2016 NHL FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

So now that playoff time has arrived again and after 82 games, 14 teams have been removed from Stanley Cup competition, including all the Canadian ones, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty. When I wrote for another blog I always listed first certain teams and players who will have extra pressure on them when the playoffs begin. I will continue the tradition in NYAHB. Some of them I have already mentioned in previous articles.

PLAYERS

1. Alexander Ovechkin

As mentioned in a previous article, nobody will have kind of pressure on them that Alexander Ovechkin will have, especially through April. He was expected to have the same type of career Sydney Crosby is having but instead it closely resembles Marcel Dionne, the best NHL player never to make even the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. Ovechkin and his Capitals have always been bounced out of the playoffs in the first two rounds, sometimes to teams of considerably lesser talent. Even more dismal is his Russian team international career with two ignominious Olympics finishes in Vancouver and even worse on home ice Sochi. He is now 30 years old and starting the downward side of his career. This may be his last chance to show he can lead a team – any hockey team – as the main man to a championship.

2. Marc Andre Fleury

Ever since Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh has been struggling to find themselves in the playoffs again and the prime suspect in the struggle has been Fleury’s goaltending. Like Washington, Pittsburgh has sometimes lost to teams of considerably lesser talent. What sticks out in my mind is a horrible playoff loss to arch-rival Philadelphia in which Fleury provided the consistently worst playoff goaltending for an entire series that I have ever seen by a supposedly top goaltender. If the same thing happens in ANY round this time, his Pittsburgh career could be over.

3. Joe Thornton

Okay, the pressure is really over. He’s 37 years old and way past his prime but somehow he is still San Jose’s main guy. Somehow he is still expected to lead this team to a championship when he should be a good support player by now. But now the pressure is off because it is asking the impossible. San Jose should be rebuilding around young star players, not hanging on with Joe. Joe is an anachronism now. I used to flay him regularly in the playoffs when he was younger because he was such a disappointment. Now it will be sad to see what will happen.

4. Zach Parise

When Zach Parise returned to his native Minnesota, he was expected to put the Wild on the level with Chicago and Los Angeles. The truth is that by himself, he is simply not enough. Depending on the opponent, Minnesota is good enough to win a playoff round on occasion but they are not good enough to beat the big boys. Like Joe, it will be asking the impossible from Zach.

TEAMS

1. Washington Capitals

As mentioned in a recent main article, this is the team with the most pressure on them. Ovechkin/Backstrom was supposed to produce a championship like 2009 Crosby/Malkin. All the players on this team who have been around for awhile are now much older, on the brink of the downward part of their careers. For any hope, any remaining belief that this core of players, that a team led by Alexander Ovechkin has ANY chance of winning a Stanley Cup in the future, they MUST make at least the Conference Final. If they get put out in an earlier playoff round – especially to a team with much lesser talent – AGAIN – the core of this team including Ovechkin may have to broken up and a complete rebuilding done. Coach Barry Trotz will face his most difficult coaching task yet if the Capitals start to lose to a mouse-that-roared team.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

When they drafted Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh was expected to win championships, not championship. Since the victory of 2009, Pittsburgh has struggled to find itself in the playoffs, several times losing to lesser teams. The two men who were at the helm in 2009, coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Ray Shero are gone. Somehow the formula that had blossomed in 2009 has been sabotaged and nobody knows why for sure. Prime suspects have been bad overall defensive play and the goaltending of Marc Andre Fleury. Still worse, they will not have Malkin in the early rounds. Pittsburgh roared down the stretch like a good team, moving up from 7th to 2nd. But if they get put out in an early round by a lesser team when they are supposed to win, there will be anguished, gut searching in Pittsburgh and perhaps a shakeup with a key trade in the off season.

 
3. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota used to miss the playoffs regularly and then added Zach Parise and other talent to get up the scale. But the best they can do in the playoffs is win against lesser teams like themselves, not beat the big boys, Los Angeles and Chicago. Minnesota is stuck at a plateau, not moving up. If they lose again, especially to a team that is neither Blackhawks or Kings, a close examination of the structure of this team should be ordered and maybe an upheaval in the off season will occur.

