It’s been 26 years since the last Stanley Cup Final between two Canadian teams – and in the modern era of social media, an all-Canadian Cup Final would be tremendous on a number of levels.
Before I say what I’m about to say, let me be clear: I’m not, in any way shape or form, a jingoistic Canadian hockey fan who thinks it’s a tragedy when one of my country’s teams fails to win at the elite international level, or who believes the number of Canadians on any NHL roster is an accurate metric for their capability to win. Good hockey is good hockey, and hockey fans ought to be happy with any display of the sport that is highly-skilled and passionately-contested.
With that out of the way, this is a plea to the Hockey Gods: it’s been 26 years since the last Cup Final between two Canadian teams. We’re long past due for another. And this year would be as great a year as any for it to come to pass.
Entering Wednesday’s action, there’s a very real possibility the NHL could have five of the seven Canadian franchises involved in its post-season action this year. Some pieces still need to fall a certain way for such a scenario to materialize, but with Los Angeles’ stunning loss to Edmonton Tuesday and Ottawa’s resilient 4-3 overtime win over Pittsburgh, the odds have risen that the Jets, Flames and Sens make it in and join Montreal and Vancouver to put five Canadian teams in the 16-team tournament. And when you take a few minutes to consider what would have to take place to wind up with an all-Canadian Final, it makes you root that much more for it to happen.
Because really, is Montreal the favorite in the minds of most people to emerge from the Eastern Conference? No. The New York Rangers are the favorites. The Canadiens aren’t that far behind them, but they’d still be a surprise of sorts to many people to get that far. And if the Senators stretch out their surge for their last two games and somehow sneak into the playoffs, an appearance by them in the Cup Final would make for one of the greatest Cinderella stories in league history.
Now imagine if one of those two Canadian teams made it out of the East and squared off against an equally-improbable conference champion in the Jets or the Flames. It might sound like an exaggeration to say Canada would have to shut down for a Montreal/Winnipeg Final, an Ottawa/Calgary Final or any all-Canadian Final, but in reality it wouldn’t be far from the truth. Fans in cities like Toronto, Edmonton, Quebec City and every Canadian city would still likely watch every game of one of those series and have a rooting interest in one of the two teams. Indeed, in a 2012 study the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre found Canada’s sports fans were 40 times more likely than their American counterparts to watch the NHL playoffs (and Quebec residents were 90 per cent more likely).
Of course, don’t take this to mean a Cup Final that featured, say, the Jets and Senators would be a wonderful thing for everybody associated with the NHL. The league’s American broadcast partners would likely have to be sedated until well after the TV ratings for the playoffs were registered, but the NHL’s Canadian broadcasting partners would be absolutely ecstatic – and considering that Rogers just paid the league $5.2 billion for a 12-year rights deal, NBC and their decade-long, $2-billion contract with the league doesn’t leave the American rights-holder standing at the front of the line.
While there would undoubtedly be a drop-off in interest south of Canada’s border if there were two Canadian teams vying for the Cup, I’m not so sure Americans would turn away in droves. The modern hockey fan who spends hours online and watching the Center Ice satellite TV package is familiar with all NHL teams and players, and the world of social media has given fans the opportunity to appreciate players regardless of which franchise they play for. American fans would likely have fun watching Canadians go berserk choosing sides and want to join in.
And it would be utter insanity. Twitter trolling wars would reach unheard-of levels. There would be fans determined to travel between the two Canadian arenas, and when one of the Finalist teams wasn’t playing at home, you know they’d still be able to sell out the building for away games by having fans pay a nominal price to watch the action on the JumboTron.
An all-Canadian Final doesn’t have to happen every season. But it’s been more than a quarter-century now since Caglary and Montreal lined up against one another and guaranteed the Cup would be won by a franchise from its original homeland.
Twenty-six years. We’re due, Hockey Gods. Help a country out.