It’s been over 21 years since a Canadian NHL team won the Stanley Cup. Here’s a look at Canada’s seven NHL clubs (from worst to best) and their chances of winning the Cup in 2015.
Edmonton Oilers. Eight years have passed since the Oilers’ last postseason appearance. In recent years they’ve been involved in a lengthy rebuild with young talent. They selected center Leon Draisaitl third overall in this year’s draft. Promising defenseman Darnell Nurse (seventh overall in 2013) appears poised to join the roster this season.
The Oilers enter this season with more depth in goal and defense. While lacking a proven starter and top-two defenseman they’ve got two promising goalies in Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, plus they added Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin to their defense corps. They also brought in a couple of veteran wingers in Benoit Pouliot and Teddy Purcell. Unfortunately, they’re lacking experienced depth at center, having swapped Sam Gagner earlier this summer for Purcell.
Forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were hampered by injuries the past two years. The Oilers need both to be healthier this season. Young right wing Nail Yakupov seeks a bounce-back performance after struggling last season through his sophomore campaign.
There’s lots of potential on this Oilers roster but some glaring holes remain. They should be a better team this season but the playoffs remain a long shot.
Calgary Flames. The first year of their rebuild went better than expected last season. They won only 35 games and collected 77 points, but were more competitive than most expects anticipated. Part of the credit belongs to head coach Bob Hartley, who had his players working hard in every game.
The Flames off-season additions (goaltender Jonas Hiller, defensemen Deryk Engelland, forwards Mason Raymond and Brandon Bollig) should provide a much-needed boost of veteran depth for this rebuilding club. Youngsters Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett (the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft) could be among this season’s NHL rookie class.
Sophomore Sean Monahan will face pressure to build upon his 22-goal debut of last season. Mikael Backlund and Joe Colborne also hope to carry over last year’s improved performances into this season.
If the youngsters continue their development and the new veterans mesh well into the lineup, the Flames should finish higher in the standings. While they’re on the right track, they’re unlikely to seriously contend for a playoff berth.
Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have scoring punch (Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, promising Mark Scheifele) up front, but lack skilled checking line depth. Adding center Mathieu Perreault should help, but they still need more
The defense is anchored by Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and budding star Jacob Trouba. They can drop Byfuglien back to the blueline but he seems best-suited as a full-time forward who plays the point on the power play. Mark Stuart provides some grit and leadership. The blueline lacks a proven a top-four shutdown defenseman.
Goaltending is the big question mark for the Jets. Ondrej Pavelec has had several seasons to prove himself as an NHL starter but consistency has been an issue. Unproven Michael Hutchinson could be his backup.
The Jets improved somewhat after Paul Maurice took over as head coach midway through last season. He’ll have a full season to mould the Jets into a playoff contender. Their postseason hopes ultimately rest upon their goaltending. Another sub-par season from Pavelec, or if management waits too long to replace him, and they’ll outside the playoff picture once again.
Ottawa Senators. A year ago the Senators seemed poised to take a significant step forward in their rebuilding process. They stumbled instead, failing to make the playoffs while ranking among the worst defensive teams in the league.
This summer the Senators dealt away long-time center Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars. They’ll look to pivots Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad to step up. Alex Chiasson, acquired in the Spezza deal, could fill the second-line right wing role. The Sens re-signed veterans wingers Milan Michalek and Clarke MacArthur this summer.
Veteran goalie Craig Anderson and promising Robin Lehner were re-signed to new deals. They should have better performances this season, but need their teammates to play a stronger defensive game. Superstar blueliner Erik Karlsson should take a leadership role while Jared Cowen will be expected to step up his game.
Perhaps the biggest question is what will happen with first-line wing Bobby Ryan, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. A return to playoff contention could convince Ryan to stay. The Senators could squeak into the postseason but they’re certainly no Cup contender.
Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks wasted little time making changes after missing the playoffs last season. There’s a new GM (Jim Benning), head coach (Willie Desjardins) and starting goalie (Ryan Miller), plus a new right wing (Radim Vrbata) to play alongside the Sedin Twins.
Other notable changes include a new second-line center in Nick Bonino, acquired in the trade which shipped Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks. There’s also a new third-pairing defenseman (Luca Sbisa) and enforcer (Derek Dorsett).
Are the Canucks a better team than they were a year ago? After the mercurial John Tortorella, Desjardins could be a breath of fresh air behind the bench. Miller should bring an end to two years of goaltending uncertainty. Vrbata is a proven playmaker who should fit well with the Sedins.
Questions still remain. Can Bonino get the job done centering the second line? Can winger Alex Burrows rebound from an injury-ravaged season and regain his scoring touch? Will Alexander Edler bounce back from last season’s sub-par season? Are Zack Kassian and Nicklas Jensen ready for a breakthrough? If the answer is yes, the Canucks should return to playoff contention.
Toronto Maple Leafs. Most of the significant offseason changes took place in the front office and behind the bench. Former NHL player and league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan took over as president of hockey operations. While GM Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle retained their jobs they now have new assistants, plus a new hockey analytics department.
The roster changed little this summer. Dave Bolland departed via free agency and Carl Gunnarsson was shipped to St. Louis for Roman Polak. Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin were brought back, while Stephane Robidas, Mike Santorelli and David Booth were the notable free agent signings. James Reimer and Jake Gardiner were subjects of trade speculation but were re-signed.
The Leafs possess solid goaltending in Reimer and Bernier and several skilled puck-moving defensemen in Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Reilly, Cody Franson. They also have two good scoring lines, led by Phil Kessel, James van Reimsdyk, Nazem Kadri and oft-injured Joffrey Lupul.
It’s their overall defensive play which remains the big question. Last season the Leafs were among the worst defensive teams in the league, which ultimately proved their undoing. That’s why new assistant coaches were hired for Carlyle and why they added aging Robidas, the physical Polak and the pesky Komarov. If the Leafs can tighten up defensively without sacrificing too much offense they should make the playoffs. They lack sufficient depth, however, to end their 47-years-and-counting Stanley Cup drought.
Montreal Canadiens. The Habs were the only Canadian club to make the playoffs last season. They finished fourth overall in the Eastern Conference with 100 points, then surprised in the playoffs by upsetting the Boston Bruins to advance to the Conference Final, falling in six games to the New York Rangers.
Off-season changes included trading blueline stalwart Josh Gorges to Buffalo, as well as allowing former captain Brian Gionta to depart via free agency. Aging winger Daniel Briere was dealt to Colorado for top-six winger P.A. Parenteau, while defenseman Tom Gilbert and faceoff specialist Manny Malhotra were signed as free agents.
The Canadiens appear a rising talent in the Eastern Conference. Goaltender Carey Price is among the league’s best and the defense is anchored by young superstar P.K. Subban. The Canadiens forward lines are the deepest they’ve had in years, featuring a good mix of veterans (Parenteau, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Brandon Prust) and budding talent (Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller).
Still, there are some problem areas. They must improve a power-play which struggled last season. The overall blueline depth remains a question. It remains to be seen how effective Gilbert will be, as well as how much aging defenseman Andrei Markov has left. Alex Emelin’s physical style often takes as much of a toll on him as on his opponents. Big blueliner Jarrod Tinordi has yet to prove himself at the NHL level.
The Canadiens appear the most-talented of this season Canadian-based NHL teams and thus have the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup. That being said, they’ll face a strong challenge in the Eastern Confernece from the Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and rising clubs like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets.
None of the Canadian teams, or for that matter any of the Eastern Conference clubs, stand much of a chance against any of the Western Conference powerhouses. Most of the top teams in that Conference possess more depth than all the Canadian teams. Expect the Stanley Cup to once again be awarded to an American-based Western Conference club.