Well, the Ottawa Senators were just five wins away from ending the painful 24-year Canadian team Stanley Cup drought.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins successfully defended their championship and ensured that Lord Stanley’s Mug was presented to an American team once again. In case you forgot or weren’t born yet, the 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens are the last team from the Great White North to win the Stanley Cup.
Fortunately, most of the Canadian teams actually have a chance at winning it all in 2018. But like all NHL clubs, the Canadian teams all have some weaknesses and concerns that could hold them back from capturing the Cup. These obstacles could affect them all season long, or they could simply find a way to get through them en route to a championship.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the three big obstacles all seven Canadian teams must overcome if they are to compete for the Stanley Cup.
*Stats courtesy of ESPN.com*
21. Calgary Flames: Lack of Scoring Punch
Though 12 different Flames players scored double-digit goals last season, nobody exactly ‘lit it up’ in 2016-17. Johnny Gaudreau missed 10 games yet he led the team with 61 points. Sean Monahan followed with 58 points — failing to reach the 60-point mark after doing so in both 2015 and 2016.
Calgary doesn’t have any star power on offence outside of Gaudreau and Monahan, and it’s alarming when they’re asking the second and third lines to balance out the scoring. This team simply has to generate more from its top line if, should they have Stanley Cup aspirations on their minds.
20. Edmonton Oilers: Playoff Scoring
In the regular season, the Oilers had no problem putting pucks in the net. Connor McDavid led the way with 30 goals and 100 points, capturing his first scoring title. German sensation Leon Draisaitl added 29 goals and 77 points, while Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon each hit the 20-goal mark.
But in the playoffs, Edmonton’s big guns disappeared. Draisaitl led the team with 11 points in 13 games, followed by Mark Letestu’s 11. McDavid had a mere nine points while the likes of Lucic, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were silenced for most of the postseason.
The Anaheim Ducks were able to shut down Edmonton’s big guns, eliminating them in the second round of the playoffs. If the Oilers are to compete for the Stanley Cup, then they’ll need their top stars to show up in the big playoff games.
19. Montreal Canadiens: Over-Reliance Of Carey Price
With Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens are a true Stanley Cup contender. He took them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2014 and led them to the Atlantic Division title in both 2015 an 2017. But why didn’t the Habs go far enough in their last two trips to the postseason? It’s simple — they will only go as far as Carey Price can take them on his own.
Despite an insane .933 save percentage and tremendous 1.86 goals against average in this year’s playoffs, Price and the Habs were dispatched by the New York Rangers in seven games.
Price was terrific, but did have a couple of frustrating games. But because he wasn’t able to post shutout after shutout, the Habs went home. And don’t forget their ugly collapse in the second half of 2015-16, when Price was out with an MCL sprain. The Habs are going to have to learn how to play like a team if they want a Cup, instead of turning to Price in every game.
18. Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot’s Departure
The Senators rode a great defensive system (implemented by new head coach Guy Boucher), all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. One of his top players was stay at home defenceman Marc Methot, who threw his weight around other teams while standing his ground in front of the Ottawa net.
But the Senators lost Methot to Vegas in the expansion draft, only to see the Dallas Stars trade for his services. Though not a household name, Methot meant a ton to the Senators in a successful 2016-17. While Erik Karlsson could play more offensive-minded, Methot was able to hold down the fort on defence. It was a perfect pairing.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs: Inexperience
It doesn’t matter how good a team is heading into the playoffs. If they don’t have the experience, it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to go far. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, one playoff series against the Washington Capitals didn’t exactly give them a big sample size of what the postseason is like.
Toronto was way too sloppy in its own end of the ice, but they nearly pulled off the upset against a Washington team that’s known for constantly melting down in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs blew too many leads in the 2017 playoffs, and the kids are still learning under head coach Mike Babcock.
If Toronto draws an experienced team like Montreal or Ottawa in the playoffs, the advantage has to go to the Leafs’ opponents. Unless Toronto can show they know what it takes to win four grueling series, their half-century long Cup drought will continue.