4. St. Louis Blues

When they first got a team back in 1967, St Louis was the best expansion team and made the Stanley Cup Finals their first three years. Since then they seldom make even the Conference Final. They are stuck at the first two playoff levels despite sometimes finishing first in their conference overall. St. Louis desperately wants to be on the level of Chicago and Los Angeles and break through this rut. Despite the promise of their first three years, they are the only 1967 expansion team never to win the Stanley Cup, tied with Toronto for the longest current streak without a championship. They have been sorely lacking players who rise to the occasion when the playoffs begin. This year is no exception. It is win – especially if the team is neither Chicago or Los Angeles – or face possible serious team chemistry changes in the off season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Washington-Philadelphia

This should be a no-brainer choice but is it? There is something about this chemistry, Washington Capitals-Philadelphia Flyers that I don’t like. The Capitals 2016 record against the Flyers is 2 wins and 2 overtime losses. Washington versus Buffalo, Ottawa, Florida, Carolina, Toronto, Detroit, etc., would make it an easy choice but against some teams including Philadelphia, the choice isn’t so automatic. If this team starts to lose to the Flyers, their morale will start to plummet rapidly. It will be the same old Ovechkin, same old Backstrom, same old Orpik, etc. New coach Barry Trotz will have a horrible time trying to plug all the leaks and rally the troops. All the pressure is on the Capitals and the Flyers have nothing to lose. The Capitals cannot lose to this team like they have done so often to lesser teams in their immediate past. Can they? CAN THEY? Yes they can. Not even new coach Barry Trotz can save this group from themselves. Philadelphia will win in 6 or 7 games and there will begin a deep rethink of building a championship team with Alexander Ovechkin as its leader, supported by Backstrom, Orpik and others. Washington is playing for its future as well as the present.

2. Pittsburgh-New York Rangers

There are several teams in the Eastern Conference that the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team struggling to find the proper playoff chemistry that has been lost since the 2009 Stanley Cup victory, did not want to face and the New York Rangers might be at the top of that list. New York has established a winning tradition against the Penguins in recent years and this year the Penguins are even weaker than before because they have to play this round without the injured Evgeni Malkin. New York knows how to beat Pittsburgh and it will be the same result as before. New York in 6 games, then a lot of anguish and soul searching in the off season for the Penguin organization and possibly the end of Marc Andre Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh.

3. Tampa Bay-Detroit

A few years ago this would be a great match-up: up-and-coming Tampa Bay against the dynastic Red Wings. But almost all the players from the Detroit glory years are gone and only Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyk remain. No more Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. Detroit also has a negative goal differential.  Tampa Bay made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year and put up a good struggle against Chicago. They will win in 5 games or maybe even a 4 game sweep.

4. Florida-New York Islanders

There is more at stake than appears in this match-up. Not only are these two teams playing for moving on in the playoffs, they are playing for establishing a winning tradition in the playoffs, something that is vital for potential future Stanley Cup champions. Both these teams have not won a playoff round in eons so this is their big chance. But there are many factors that are tilting this series in New York’s favor. The only edge that Florida has is that they have home ice advantage, whatever that is worth. But the Islanders have playoff experience as opposed to the new-kid-on-the-block Panthers. And they are led by a young, up-and-coming superstar, John Tavares, in the prime of his career while the Panthers best player is legendary, soon-to-be hall of famer, Jaromir Jagr, well past his prime. He’ll give Florida some valuable experience and leadership but it is not enough. Finally there is the desperation factor and Tavares desperately wants to prove that this Islander team is a contender not only this year but for the immediate coming seasons. They have more to lose in this series than the Panthers do and they will play with more desperation. Islanders in 6 games.

