Tim Wharnsby·Analysis

NHL braces for rare playoffs without Canadian teams

With the NHL playoffs only a month away, the possibility of a Canadian-based team qualifying looks remote at best. Tim Wharnsby considers the impact an all-American Stanley Cup tournament could have on the league's bottom line, and looks back at the strange series of events surrounding the last time this happened.

Impact could touch league's revenue, salary cap, draft

Connor McDavid's arrival had the potential to boost Edmonton's fortunes, but the Oilers will miss the playoffs for the 10th year in a row. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press/File)

The possibility of a Canadian-based team making the playoffs remains remote with the NHL's regular-season finish line just four weeks away.

This development did not seem likely when the 2015-16 season opened last October, especially after the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets qualified for the post-season last spring. And with Connor McDavid joining the team, wasn't it about time the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs, too?

We know the answer. The Oilers will make it 10 straight years without a post-season appearance. In a similar rebuilding situation, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be absent from the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens fell off a cliff without their star goalie Carey Price. The Canucks also battled injuries and inconsistent play. The Senators, Jets and Flames had wonderful, dramatic finishes to reach the playoffs a year ago, but they failed to build off that momentum in 2015-16.

Impact on bottom line

So what does this all mean, besides dwindling television ratings in Canada for the Stanley Cup playoffs and a long eight weeks before we can watch the Canadian team perform in its opener against the United States at the IIHF World Championship in Russia?

Well, the NHL entry draft will be eventful. Each of the seven Canadian teams could be making selections in the first 10 choices. The Jets have another first-round pick from the Andrew Ladd trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Maple Leafs and Flames have conditional first-round selections from the Phil Kessel and Kris Russell trades with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars, respectively.

There also is the NHL's financial bottom line. Hockey-related revenues (HHR), which determine the annual salary-cap threshold, will be severely damaged with no Canadian teams in the playoffs. The league will find out in June where the salary cap will sit for next season, but even if the NHLPA implements the five per cent escalator there won't be much salary-cap relief.

HHR already has been hit hard by the low Canadian dollar. The seven Canadian teams' ticket prices are among the highest in the league, and those inflate for each playoff round, meaning the league will miss out on that extra revenue.

There were 19 home playoff dates in Canada in 2015: 14 in the first round and five in the second round. Zero this time around will be quite a hit to the NHL's coffers, especially when you consider Canadian fans are among the biggest spenders when it comes to team merchandise.

You also can't ignore the fact that realistic playoff hopes for the Canadian teams were extinguished weeks ago. Therefore, any late-season spirit we saw in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Winnipeg at this time last year, and the financial benefits from full rinks and playoff optimism, also have been snuffed out.

With all this in mind, the timing could not have been better for the revival of the World Cup of Hockey in September, and last week's announcement of outdoor games in Winnipeg and Toronto. These events will help replace some of the lost revenue from the playoff-free spring in Canada's NHL cities.

Party helped ensure last all-American playoffs

This truly is a historic happenstance. The only other time there was no Canadian team in the playoffs was in 1969-70, when the Canadiens and Maple Leafs finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the six-team East Division.

Toronto checked in with 71 points, a total that would have placed the Maple Leafs in second in the weaker six-team West. Montreal actually tied for fourth with 92 points, but lost on a tiebreaker with the New York Rangers under dodgy circumstances.

The Canadiens had a two-point lead over the Rangers with one game to play. But the Canadiens lost their regular-season finale to the Chicago Blackhawks and the Rangers defeated the Detroit Red Wings.

The first tiebreaker was wins, but both teams had 38 victories. The second tiebreaker was goals scored. The Canadiens had a four-goal advantage entering the final day.

The Rangers, however, took advantage of a Red Wings lineup weakened by a party the night before to celebrate Detroit's clinching of a playoff berth.

The Rangers fired 65 shots on Red Wings goalie Roger Crozier and won 9-5. The Canadiens lost 10-2 to the Blackhawks as Montreal coach Claude Ruel pulled his goalie early to try to make up the two-goal difference. But the move backfired as Chicago ran up the score.

That was a strange and surprising scenario 46 years ago, but is it as unforeseen as each of the seven Canadian teams missing the playoffs in 2015-16? Maybe we shouldn't give up on the Senators, Canadiens or Canucks just yet.


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