16. Vancouver Canucks: Scoring
The Vancouver Canucks definitely don’t have a Stanley Cup on their minds in 2018, as team president Trevor Linden finally admitted that the team is “rebuilding” once and for all.
One reason the Canucks have struggled over the last four years? In a word, scoring. This team relies way too much on past-their-prime veterans Daniel and Henrik Sedin, while 2017 leading scorer Bo Horvat is still maturing as an NHL pro. Even then, he doesn’t quite have that ceiling to be a bonafide star.
The Canucks are hoping that rookie Brock Boeser and newcomer Sam Gagner can add more scoring, but they’re not going to turn Vancouver into an offensive juggernaut alone. Without a true scorer in the lineup, the Canucks are going to struggle to put the puck in the net. They’re going to have quite the hill to climb here.
15. Winnipeg Jets: Paul Maurice’s Worn-Out System
With all due respect to Paul Maurice, it’s a wonder why the Winnipeg Jets haven’t replaced him thus far. The Jets have made the playoffs once in four years under Maurice, and haven’t even won a postseason game. In his 19 years as an NHL head coach, Maurice has only taken his teams to the playoffs five times.
Winnipeg has far too much talent to be this mediocre — with Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Bryan Little rounding out a very promising core.
It would appear as though the Jets simply are tired of Maurice’s system, because it clearly isn’t working. Because Jets management is known for being relatively patient, a Maurice dismissal is extremely unlikely. So the players are simply going to have to find a way to trust Maurice and follow his system, if they’re to succeed in 2018.
14. Calgary Flames: Anaheim Ducks
The Flames were a dangerous team heading into the 2017 playoffs — even as the seventh seed. With balanced scoring and a great defence that included Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano, Calgary was expected to push the Pacific Division-winning Anaheim Ducks to the edge.
But Calgary proved to be no match for the Ducks, who easily swept them in four games. This wasn’t the first time Anaheim overwhelmed the Flames; they also took them down in five games during the second round back in 2015.
Also, the Flames haven’t won a regular season game in Anaheim since 2004. Seriously, it’s kind of ridiculous how bad they are against one team — the Ducks are not perfect robots. Until the Flames learn how to somehow over come their Kryptonite, you shouldn’t bank on them being a championship contender.
13. Edmonton Oilers: Western Heavyweights
Even though the Oilers were one win away from reaching the Western Conference Final, they showed in 2017 that they were too young, soft and inexperienced to take down the Anaheim Ducks. Though the Oilers should be a better team than the Ducks in 2017, there’s a good chance they’ll face Anaheim in the playoffs again. They’ll have to stop blowing all those leads against the Ducks.
Also, the Oilers could have problems against teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Both clubs have just as much starpower as Edmonton — if not more. They also have far more playoff experience and have shown their abilities to come through in crunch time.
12. Montreal Canadiens: Lack of Defensive Depth
Though Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin deserves a ton of credit for adding Jonathan Drouin and signing defenceman Karl Alzner (I’ll add Carey Price’s max extension, too), he caused a lot of head-scratching with his offseason moves to address the defence.
First, he chose not to re-sign fan favorite and top-two defenceman, Andrei Markov. Reports are that Markov only wanted a modest two-year deal, but Bergevin wouldn’t bite. He then chose to trade young defenceman Nathan Beaulieu to the Buffalo Sabres, getting nothing in return.
Shutdown blueliner Alexei Emelin was lost to Vegas in the Expansion Draft, and Bergevin didn’t even try to work out a deal to convince the Golden Knights to take someone else. As good as Alzner is, he alone doesn’t offset the losses of Markov, Beaulieu and Emelin. The Habs defence will have a ton of mountains to climb if they’re bent on a championship.
