It’s been more than three decades since Canadian teams have made such a small impact on the NHL standings. Outside of Vancouver, where the Canucks are battling for the Presidents’ Trophy, there hasn’t been very much to cheer for.
Edmonton and Calgary are waging a different kind of Battle of Alberta—for 14th in the Western Conference—while Toronto and Ottawa are languishing near the bottom of the East.
Even the Montreal Canadiens, conference finalists a year ago, have struggled. They were holding down the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday but the margin over ninth-place Carolina was down to just four points after a 3-6-1 run by the Habs.
Barring a monster second half by one of the bottom-dwellers, it would seem the best-case scenario for Canadian fans is seeing playoff hockey in two cities.
If that were to happen, it would be the first time since 1978 that fewer than three Canadian teams qualified for the postseason. Back then, the country only had three NHL teams—Vancouver missed out while Montreal and Toronto were in—so it could be argued that 2010-11 stands to be even worse.
The country’s worst performance came when no team qualified in 1970. The high points came in 1983 and 1986, when all seven Canadian squads (including Quebec and Winnipeg) appeared in the postseason.
No wonder there’s been so much unrest in Canadian markets this season. Darryl Sutter already lost his job as Flames GM while fans in Toronto have occasionally taken to chanting “Fire Wilson!”—in reference to coach Ron Wilson—during games.
A recent report in the Toronto Sun suggested Senators GM Bryan Murray had spoken with owner Eugene Melnyk about firing coach Cory Clouston, only to be told he would be shown the door at the same time as the coach. However, Murray denied the story Wednesday.
“First thing that I’d like to clear up that is wrong, is that I never called Eugene Melnyk and suggested that we fire the coach,” Murray told reporters in Ottawa. “I don’t know where that started. I just know you guys wanted the truth out there. And that is factual.”
He couldn’t guarantee that a shakeup isn’t coming.
“We’re all in a position where we have to do a better job,” said Murray.
The lone bright spot can be found on the West Coast, where the Canucks entered play Wednesday tied for first overall with Detroit at 55 points. According to the NHL, the last Canadian team to be in that position after Christmas was the Senators, who sat No. 1 on March 24, 2006.
The Canucks are clearly the country’s best hope to end a Stanley Cup drought that runs all the way back to the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
After a brief hiatus over the holidays, our weekly NHL rankings are back. And for the first time all season, the Canucks sit on top:
1. Vancouver: It’s nice for coach Alain Vigneault to know he can give Roberto Luongo some rest down the stretch. Backup Cory Schneider is an impressive 7-0-2 this season.
2. Detroit: Chris Osgood is closing in on some exclusive company. With 401 career NHL victories, he has a good chance to pass Grant Fuhr (403) and Glenn Hall (407) on the all-time list before the end of the season.
3. Pittsburgh: The Penguins were so sad to see HBO’s camera crew leave that coach Dan Bylsma said it felt like they were sending a player to the minors. Pittsburgh went 7-4-1 while the cable channel was given complete access to the team.
4. Philadelphia: There aren’t many better reminders of how fickle life as a pro athlete can be than goalie Michael Leighton. Seven months ago, he was starting for the Flyers in the Stanley Cup; now he’s with the team’s AHL affiliate in Adirondack.
5. Washington: Bruce Boudreau is looking for one of his young goalies to grab the No. 1 job before the playoffs. Semyon Varlamov currently has the edge over Michal Neuvirth.
6. Dallas: With the Stars in the thick of the playoff race, GM Joe Nieuwendyk will be tempted to hold on to Brad Richards past the trade deadline. Richards is on pace for a career-best 37 goals and 92 points.
7. Tampa Bay: An impressive debut for Dwayne Roloson, who registers his first shutout of the season after being acquired from Long Island. Can the 41-year-old turn Tampa into a contender?
8. Boston: After earning eight of 10 points on a five-game road trip, the Bruins appear to have righted the ship. Tuukka Rask has been given back-to-back starts for the first time all season.
9. San Jose: An inconsistent season in San Jose hasn’t been without its bright spots. Take Logan Couture, who has already scored 18 goals and sits second in rookie scoring with 27 points.
10. Atlanta: It took less than half a season as a full-time defenceman for Dustin Byfuglien to surpass his career high in points. No wonder there’s some talk about him and the Norris Trophy.
11. Colorado: After recording seven shutouts a year ago, No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson is still looking for his first this season. In fact, he’s allowed at least two goals in every start but one.
12. N.Y. Rangers: Fans of the Montreal Canadiens will be interested to see how rookie defenceman Ryan McDonagh fares now that he’s been called up from the AHL. McDonagh is a former first-round pick of the Habs that was part of the trade to get Scott Gomez.
13. Anaheim: Maxim Lapierre’s arrival adds a little bit more sandpaper for the playoff push. But a speedy return for Ryan Getzalf, who took a shot to the face last week, is what the team really needs.
14. St. Louis: Davis Payne celebrated his one-year anniversary as Blues coach Jan. 2 and could do so with a feeling of satisfaction. The team had a 43-28-9 record in his first year on the job.
15. Los Angeles: The pressure is mounting on a squad that has dropped four straight games. Once thought to be ready to join the NHL’s elite, they’re in danger of taking a step back.
16. Montreal: Look for Carey Price to start getting a little more rest in the near future. Backup Alex Auld has only started four games and expects to start getting more work.
17. Chicago: Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith might be going to the all-star game, but they’d much rather be back in the playoffs. The defending champions are currently on the bubble.
18. Nashville: The season could hinge on an important stretch of road games as the team plays 10 of its next 12 games away from Bridgestone Arena.
19. Phoenix: Shane Doan is starting to look more like himself. The Coyotes captain had a slow start to the season, but has six goals and 10 points in the past five games.
20. Minnesota: Nothing tells the story of how tough goals are to come by for the Wild than the fact a defenceman (Brent Burns with 12) and an agitator (Cal Clutterbuck with 11) currently lead the way.
21. Carolina: Quietly creeping into the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes will continue counting on rookie Jeff Skinner. He and captain Eric Staal are the only players on the roster with more than 10 goals.
22. Columbus: The road hasn’t been very kind to the Blue Jackets of late. They better reduce that trend during the two trips they have left before the all-star break.
23. Calgary: All eyes remain on Jay Feaster as he tries to chart a new course for the Flames. It won’t be easy with 11 no-trade contracts and $56 million already committed to players next season.
24. Florida: It’s going to take a serious push for them to keep the NHL’s longest playoff drought from reaching 10 seasons. Will GM Dale Tallon start making changes before the trade deadline or wait until the summer?
25. Buffalo: With the world junior tournament being held at HSBC Arena, the Sabres have been living out of their suitcases. They played in Western Canada, returned home for one game and are now back on the West Coast in the U.S.
26. Ottawa: Sergei Gonchar was a celebrated free-agent signing, but he’s struggled mightily with the Sens. The defenceman has just 18 points and is a brutal minus-20 so far.
27. Edmonton: The loss of defenceman Ryan Whitney will be a tough one for the young team. But boy do they look like they’re having fun again in Edmonton.
28. Toronto: Mikhail Grabovski has been a notable bright spot in a pretty dark season. He has nine goals in his last 12 games and became a father for the first time last week.
29. N.Y. Islanders: Roloson gets traded and then Rick DiPietro tweaks his groin, leaving the surging Islanders with goaltenders that have a grand total of two NHL appearances between them—Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin.
30. New Jersey: Not much has changed with Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench. The Devils have gone 1-5-0 since he replaced John MacLean two days before Christmas.