Canadian Stanley Cup hopes rest on Leafs, Flames and Oilers

It’s a rule that spring comes to Canada erratically, a few balmy days followed by a foot of snow followed by rain followed by a day so h...


It’s a rule that spring comes to Canada erratically, a few balmy days followed by a foot of snow followed by rain followed by a day so hot you’d swear it was summer, usually followed by sleet and more snow. The day I was born in April, my mother needed a thick winter coat to go to the hospital, and when I arrived in the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach.

Something else happened that same spring, but unlike the unpredictable weather, it hasn’t happened since. In May 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs won their thirteenth — and last — Stanley Cup. Around this time every year, the city of Toronto gets a little nervous. Sometimes the Raptors provide a distraction — but not this year. They lost three games to the 76ers.

The NHL playoffs begin May 2, and as of this writing, the picture looks like that.

Canadian fans currently have three rooting picks: the Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Vancouver Canucks could do it. The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets won’t.

If the playoffs started today, the Oilers would face the Los Angeles Kings; the Flames would face the Nashville Predators; and the Maple Leafs would face the Tampa Bay Lightning, winner of the last two Stanley Cups.

That doesn’t sound optimistic. But the Leafs had some good times, thanks in large part to American center Auston Matthews, who had his best season to date. The Flames have Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. The Oilers feature Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

In hockey, it’s more fun to follow the stars, especially during the playoffs. But star players haven’t always ensured playoff success. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a championship in 55 years, and they haven’t even won a playoff round since 2004.

McDavid, for all his otherworldly talent, has only won one playoff series (in 2017) and, with the exception of a first-round loss in 2021, the Oilers have missed the playoffs every the two seasons since their loss in the Stanley Cup Finals. in 2006.

The Calgary Flames haven’t won a playoff since 2015.

Name the most repeated and repeated fact this time of year: The Stanley Cup hasn’t been won by a Canadian team since Montreal did in 1993. It’s a bit grim.

Hockey is a regional interest. The province of Alberta will split cleanly and fiercely between the Oilers and Flames, but Toronto presents a problem for those outside its sprawling borders. The Leafs, like the New York Yankees, are easy to love and hate, depending on your zip code and generational loyalties.

One solution is to choose a team based in the United States with a fantastic Canadian player, a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby, in his 17th season with the team that drafted him No. 1 in 2005 as the league emerged from a lockout and a canceled 2004-05 season, quietly enjoyed one of the best NHL seasons.

I spent Crosby’s rookie year in Pittsburgh following a kid charged with putting hockey’s salary cap era on the map. His team only won 22 games, but he led the Penguins with 102 points. Greatness was not far away. Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009 and two more in 2016 and 2017. Between championships there have been numerous Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. February 15, Crosby scored his 500th career goalbecoming only the second active player to reach the mark and the 46th in NHL history.

A few days later, I saw him in Toronto when the Penguins played the Leafs. It was our first long conversation since his rookie season. Now 34, he was relaxed and thoughtful, and excited about the team’s playoff chances.

“I really appreciate that I was able to play for so long,” he said. “It’s a privilege. Don’t get me wrong, I want to play a lot longer, but the more you play, the more you understand that it’s not easy.

Yet he still has it looks easy. Crosby, with 29 goals (including nine winners) and 52 assists in 65 games, is having a remarkable season – without much fanfare, which has all followed Alex Ovechkin’s path as a he’s climbing up the list of career goals.

Crosby, who averages 1.25 points per game ahead of Ovechkin, continues to prove his longevity in a sport that has incredible physical impact. He remains the game’s best 200-footer and one of its most creative point guards.

Heading into the playoffs, I’ll have a lot more of my conversation with Crosby and some insight into what made him such a durable and dominant player 17 seasons into his career.

The New York Times will provide coverage of the NHL playoffs, with an initial focus on the Rangers-Penguins series (as the games currently stand) in the Eastern Conference.

If you’re looking for a bandwagon outside of the Flames, Oilers and Maple Leafs, it would be wise to never bet against Crosby.

I asked him what was the next step. “A Stanley Cup,” he said.


This week’s Trans Canada section was compiled by Vjosa Isai.


Originally from Ancaster, Ontario, Shawna Richer lives in Toronto and is an associate sports editor for The New York Times. She spent more than 25 years as a sports journalist in Canada and is the author of “The Kid: A Season With Sidney Crosby and the New NHL”. Follow her on Twitter at @richershawna.


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