It’s no secret; this season has been a rough one for six of the seven Canadian teams in the National Hockey League. Only one team, the Montreal Canadiens, are set for the playoffs this season. Despite Montreal quietly having a tremendous season, the year in general for Canadian teams has been highlighted by numerous failures to win games on the ice, as well as problems which took place off the ice, particularly in Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. Looking at the current situation, Canadian teams are at an all-time low. The Flames and Oilers are currently in a rebuild, the Canucks look to be headed in the same direction, and the Jets, Senators and Leafs stand in the middle, wondering what they have to do in order to make the playoffs next season. As for the Habs, they have relied on steady goaltending throughout the year and the emergence of one of the league’s hottest lines, featuring Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and the newly acquired and highly skilled forward, Thomas Vanek. The Habs remain Canada’s only shot for a Stanley Cup this season and perhaps for a few seasons to come.
This article will display the top 10 most disappointing storylines pertaining to six of the seven Canadian teams, outside the playoff bubble this season.
10. Flames Playoff Drought Extends To 5 Years
What the Flames have managed to do, despite going through a rebuild is quite remarkable. Led by coach Bob Hartley, the Flames have become a competitive and hardworking team every night, creating a new identity despite the youth on their roster. The veterans have stepped up as well and have had a solid season for the club, players such as team captain Mark Giordano and former Red Wing, Jiri Hudler. Some of the youth stepped up nicely as well this season. Sean Monahan quietly had a great rookie campaign scoring 20 goals and giving Flames fans something to look forward to in the future. However, despite all this, the reality of the situation is that the Flames will be missing the postseason for a fifth strait year, and judging by the high level of competition in the West, one must really wonder how long it will take for the Flames to finally get back into the playoffs.
9. Jets Continue To Wait On Pavelec
The feeling in Winnipeg has been a bitter one this season, picking up Ws despite poor goaltending on almost a nightly basis. The feeling within the Jets organization was that Pavelec would steal games for this team, but that hasn’t been the case at all. The Jets goaltender is nowhere near where he should be, a crucial backbone of this hockey team. Making $4 million a season, Pavelec has not lived up to expectations. His numbers speak for themselves this season, averaging more than 3 goals a night, a save percentage barely at .900 and most importantly, 26 loses along with 7 overtime loses in 57 starts for the Jets. With another 3 years left on his contract at $3.9 million a season, look for Pavelec to be potentially bought out, or on the move if his play does not improve. The Jets have lacked that big game-saving save all year long and it’s a huge reason to why they stand outside of the playoff bubble.
8. Yakupov Struggles In His Second Season
Plain and simple, this has been a nightmare of a season for Nail Yakupov. Things got so bad for Nail that his agent and former Red Wing, Igor Larionov needed to come down to Edmonton and calm the situation between the two sides. Nail’s lack of interest in his defensive play, which has hurt him greatly this season, is proven by his horrible plus-minus number of minus-33, one of the worst in the league. Yakupov produced more last season in 48 games than he did this season in 63 games. He recorded 11 goals this season, not so great for a sniper with such high potential. The Yakupov story has been one of the many disasters in Edmonton this season. Look for Yakupov to become potential trade bait before the draft this year in Philadelphia.
7. The Tortorella Experiment Fails In Vancouver
This has been a brutal season for everyone involved in the Canucks management group. Hiring Tortorella has proven to be yet another fail this season. The Canucks have lost their respective identity under Torts this season, as he’s put a strong emphasis on team defense and blocking shots which has hurt the Canucks’ game a great deal this season. The Canucks went from a top tier goal scoring team to being dead last in the West for goals scored. Vancouver’s goals and goals against differential took a massive hit this season, leaving them at the bottom of the barrel in Western Conference in this area as well. The Canucks never really bought into Torts’ new system this season and I will be very surprised of he’s still in charge of this team next season.
