victory in 1935 and the Maple Leafs' in 1942.
The next Canadian team to win the 16 playoff games necessary to capture the Cup will make history.
"It would definitely be special to be that Canadian team that can come through and win the Cup," Spezza said. "Canada deserves a Stanley Cup, so hopefully we can bring it."