Welcome to April, traditionally a big time for playoff activity here in frozen Canada.
Unfortunately, the NHL won’t be providing any of it, because as of Wednesday night, all of Canada’s NHL teams are out of the playoffs. The last time this happened was 1970, and the only Canadian teams in the league that year were the Canadiens and Leafs. Although, technically, 2005 was another year without Canadian teams in the playoffs, because the whole league was shut down due to the labour dispute that year. But other than that, it dates back to 1970.
This news is a surprise to no one; hockey fans knew this was going to happen for weeks, but it’s still jarring for it to finally be official.
Let me tell you, it takes epic incompetence for all seven of Canada’s teams to manage to be this bad, since the NHL lets so many teams into the post-season — 16 of them. You would think at least one of these 7 Canadian teams would be half-decent, or at least, half-good enough. Heck, the NHL draft lottery gave the Edmonton Oilers several second chances at turning themselves around over the years with the No.1 pick, and last year they picked Connor McDavid. Yet here they are again, in the losers lottery, and in a position to get another high draft pick.
Compare this situation to the other sports in Canada where Canadian teams have really been doing well. Canada’s lone Major League Baseball and NBA teams, the Blue Jays and Raptors, not only have made the playoffs but won division titles. All three of Canada’s MLS soccer teams, the Whitecaps, Impact and Toronto FC, made the playoffs last fall and it was the first time in MLS history that has happened. At least two National Lacrosse League teams from Canada are going to be in (the Rush and likely the Roughnecks), and of course the CFL is all-Canadian anyway. The bottom line is that the vast majority of Canadian major league teams in every sport operating in Canada is a playoff team, with the exception of all the Canadian NHL teams.
But of course this is nothing new. Canadian NHL teams have been stinking it up ever since 1993, the last time a Canadian team won a Stanley Cup (the Canadiens). The last time a Canadian team even made the finals was 2011 (the Canucks). Recent years have been really bad, with both Canadian playoff teams going down in the first round in 2012 (Canucks and Senators) and only one team making the playoffs at all in 2014 (the Canadiens). Last year, it looked like Canada was turning the corner as five teams made it, but then they were all gone by the end of the second round anyway.
Yet this is supposed to be Canada’s favorite sport! Why, then, do Canadian fans keep on watching this sub-par hockey product, you say? Actually, they aren’t — the ratings have been down for Hockey Night in Canada all season, and the midweek game ratings have been even worse, according to reports. And it’s all because this year in particular, Canada’s teams have been awful. There has been a lot of talk about that expensive Rogers NHL contract and how much of a bath they are going to take on this year’s playoffs. Folks over there are right to be freaking out, because really, no one in Canada cares anymore. The only people in Canada who still care about the NHL are people entering these playoff hockey drafts, and interest in that is probably down, too.
It will be very interesting to see how Canadian fans react, since the Cup playoffs are supposed to be the highlight of the year. But I know for a fact that interest goes right down the drain whenever the last Canadian team is KOed in the playoffs. Now that all of them are KOed, and with a few games still left to go in the regular season, what are Canadian fans supposed to do other than sit and watch American teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Well, there is the Raptors, who will be in the NBA playoffs, so you can expect all the playoff interest in Toronto will focus on them. Plus, Major League Baseball returns this weekend, so the Blue Jays will be on if you’re dying to see a Canadian team play something. (For those who can’t wait, the Blue Jays play the Red Sox in preseason play in Montreal today.)
The National Lacrosse League still has a few weeks to go before their playoffs. And of course there is still the AHL and yes, junior hockey. Here in Saskatchewan alone, the WHL and SJHL playoffs are going full blast, and in fact our local Battlefords North Stars are having an excellent run of their own. The North Stars are in action tonight, against the Flin Flon Bombers, in the first game of the SJHL semifinals.
Word of advice – stay clear of the penalty box tonight, guys. That is all for now.