Monday, May 15, 2023

Why has no Canadian-based team won the Stanley Cup since 1993?

Last night the Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from Stanley Cup tournament by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  The Oilers were the last Canadian-based team still standing.  With the other two Canadian-based teams (Toronto and Winnipeg) already sent packing, Edmonton's defeat ensures that the Cup will not return north for yet another year

There are now 32 teams in the inflated National Hockey League.  These are too many teams.  The regular season drones on for 82 games and the playoffs go on well into June.  However, it's all about money and that's all the NHL seems to care about.  The  integrity of the game is far less important to the league.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup way back in 1967, their victory occurred on May 2nd.  There were only two rounds.  Now there are four rounds.  This season, the Leafs were defeated in the second round by the Florida Panthers.  In both rounds, the Leafs played teams based in balmy Florida.

The Carolina Hurricanes will face the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference final.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights will ;play the winner of the series between the Seattle Kraken and the Dallas Stars for the Western Conference title.  Four of the five teams still alive are based in the southern U.S.  The Hurricanes are based in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The Dallas Stars are based in Texas.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights are based in the Navada desert. The only exception is the Seattle Kracken, which are based in the northwestern U.S.  

The Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Seattle Kracken are recent expansion teams.  They do not have long and storied histories in the NHL.  The Kracken began play in the 2020-21 season, while the Golden Knights first competed in the 2017-2018 season.

Since there are currently 25 American-based teams in the NHL and only seven Canadian-based teams, the law of averages dictates that U.S.-based teams will win Lord Stanley's jug more often.  However, a drought of 30 years is surprising.  You'd think that in three decades, a Canadian-based team would have won the championship.  

To be fair, I am not putting forth any conspiracy theories.  I am not accusing the Gary Bettman and the American NHL owners of deliberately sabotaging the chances of Canadian-based teams.  However, there is no doubt in my mind that Bettman et al prefer an American-based team to win the Cup.  First and foremost, it's a matter of money.  The NHL commissioner and the majority of owners want a team from the larger U.S, market to win the Stanley Cup.  A Canadian-based team produces less TV advertising revenue.

Some hockey fans argue that the Florida Panthers, for example, have many Canadian-born players.  I have been reminded that the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, is an American from Arizona, although he has failed to impress in the playoffs, when everything is on the line.

Despite the number of Canadians playing on U.S.-based teams, those teams do not represent Canadian cities or regions.  Canadians seldom take part in Stanley Cup celebrations in American cities.  That's the reason why few Torontonians cheer for the Florida Panthers.

What irks me is that a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena in Quebec City is without an NHL franchise. Quebec City is a winter city, ideally suited to hockey.  From 1979 until 1995, the city was home to an NHL team called the Quebec Nordiques.  During those years, the Nordiques developed a provincial rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens.  Although the Nordiques were relocated to Denver, Colorado in 1995, you can still see Nordiques sweaters in shop windows in historic Vieux Quebec.  When the Phoenix Coyotes were on the verge of extinction, every effort was made to save that team. The same effort did not seem to be evident in the case of the Nordiques. While it is true that the Nordiques played in an old arena, such is not the case anymore.  

A new arena, the Vidéotron Centrewith over 18,000 seats. has replaced the old Colisée Pepsi as Quebec City's primary venue for indoor events.  The building opened in 2015 and it is the home of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League(QMJH).

The Pheonix Coyotes did not have an adequate arena either, when their future was in grave doubt.  Now known as the Arizona Coyotes, they are still waiting on a potential new arena in Tempe, Arizona.  In February of 2022, the Coyotes announced that they had reached an agreement with Arizona State University to play all their home games there through the 2024-25 season, with an option for the 2025-26 season.

It's unfortunate that the NHL headquarters did not remain in Montreal.  When the headquarters moved to New York, American's effectively gained control of the league.  Yes, I am well aware that Canadians are not the only skilled  hockey players.  We were really reminded of that as far back at the 1972 Canada-Soviet  Summit Series.  The NHL now includes many fine players from Sweden, Russia, the United States, Finland and other countries.  The same argument applies to baseball, which has always been considered part of American culture.

In the same way as professional hockey is no longer dominated by Canadian players, Major League Baseball is no longer dominated by U.S.-born players.  Just think of the huge number of Latin players from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, South America Puerto Rico.  Then there are also many good players from Japan and South Korea. Shohe Ohtani, arguably the best player in MLB, hails from Japan,

Yet, MLB headquarters will never move away from New York.  Americans will never relinquish control of their "national pastime."  I also doubt that a non-American will ever become MLB commissioner.  By the way, I have no objection to a non-Canadian being NHL Commissioner.

Paul Beeston, former president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, was president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball from 1997 until 2002.  He was MLB's second ranking official.  However, Beeston, a Canadian, never became MLB commissioner.  Admittedly, I have no hard evidence that Beeston was never given the top job because of his nationality.  However, I doubt that his citizenship helped his chances.  

Beeston has remained mum on why he decided to step down from his position with Major League Baseball,  although frustration probably played a role in his decision.  By all intents and purposes, Beeston did an admirable job as an MLB executive during a difficult time with labour negotiations.  According to the Washington Post, baseball sources said Beeston's departure was not linked to the state of negotiations with the players union and that Beeston had indicated to associates that he intended to remain in his position until a collective bargaining agreement had been reached. Still, questions linger, as they do as to why a Canadian-based team has not won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did the trick in 1993.

- Joanne

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