 
WESTERN CONFERENCE

5. Dallas-Minnesota

Dallas picked up Chicago Blackhawks core player Patrick Sharp in the off season and the result is a first place finish in the Western Conference. If you get a player who knows how to win the big one, his effect could spill over, hopefully on to perennial underachievers Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, and possibly Tyler Seguin. They also have Johnny Oduya who knows how to win the big one and goaltender Antti Niemi who has won a Stanley Cup too, along with a competent backup, Kari Lehtonen. Minnesota simply does not have enough talent, particularly winning players. It will be Dallas in 5 games… and a big shakeup coming in the off season for Minnesota.

6. Anaheim-Nashville

If there is one team that has come close recently to breaking the Chicago-Los Angeles monopoly in the Western Conference it is Anaheim. Nashville has improved and will put up a good fight but still does not have the overall talent and experience of the Ducks. This is not a mismatch and even an upset could occur but it will not. Anaheim in 6 games.

7. St. Louis-Chicago

As mentioned above, St. Louis desperately wants to be on the level of Chicago and Los Angeles and now they get the chance to directly prove it themselves. If they can do it, they will deserve all the plaudits for dethroning a defending champion. The problem is that they will not. Chicago has had St. Louis’s number in the playoffs for several years. The Blues still have to prove they are good enough to beat this team. Until they do, it will be Chicago in 6 games and more off season chemistry tinkering in St. Louis that may not be just limited to the players.

8. Los Angeles-San Jose

Two time Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings against anachronistic San Jose Sharks led by the Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau combination that has been around forever and cannot win the big one??? As long as there is life there is hope and the fact that San Jose will be lining up on the ice against Los Angeles means they still have a chance to win. But the Kings are too good to lose to a team based on a tried and untrue formula. Los Angeles in 5 games.

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IF THE NHL EXPANDS, QUEBEC CITY WILL BE BACK IN THE NHL PERMANENTLY

If as it seems likely that Quebec City will be admitted back to the NHL when the league expands, any comments on websites or other media that Quebec is “too small” to be a front-runner or seriously considered, should be disregarded. Unless something completely catastrophic happens like the Canadian dollar going completely into the tank, an earthquake, avalanche, or some other natural disaster striking the city, or that Quebec Province separates and a war breaks out between them and Canada, Quebec City is going to be a permanent member of the NHL this time, in fact one of its stronger members.

Though the Canadian dollar has sunk and could go even lower,  with a rich owner like Quebecor, a new Quebec franchise would hardly be threatened the way it was in the 1990s.  Still, with a devalued dollar, the bright prospect of a returned Quebec team has been dimmed.  What seemed such a sure thing  a year ago now has a major obstacle in its path.  Quebec with its fan base, a proper NHL arena, and a rich, solvent owner is still a sure-fire winner, but the sagging dollar makes things a lot tougher.

When Commissioner Gary Bettman made his 2010 tour of the three cities who lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and stated his three conditions for re-entry, fan-base, arena, and ownership, there was never a problem in Quebec with a fan-base. Since its WHA days when Quebec was one of the main cornerstones for that league’s survival in the 1970s, Quebec has had almost complete sellouts for every game the Nordiques played. In fact it was part of that fan-base, 80,000 Nordiques fans who signed a petition urging the team to return in a proper arena, that really got the corporate sponsors and the politicians’ attention that building an arena and getting the team back was a popular, vote-getting issue.

Quebec always had a strong fan-base, both in the NHL and WHA. The real problems were the other two conditions, the arena and ownership and now that they have been solved, with Quebec building a $400 million, 18,000 seat arena, and being owned by billionaire Quebecor, a new Quebec franchise should be one of the more valuable franchises in the NHL.

Those websites and media commentators who say that the Quebec market is too small are not looking at the complete picture. All they are pointing to is the city limit area that is approximately 500,000 people. But metropolitan Quebec is Canada’s seventh largest city and likely to top the 800,000 mark in the mid-decade Canadian census. Indeed it would not be improper to compare Quebec with Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa in 1980 when they had 500,000-700,000 people, the time when those three cities really started to grow until today they now have over 1 million residents. Quebec is Canada’s coming city.