6. Sens Fail To Meet High Expectations After Last Season
It’s been a tough year for yet another Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators. Coming off an impressive 2012-13 season in where the Sens reached the Conference semifinals, expectations where very high, even more so with the addition of Boby Ryan to the team. This season, the main problem has been the inability to keep the puck out of their net on a nightly basis. The Senators hold the worst goals against average in the entire National Hockey League, at more than 3 goals against per game. A major reason for this is the departure of captain Daniel Alfredsson who was the team’s veteran leader and most importantly a calming influence when things got difficult for the team, something that they simply lacked this season. The Sens hope to reload quickly from this difficult season and make the necessary additions this upcoming offseason.
5. Leafs Leadership Group Unable To Steady The Ship
The Leafs management group went out last offseason and looked specifically for players who could lead this team through character, leadership and determination. The main players that were relied on heavily to do so were newly acquired players Dave Bolland and David Clarkson, as well as captain Dion Phaneuf who was given a $49 million contract extension. These players were given the task of infusing the Leafs with energy when times got rough and leaders needed to step up. In fairness to Bolland, not much was expected of him coming back from a lengthy absence due to injury, but much was expected of Clarkson and captain Phaneuf. The Leafs invested heavily in these players to lead when it mattered most and they failed to do so, instead leading the Leafs into one of their worst regular season collapses in team history.
4. Oilers Still At The Bottom
The Oilers have become one of the most depressing hockey teams to watch. Year after year hockey experts question “is this the year the Oilers finally make a push?” The answer is no. The Oilers once again sit at the bottom of the Western Conference all alone, 10 points under any team in sight. Quite depressing for such a young, skilled team, which continue to lose games and earn draft picks, year after year. This may be the year the Oilers finally choose to trade away their first round pick in favor of a center they have always been looking for to fill the gap down the middle, or a veteran defensive presence at the back that they can rely on to play 25 minutes a night against the opposition’s very best. There is no team with more pressure to make moves this upcoming offseason than the Edmonton Oilers. The team has missed the playoffs in right straight seasons and patience is wearing thin with Oiler fans.
3. Vancouver’s Management Group Falters
Like previously mentioned, one of the biggest stories of the season has been the Vancouver Canucks and their management group. Not many were surprised to find out that former president and General Manager Mike Gillis was finally relieved of his duties late into the season. It is clear the Canucks organization is desperate for a fresh new start and getting rid of Gillis was the beginning of this process in Vancouver. When it comes down to it, the Canucks management failed this team, trading away two franchise goalies and picking up, in reality, a backup net minder, a third line player and a prospect. A reboot this upcoming off season will be crucial for the Canucks. They insist the main reason for the change was to “save the brand” after seeing many empty seats during their final home games. What a bizarre season in Canuck land.
2. The Leafs’ End Of Season Collapse
No doubt this has to be one of the most disappointing Canadian stories of the year, the Leafs’ epic collapse. A spot in the playoffs looked pretty obvious for the Leafs coming back from the Olympics; an inexplicable 8-game losing streak changed everything in a hurry, enduring a month of March that Leafs fans will never forget. No matter who was playing or who was in goal, the boat kept sinking. The biggest dagger was a loss on home ice to the Red Wings, another team chasing down the wild card spot. This loss was a chance for the Leafs to get back into the mix, but they failed to do so once again. No Canadian team has endured more criticism in this final month of hockey, than the Toronto Maple Leafs. To put this collapse in perspective, the Leafs got passed in the standings by 8, yes 8 different teams, resulting in the Leafs not making the post season for the 8th time in the last 9 years. Tough time to be a Leafs fan.
1. 1 Canadian Team In The Playoffs
At the end of the day, the most concerning thing is the fact that only one Canadian team will be participating in the playoffs this season. For most of these Canadian teams, one can’t help but wonder how long it will take them to finally get back in the mix. For most Canadian teams, this is yet another failed season, let’s put it into perspective. These playoff droughts are pretty bad; the Oilers will reach their 8th straight playoffless year, the Jets are at 7 years, the Flames have reached 5, the Leafs have missed 8 of the last 9 and the Senators have missed the playoffs 3 times in the last 6 seasons. Playing in a Canadian hockey market has become extremely difficult and pressure-filled. It will be interesting to see how these Canadian teams bounce back in the next couple of years after having to endure all of this constant heartbreak.