11. Ottawa Senators: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Senators have a lot in common with Batman, in that they have an arch-enemy named the Penguin. Or in Ottawa’s case, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Despite being dominated in many aspects, the Penguins avoided the Stanley Cup hangover and defeated the Senators in the Eastern Conference Final. It was also the fourth time in the past nine years where Ottawa saw their season end at the hands of Sidney Crosby and company.
Had Ottawa somehow avoided the Pens in the ECF, they could have been celebrating a Stanley Cup championship. But they just haven’t found a way to contain Crosby’s Pens, and they aren’t any closer right now. If the Sens get all the way to the ECF again, there’s a good chance they’ll face the Penguins. And we all know how big of an obstacle Pittsburgh has been for Ottawa…
10. Toronto Maple Leafs: Loaded Atlantic Division
As great as the Leafs can be in 2017, they are going to have a very tough time getting through the crowded Atlantic Division. We already know the Habs and Senators are Stanley Cup contenders, and that the Tampa Bay Lightning will bounce back should Steven Stamkos stay healthy.
The Leafs should be better than the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres, but they don’t have a Carey Price in net. They don’t have a great defensive system in place like Ottawa, and they don’t have a Victor Hedman on defence.
There’s a high chance the Maple Leafs will have to play at least two of these Atlantic foes in the postseason. On paper, all three of them look better than Toronto. So Babcock’s squad is going to have to find a way to show they are the team to beat in the Atlantic. Otherwise, the drought continues.
9. Vancouver Canucks: Defence
The Canucks allowed 2.94 goals per game last season, sixth-worst in the NHL. The year before, they allowed 2.91 per game, eighth-worst in the NHL. So yeah, Vancouver just hasn’t been good at all when it comes to playing defence.
Besides stay-at-home defenceman Chris Tanev, Vancouver has too many offensive-minded blueliners that don’t really play a lot of defence. This includes Alexander Edler, Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton. 6-foot-5 rearguard Erik Gudbranson struggled in Vancouver last season, and it remains to be seen if he can find his form in 2018.
But with too many young defencemen who have yet to show their responsibility at their own ends of the rink, the Canucks are going to have problems preventing the goals. Unless new head coach Travis Green has some magic up his sleeves, the Canucks only hope will to pull out a ton of 4-3, 5-4 and 6-5 wins. Not really gonna happen.
8. Winnipeg Jets: Defence
Despite having some talented blueliners in Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tobias Enstrom, the Jets have not been able to prevent goals from going in. They allowed 3.11 goals per game in 2017 (fourth-most in the NHL), 2.99 in 2016 (ninth-most), and 2.82 in 2014 (ninth-most).
The budget-conscious Jets haven’t done much to address this, but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hopes that newcomer Dmitry Kulikov can help. He was signed to a three-year deal worth $12.9 million in the offseason, but Kulikov himself isn’t going to turn the Jets play on defence around.
The Jets play in an Atlantic Division filled with high-scoring teams like Chicago, Minnesota and Nashville — so they really have to learn how to play more defence in their own end. If the Jets can’t overcome the obstacle of terrible defensive play, then the Stanley Cup won’t come anywhere near Winnipeg.
7. Calgary Flames: Goaltending
The Flames haven’t had a true No. 1 goalie since Miikka Kiprusoff, who last played for them in 2013 and was last an elite goalie in 2011. They’ve tried using guys like Jonas Hiller, Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott, but the Flames just haven’t had that guy who could steal a game every night.
GM Brad Treliving chose to trade for Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, hoping to shore up the goaltending situation. Smith is a shell of his former self, and Lack is a career backup, so this is not a very stable goalie tandem.
Calgary has a good group of forwards and arguably the top defensive core in the NHL, but they need Smith to turn back the clock and/or Lack to break through as a No. 1. We’ll see if the Flames can get through this.
6. Edmonton Oilers: Defensive Play
The Oilers already have two of the league’s top stay-at-home defencemen in Kris Russell and Adam Larsson. Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom are the team’s top offensive blueliners, but you can’t say any of these four guys are true superstars.