Furthermore the Quebec market is not limited to metropolitan Quebec. A new Nordiques will be marketing all through eastern Quebec province and probably the Maritime provinces too. The Maritimes are already tied to Quebec in hockey terms through the Quebec Junior Hockey League which operates a Maritime division. So Quebec’s total market is probably several million people.

If the NHL can welcome back Winnipeg which has a smaller city population than Quebec and markets in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Northern Ontario and only has a tiny 15,000 seat arena, they will have no problem accepting the much larger Quebec market and an 18,000 seat arena.

The Quebec Nordiques-Montreal Canadiens rivalry may have been the best in the NHL when it existed. Bring it back as soon as possible and the new Quebec team with a proper arena and good ownership will make it a permanent NHL fixture this time.

The Gentleman

Jimmy Vesey has taken alot of flak lately, but for all the right reasons. As recently, as two weeks ago Predator’s GM David Poile and company had been hammering Vesey in the media. The Harvard Senior captain and two time Hobey Baker finalist had informed  the Predators he would not be signing in Nashville, choosing instead to become a free agent on August 15th.

To understand why Vesey opted to return for his senior season, it would help to understand Hobey Baker himself. The award, given annually to the top college hockey player in the land that exemplifies  character, ability, and leadership was named after the Princeton and St Paul’s graduate who had fought and died in World War 1. Baker was a quiet and humble man and regularly visited the opponents’ locker room each game to shake hands. 

While many people in the hockey community have seen Vesey play, they don’t quite know the man himself. Vesey is a soft spoken, quiet young man. He attended Belmont Hill, a prep school that boasts St. Paul’s as one of it’s biggest rivals. It has been said that during his final year at Belmont Hill, in a player’s only meeting, Vesey suggested the team not keep individual stats opting instead to focus on becoming a better team. It was this type of mentality that contributed to NHL scouts missing the train on Vesey in his draft year as they were not fully aware of his statistical impact.

Over the last several seasons Princeton rival Harvard has experienced a hockey revival. They have consistently been one of the top hockey programs in the country and the ECAC in general boasts two of the past four national champions in Union and Yale. In fact, 7 ECAC teams in 2015-2016 have spent time in the top 20 of the Pairwise rankings, and Jimmy Vesey has been the league’s best player lifting the Crimson to new heights.

It can be argued that no college hockey player has shown more dedication to his school, teammates, and education than Jim Vesey. He has been nominated as a finalist for the senior class “class” award at one of the most prestigious universities in the world that boasts many of it’s future leaders in business, science, and politics. 

Most parents would dream to have a child graduate Harvard. With Jimmy Vesey deferring two opportunities to cash an NHL paycheck and prioritizing his graduation over the NHL on his birthday no less, it has become apparent Vesey truly epitomizes the character and qualities of Baker himself. Come August 15th, 29 NHL teams will pick up the phone looking for a talented hockey player. What they are rewarded with could very well be an exceptional human being.

 

 

 

 

All The Pressure Will Be On Washington/Ovechkin/Trotz

As the NHL season ends and anticipation for the playoffs begins, there are some teams that will have more than the average pressure on them to do well in the playoffs and the runaway leader of this group is the Washington Capitals. The President’s Trophy winner MUST make it to the Eastern Conference Final and do well in that round before bowing out. That is the MINIMUM goal that will be acceptable. Chicago and Los Angeles can put their feet up and not win for another decade. They have won their Stanley Cups and have exceeded expectations. Even Pittsburgh (the team with the second most amount of pressure on it in the coming playoffs, seeking to regain the future that was predicted for them when they drafted Crosby and Malkin) will not have as much pressure on them as Washington. Crosby and Malkin can retire knowing that they have won at least one Stanley Cup, which puts them on the level with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita of the 1960s Chicago Blackhawks glory teams.

