We're Not Talking About Playoffs, Eh?

The absence of Canadian teams in this year's NHL field is good for a punchline, although it's already worn out from overuse. But that's about all it means.
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For the first time in more than three decades there will not be a single Canadian hockey team in the NHL playoffs. You know this even if you don’t follow hockey, because it’s all anyone who never watches hockey can talk about. The average American doesn’t much care about the NHL, but even your college-basketball-only uncle can talk about the exorcism of Canadian teams from the 2016 playoffs with the exuberance of someone who fought in an actual war against our allies to the north.

Poking fun at Canada makes up a core, if deeply hackish, piece of American culture. We (should) hate this part of ourselves, but it only makes sense that the culture pounced upon this Fun Fact like a panther attacking a sack of Shake Shack. This reaches the pinnacle of Americana, of course, because of how insufferably stupid it is. Because Canadians care more, we expect Canadian teams to win more and perform better—even in a league run by Canadians, in cities from Los Angeles to Charlotte, with Canadian players, and with a strict salary cap impacted by the strength of the Canadian dollar.

The NHL operates out of New York, but the game’s life force comes from Kelowna, Regina, and Barrie. To ignore this as a fan makes sense, at least insofar as most shit-talk is shallow and stupid upon closer consideration; it’s shit-talk, after all. To get a better-dressed version of comment-section blurting from sports media members...well, that’s pretty much expected, too.

But let’s look at it anyway. Seven teams hail from Canada, the same number of teams playing in this random geographical area I captured on Google Maps. Five of the seven teams captured in that graph are likely to reach the playoffs, which I suppose speaks to the relative strength of the Western United States in ice hockey over the past 100 years.

Just kidding. Only one of those teams in their current form existed before the 1990s.

Believing Canada should dominate the NHL year in and year out stems from the mistaken belief, I assume, that this is the Olympics and all the Canadian players play in Canada with all the Canadian coaches, general managers and analytics staff. We know it’s not that because Canada still dominates the international game—which, again, is the one arena where you can actually make a claim about the relative strength of a nation’s hockey ability.

The United States, despite boasting a population 10 times the size, doesn’t come close to reaching what Canada has accomplished in hockey, mostly because we just don’t care as much. That is, we care enough to smug out a few thinkpieces and bust some jokes on Twitter dot com, but not enough to actually, like, care.

Lest there be any doubt the Great Red Leaf dominates ice hockey, let’s take a quick look at the coaching staff and rosters of the two mini-dynasties in the NHL today: the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is Canadian, and we’ll give half credit to Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville for sporting dual citizenship between America and Canada. 13 of the 25 players on the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks came into this world in a Canadian city compared to four (4) Americans, one of whom was the backup goalie (who, in fairness, did play well in five games for Chicago). Go back another year to the Kings, who boasted 12 Canadians and just five Americans. In the spirit of fairness, the Kings’ best player, Anze Kopitar, is Slovenian.

That Canadians make up nearly 50 percent of the rosters of two of the best teams in hockey is window dressing on a ginormous and admirably transparent picture window. The hard salary cap the NHL has employed for over a decade takes away whatever true advantage our friends north of Minnesota enjoyed in the years prior. As such, this recent drought of Canadian teams winning championships—and, this year, making the playoffs—is more a statistical anomaly, an oddity that makes for a fun fact but not much else. It’s not a crisis. It’s barely even a thing.

The Canadians-pulling-for-Canadian-teams meme should be long dead by now as most Maple Leafs fans would prefer to root for the fiery death of Ed Belfour—kidding, please don’t @ me—than cheer on Les Canadiens. Still, a cursory look at the names (and nationalities) inscribed on Lord Stanley’s Cup reveals the obvious. As our neighbors to the north are too polite to point it out themselves, allow me: there may be a dearth of Canadian franchises in recent years, but there’s no lack of Canadian talent.

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