Edmonton’s defence looks great on paper, but it was absolutely terrible against Anaheim. They blew a 2-0 lead in Game 4, then infamously gave up a 3-0 goal lead in the final few minutes of Game 5. Cam Talbot wasn’t to blame — the defence simply didn’t hold its ground when it mattered most.
The Oilers are hoping that a lengthy playoff run will be enough for the blue line to learn more. That is, learn more on how to defend the leads. If that doesn’t happen, then forget about a championship.
5. Montreal Canadiens: Scoring
The Canadiens have way too much talent on offence, so it’s inexcusable for them to have so many problems scoring. Power forward Max Pacioretty is good for 30-40 goals a year, and Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk are guarantees to hit 20 goals when healthy. Heck, even Paul Byron (22 goals), and Arturri Lekkonen (18 goals), chipped in with some offence.
But the Habs weren’t able to score against the Rangers, and they’ve constantly ranked in the middle-of-the-pack in goals for over the last few seasons. Though the addition of Jonathan Drouin should help, the Canadiens will also miss Russian superstar Alexander Radulov — who signed with the Dallas Stars.
4. Ottawa Senators: Inability to Score
The Senators played near-perfect defence against the Penguins for most of their Eastern Conference Final showdown. But the Senators could barely score in that series. They scored more than two goals just once in the series, yet somehow only lost in overtime of Game 7.
Ottawa’s problem was their inability to have a game-changer up front. The Penguins had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. The Senators had Kyle Turris and a banged-up Mark Stone, who would be second-liners on most elite teams.
The Senators haven’t done anything in the offseason to address the scoring problems. They’re hoping that guys like Clarke MacArthur, Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard can bounce back. It’s certainly possible, but scoring remains Ottawa’s biggest obstacle to winning a championship.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: Blue Line
The Maple Leafs have finished in the bottom-10 in goals allowed per game since the 2013-14 season. Though goalie Frederik Andersen won 33 games for Toronto last year, the Leafs were still terrible in their own zone.
Youngster Morgan Rielly just hasn’t been able to take his game to the next level, while Nikita Zaitsev is still adjusting to the NHL level. Jake Gardiner has regressed after a promising start, and the Maple Leafs just haven’t been able to clean up the mistakes in their own zone.
Toronto is hoping that the addition of shutdown blueliner Ron Hainsey and the signing of grinder Dominic Moore will be enough to fix their defensive game. Those were good pickups, but the Leafs need more from all of their defencemen. If the blue line can play better, then the Leafs are a true contender.
2. Vancouver Canucks: Goaltending
Though the Vancouver Canucks probably made the right call to move on from fading veteran Ryan Miller, GM Jim Benning is playing with fire by trusting career backups Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson to handle the goaltending situation.
Markstrom owns a career record of 36-53-12, with an awful 2.91 goals against average and .906 save percentage. He hasn’t played more than 33 games in a season, and Markstrom has yet to show he has what it takes to be a real number one. He’ll likely be the starter, since Nilsson hasn’t fared that much better.
Nilsson hasn’t started more than 26 games in a season, and his career 2.94 goals against average is hardly inspiring. Again, the Canucks don’t have Stanley Cup aspirations on their mind in 2018. If they don’t come anywhere close to the Cup, their goaltending woes will be the main reason why.
1. Winnipeg Jets: The Goalie Situation
The Jets haven’t had a true number one goalie since relocating to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. Ondrej Pavelec has been their best by far — and he became so porous after a while that he was eventually sent down to the minors.
Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t progressed as hoped, so the Jets went out and signed veteran Steve Mason in the offseason to push him for the starting job. But when you look at the Jets goalies, it’s hard to feel inspired. Hellebuyck has a career 2.71 goals against average. Mason owns a 2.66, and posted a mere .908 save percentage last season.
Winnipeg has the scoring punch, and they have the talent on defence to shut down the opponents. But their goalie tandem looks mediocre at best, and they could be the main obstacle the Jets can’t overcome to win a championship. The pressure is on Hellebuyck and Mason in 2018.
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