But a similar future was predicted for the Washington Capitals when they drafted Alexander Ovechkin. It was a unique situation, the first in NHL history. Never before had a non-Canadian player been drafted who was predicted to be as good or even better than the current best Canadian player. There was expected to be a personal rivalry between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby from the start to the finish of their careers. But Sidney Crosby has won a Stanley Cup and two Olympic Gold medals. He can retire with some sense of achievement.

The same cannot be said for Alexander Ovechkin. His Washington Capitals have never even made it to the Eastern Conference Final, never mind competing in the Stanley Cup Final round. Just as humiliating is the poor performance of the Russian team during the peak years of Ovechkin’s career. It was bad enough to have a poor performance in Vancouver in 2010, but to be knocked out by Finland in only the quarter finals on your own home ice in Sochi in 2014 really stings. Ovechkin wins scoring titles, not championships. His true rival is no longer Sidney Crosby but Marcel Dionne, currently the greatest NHL player never to even make the Conference Final.

Ovechkin has now reached the age of 30, usually the starting point for the decline of hockey skills to retirement. Time is starting to run out for him. Oh he will still be unanimously elected to the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame, there’s no danger of missing that, but it will not be on the level he wants, not if his Washington and Russian teams do not win. He will be judged great, but overrated. And this may be the most pressure year he has ever faced. The glories of the regular season including the President’s Trophy will mean nothing if they bow out in the first two rounds to a team of lesser talent like they have so often in the past. The Capitals MUST make the Conference Final for this season to be judged as a season of progress.

Also under the magnifying glass will be Washington coach, Barry Trotz. He has done a wonderful job during the regular season as he did a similar competent job in guiding the under-talented Nashville Predators into the playoffs in previous years. But this is the first time he will enter the playoffs with a really talented team. Its playoff confidence will be shaky. The veterans on this team like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik, etc., know only too well how they have failed in the past to lift this team to the heights expected of it. If this team starts to lose to the upstart, eighth place, mouse-that-roared, playoff team, morale and confidence could disintegrate very quickly and the situation would be like trying to plug too many holes in a crumbling dam. Trotz’s coaching savvy could be very sorely tested in the coming weeks.

So it will not be an envious position to be a Washington Capital in April. It will be far more relaxing to be a Chicago Blackhawk, a Los Angeles King, or a member of a playoff underdog team with nothing to lose. Even if the Capitals make the Stanley Cup Finals, they will be underdogs if their opponents are either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings, two teams that have won it all recently and know how to win it again. All the way it will be tough on Washington because they have failed to win and meet expectations in the past. Will this be Washington’s year of glory or the Capitals’ and Ovechkin’s last chance?

NHL EXPANSION WAS PLANNED LONG AGO

When the NHL announced its expansion plans as soon as last season ended, almost everybody who followed the league never regarded it as a startling new announcement. NHL expansion has been rumored for several years now.

Certainly, the first tangible sign that the league was planning expansion was in 2010 when Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their NHL teams, Winnipeg, Quebec and Hartford and stated the terms of for readmission. He would not have made it if the league was not going to expand. He knew there was active sentiment for readmission, certainly in the Canadian cities.

In Quebec, 80,000 people signed a petition urging steps be taken for building an NHL arena and getting the Nordiques back. Shortly thereafter, Quebecor, a major Quebec media company which had been trying to expand its presence in the province announced it was abandoning its plans to buy the Montreal Canadiens and instead would front a group aimed at getting the Nordiques back. The issue became political and soon Bettman was seen hobnobing with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier.

In Winnipeg, ever since the Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, any news that might portend the return of the NHL was treated like Holy Scripture. Ex-NHL players, media commentators like Don Cherry and even NHL officials including Bettman himself were constantly asked to give their blessing for the feasibility of a returned Winnipeg team under the right conditions. A pressure group, the Manitoba Mythbusters was formed to keep the flame of remembrance and hope alive.

In Hartford, the mayor unsuccessfully tried to get a new NHL arena built as part of a downtown reclamation project. Nothing concrete has yet to occur in Hartford but the door is still open to them for a return to the NHL.

