It’s rare — and almost unthinkable for hockey fans — but the Stanley Cup playoffs will go ahead without any Canadian teams.
The Ottawa Senators were the last club to be eliminated on Wednesday night, despite beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1. The Philadelphia Flyers’ 2-1 shootout win over the Washington Capitals mathematically eliminated the Sens.
The Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks had already fallen short and will stand aside as 16 U.S-based clubs battle for the Cup.
“It’s such a big part of our culture in Canada and ever since I can remember growing up, gearing up for that first round of playoffs is huge,” said Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano, a Toronto native. “It’s disappointing that we’re not going to have a team from Canada represented.
“But there are still a lot of great players, a lot of great teams, a lot of great Canadian players on American teams, so I’m sure the fans will still enjoy it and it will be another great playoff.”
It is only the second time it has happened in NHL history. The last was in 1970, when the Toronto Maple Leafs finished sixth and last in their division and the Canadiens ended up fifth, losing the final playoff spot to the New York Rangers on a tiebreaker — total goals scored — on the final day of the regular season.
But it has been coming, with the Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets all missing the post-season more often than not in recent years.
In 2014, Montreal was the only Canadian club in the playoffs. In 2011 and 2012, there were only two.
It will cost the teams millions in lost ticket and merchandise sales. Bars, restaurants and retailers of team jerseys and flags will miss out on the extra sales from playoff fever.
“All the teams come into the year certainly hoping for more than we have,” said Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. “As a country we just take so much pride in our hockey. It’s hard to believe I guess in some ways that one of the teams wouldn’t get in.”
It also is a nervy time for Rogers Sportsnet, which in 2013 inked a 12-year, $5.2-billion deal for rights to NHL games and now hasn’t a single Canadian team to highlight in what is usually the biggest ratings period of the year.
Already, fans are being reminded that great playoff matchups await anyway, and that Canadian stars like Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, Los Angeles rearguard Drew Doughty and Pittsburgh centre Sidney Crosby are still in the hunt.
“This league is very competitive and there is no rhyme or reason why there is not a Canadian team in the playoffs,” said Edmonton forward Matt Hendricks, an American. “It’s unfortunate because of the blood, sweat and tears that the fans in this country put into the game. It’s just an off-year.”
“I think it’s a fluke,” said Montreal defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. “Every team has Canadian players, so I don’t think it has anything to do with Canadian teams.”
Five Canadian squads reached the playoffs last season, with Winnipeg grabbing the last wild card spot in the Western Conference to reach the post-season for the first time in four years. Ottawa needed a late-season 23-4-4 tear, built on Andrew Hammond’s stellar goaltending while the Calgary Flames ended a three-year drought with a surprise 97-point season to finish third in the Pacific Division.
The Senators, Flames and Jets each took a step backward this season, as did the Vancouver Canucks, who have missed the playoffs in two of the last three campaigns.
“It’s going to be quiet around here,” said Senators forward Bobby Ryan. “Everywhere we went, even into Calgary and some of the other buildings, fans were still pulling for us to represent Canada on the map, without that I don’t know where people are going to turn.”
The Leafs are in rebuilding mode and were expected to miss out for the ninth time in 10 years.
Any chance the Oilers had to make it for the first time since they went to the Stanley Cup final in 2006 was probably dashed when top draft pick Connor McDavid broke his collarbone on Nov. 3 and missed three months.
The Canadiens began the year as Canada’s best hope after finishing second overall in the NHL with 110 points. They looked like a lock after a 19-4-3 start, but a long-term injury to star goalie Carey Price and a lack of depth on attack led to an epic crash.
“These things turn around,” said Canadiens forward Lars Eller. “The biggest thing is management — scouting and drafting.
“It’s no secret that some Canadian teams have trouble attracting big free agents, but if a team gets enough high draft picks they’re going to turn their organization around. That’s usually how it goes.”
Canucks defenceman Christopher Tanev said he hopes Canada’s teams can turn things around.
“It sucks,” he said. “I’m Canadian. You always want the Canadian teams in. We feel like it’s our game in Canada.”
With files from Shane Jones, Joshua Clipperton, Lisa Wallace and Darren Haynes