By Andrew Kuylk and Peter Farrell
That was the last time that Canada was shutout from the NHL postseason.
Back then it was a 12 team league, Buffalo and Vancouver would be the expansion entrants the following year. The two Canadian teams, Toronto and Montreal, failed to qualify in what was then an eight team playoff field.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, all seven franchises housed in Canada are likely to be out of the running. Worse yet, most of the teams are historically bad, and are occupying the bottom rungs of the league standings.
All this could not be happening at a worse time for Canada. There has been an increasing push to land an eighth franchise for the country, either via expansion or relocation. The top candidate city to receive that team is Quebec City, once home of the NHL Quebec Nordiques. The gleaming new Videotron Centre opened its doors this past fall, a state of the art 19,000 seat arena right next door to the old Le Colisee. Interest in season tickets is white hot, and community and government leaders there are making a strong push for the return of the Nordiques.
Canada’s poor collective showing this season may have many Canadian fans tuning out. Further hampering the eighth franchise situation has been the weak Canadian dollar. The loonie tumbled to as weak as $1.46 to the US dollar before recently recovering. It is currently trading at roughly $1.30 to our currency. All NHL contracts are denominated in US funds, so a weak exchange rate hampers the profitability of Canadian based teams, as well as league revenues as a whole.
The Canadian sports media giant Rogers Communications signed a $5.25 billion dollar contract last year for NHL broadcast rights. The iconic Hockey Night In Canada brand remains a staple for CBC. Come playoff time, Canadians tend to rally behind their last remaining team or teams left standing. Former coach and now TV personality Don Cherry ratchets up the patriotic fervor several more notches, inciting viewers to back the national team.
Think recent years… Calgary in 2004, Edmonton in 2006, Ottawa in 2007, Vancouver in 2011. Come the Stanley Cup finals fans for the most part from coast to coast put their local allegiances on hold to back the Canadian finalist, with the TV networks and Canadian press exhorting the buzz all the way.
The brain trusts in the NHL front offices can’t be too happy, understanding that the size of the Canadian television contract overwhelms the league’s deal with NBC here in the United States. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was quoted in the Canadian press a couple months ago, saying “If you run a sports league that has 30 clubs, the situation in which seven specific clubs don’t make the playoffs is always a possibility. Is it ideal that we won’t have representation in a Canadian market place? No. But I’m very comfortable letting the season play out and wherever the chips fall, they fall.” One of the commentators on Hockey Night In Canada’s broadcast added, “We have a bit of provincialism when it comes to our game. This is not going to sit to well with people up here in Canada, and worst yet, is how seven distinct franchises could get so bad, almost unwatchably so, and all at once.”
There is a greener pasture to this entire scenario… an all American Stanley Cup playoffs could just be the tonic to really ignite fan fervor on this side of the border. 1970’s playoff tournament wound up with Boston and St. Louis competing in the finals, and resulted in Bobby Orr’s famous overtime winner to finish off the Blues. That shot of an airborne Orr celebrating his cup clinching goal is seared in the consciousness of the league. A statue replicating that moment can be found outside Boston’s TD Garden.
One thing is for certain… Come April 30, the NHL Draft Lottery will be must see TV all across Canada. Remember last year when Buffalo fans packed the bars to watch all the drama unfold as to the Sabres chance to land the first overall pick and Connor McDavid? That will be the scene all across Canada as teams wait with baited breath to see who lands this year’s hot prospect sensation, Auston Matthews.
Of course, Buffalo fans will be watching the lottery as well, since the Sabres will be a lottery entrant. Currently in 25th place, Buffalo’s chances of landing the top pick at that spot would be 7.5%.
After finishing dead last these past two seasons, only to come up short in landing the first overall pick both times, wouldn’t it be amazing if the Hockey Gods got one right and gave Buffalo that lottery win?
The mere thought of hockey fans all across Canada, throwing things in disgust at their TV sets as Buffalo is unveiled as the winner, is tantalizing to even imagine. Fingers crossed!