Bettman’s tour produced an anguished outburst from Hamilton, still bitter about its Phoenix Coyote adventure, and demanding that it be considered for an NHL team. Then Toronto got into the act with speculators claiming that they were going to build a new 20,000 seat arena in Markham regardless if the NHL came or not.

There had been talk for over a decade that the NHL wanted to put a team into Las Vegas and now came the announcement that the city would actually build an arena to make an NHL team a possibility. Then came talk that the NHL was talking to a group from Seattle about the possibility of getting an expansion team. At one time, a Quebec City-Seattle combination seemed an ideal NHL expansion pairing.

Then there was Kansas City which built an 18,000 seat arena for no tenant at all but has hosted NHL and NBA exhibition games. Portland which has deep roots in Canadian junior hockey was said to be another ideal city just waiting for an NHL team.

And one could go back to the last NHL expansion in 1997, when Houston, a city that the NHL definitely wanted in because it was the largest American city without an NHL team and had a rivalry with Dallas that would sell tickets there, somehow managed to blow its chances despite having three separate bidders. There was also Oklahoma City, trying to prove it belonged in the big leagues with an unsuccessful NHL bid and a sports ambition that would later take the NBA Supersonics from Seattle in 2008.

So all these ambitions plus possibly others have been lying in the shadows waiting for their chance, spreading out their temptations to the NHL. The NHL has known it and so has almost everyone else who has been following the league. So the announcement that the NHL had caved in and would now expand is no surprise. Expansion was planned long ago.

But the real surprise (especially to the NHL) was that Bettman’s $500 million price tag threw cold water on so many hopes and dreams. This coming expansion (if it occurs) will be the most anti-climatic expansion in big-four North American sports league history because there has been no competition with Las Vegas and Quebec. The NHL once had all those tempting dreams listed above. Now they have to settle for what they can get.

NHL.com Bracket Challenge – You In?

When I was watching NBCSN on a Sunday night (Penguins/Rangers), I kind of quick glanced at the advertisements on the boards. Where the NHL puts their website ad (in the corner, near the red line), there was “NHL.com/bracket” Curious as I ever am, I decided to check it out.

And when I saw what it was, I almost decided to retreat. Key word there is “almost”.

It’s the NHL’s way of saying “can you pick a perfect bracket” without having to pick from 64 teams. Fill out the entire thing, then sit and watch as the teams fall apart at the seams.

I bombed last year. I had Anaheim in the SCF, I believe. I’m not going to go into specifics, because I’m pretty sure I don’t remember what happened. What I do remember out of the whole thing was that I did an okay job at it, getting picks through as best as I could. And as I’m not a real bracket-filler, I was decent at winging it.

So this year, I ask you: Are we doing a league on NHL.com? Let us know, and we’ll make a league for the writers and readers.

The Root Of Canada’s Disgrace: Sellout

Now that the Philadelphia Flyers have officially eliminated the Ottawa Senators, the only NHL team from the land to which the Stanley Cup was donated, the only one that had a winning record this year, Canada will not have a single NHL franchise competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, a fate that has not occurred since 1970 when Canada had only two franchises in the NHL. There will be wailing and gnashing of the teeth in the Great White North at the end of the season and probably a few of the usual NHL-is-anti-Canadian diatribes but the only surprise is why this has not occurred earlier and more often.

When I started writing sports articles on blogs, one of my first was a series of five articles about the history of NHL expansion in Canada. They could be transferred to this blog now. It would be timely. It has been my contention (and the theme of those articles) that the reason Canada does not have more NHL teams is that it is Canada’s fault, not the work of greedy, ignorant Americans. Canada has gone from 2 teams in a 12 team NHL league to 7 teams in a 30 team league. From the first snub of Vancouver in 1967 to the present disgrace with Quebec trying to reenter the league, Canadians have been prominent in keeping Canadian franchises in the NHL to a minimum. Canada has handed the NHL to the United States on a platter.

The existing NHL Canadian franchises simply do not want to share Canadian television money and regional ticket sales and merchandising with new NHL Canadian franchises. With that mandate, any NHL President/Commissioner from Clarence Campbell to John Ziegler to Gary Bettman is merely the mouthpiece for that policy. In the first major expansion of 6 teams in 1967, there was an uproar in Canada when Vancouver was ignored and non-hockey environment St Louis got a team. Toronto and Montreal did not want to share Hockey Night In Canada money. Vancouver had to wait until 1970.

Enter the WHA in 1972. Many of its owners were rich Canadians who found they could not buy their way into the NHL so they started their own league instead. Unlike the NHL, Canadian franchises were highly prized and valued in the WHA because most of its fans and ticket buyers came from Canadian cities especially two current NHL teams, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and the hopefully soon-tp-be-revived, Quebec Nordiques. At one time, there was even a Canadian division.

The creation of the WHA led to a player salary war with the NHL and many people were all for ending it by merging the WHA into the NHL. But the NHL opposed it and the leaders of the opposition were those two “patriots”, Canadian flag waver Harold Ballard, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs (who had been jailed for tax-evasion and was letting a pedophile ring operate out of Maple Leaf Gardens), and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke (a graduate from my high school), owner of the Los Angeles Kings. Thanks to their patriotic impulses, Quebec, Edmonton, and Winnipeg did not join the NHL until 1980.

If I were to name Canada’s two greatest sins, I’d have a ready answer: elitism and bad faith. Elitism concerning NHL Canadian franchises is evident to this day.  For example,  anybody who watches a Toronto Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Center on television sees a huge number of empty seats at the start of every period that gradually fills up. Why? Because these seats are not owned by fans at all but by rich corporations who want to wine and dine their clients with hockey games and spend part of each period in the bars trying to cut business deals.  The game comes secondary.   Only rich people and corporations can afford to buy NHL hockey tickets in Canada.

The other main sin, bad faith, would play a significant part in the fate of the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques. Immediately after joining the NHL, Quebec and Winnipeg expanded the seating in their arenas to a barely acceptable 15,000 instead of building new arenas like Edmonton had and what Calgary and Ottawa were to do when they joined the NHL. Quebec and Winnipeg were the poorest of the lesser Canadian cites and tried to get by on the cheap.

When bad times came in the 1990s, with high NHL salaries and a low Canadian dollar, Quebec and Winnipeg had no proper NHL arenas to fall back on to get them through. And no rich Canadians stepped forward to either buy them or solve the arena problem. No rich Canadian believed in them and Quebec and Winnipeg lost their teams. And of course,  so called “anti-Canadian” Commissioner Gary Bettman got a lot of the blame.

It is my belief that there should be at least 12 Canadian teams. These include Quebec, a second Montreal, and in the long term, a Saskatchewan team, probably based in Saskatoon. And I believe that the Southern Ontario market is so rich, it can afford to support two more teams, 2 of Hamilton, second Toronto, London, Kitchener, or Oshawa. But Toronto and Montreal do not want to share television revenue and ticket and merchandising sales with any new local rivals. “Anti-Canadian” Bettman was simply hired to carry out this policy which is probably not his at all. He is only carrying on the anti-Canadian policy that has been initiated by Canadians themselves.

So crushing indemnity terms are said to be formulated for anyone trying to put a team too close to an existing Canadian franchise. Toronto and Montreal (and Buffalo) are being well protected. All those potential Canadian expansion sites would probably be winners if the teams would get good owners, a proper NHL arena, and a healthy Canadian dollar. But will they ever exist? Los Angeles and New York were able to work out their differences but Canadians have started an anti-Canadian policy in the NHL that is proving hard to overcome.

So Canada, get used to being excluded from the NHL playoffs. It will probably be an occurrence that happens frequently in the future. There may come the day when even getting one team into the playoffs will be an achievement, never mind winning the Stanley Cup which you have not done since 1993. But do not blame the Americans. You sold out to them long ago. Canada, you have earned your fate.