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​Canada Is Making its Hockey Teams Great Again

A funny thing has happened this season: a Canadian hockey rebirth.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let's just say what everyone in hockey has been thinking for a couple years: it's America's game now. Canada had a nice run as a hockey superpower but the past two seasons have confirmed the fact that you find championship hockey teams in America.

A Canadian franchise hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1993. A Canadian franchise hasn't been to the Finals since 2011. No Canadian teams qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and with Team USA beating Team Canada at this year's world junior championships, Canada was in a position to become solely a curling nation.


But a funny thing has happened this season: a Canadian hockey rebirth.

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Four of seven Canadian teams are in playoff position. The other three — Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver — are within spitting distance of a postseason spot in the West. The last time six Canadian clubs reached the postseason was in 1993, when eight of the 24 teams in the league were based in Canada.

How did the NHL's version of the Matthew McConaughey renaissance (the McConaissance, if you may) happen? How did all these teams that were doing the league's version of bad romantic comedies for so long suddenly find themselves in their own version of Dallas … sorry … Montreal's Buyers Club? Let's learn.

Montreal Canadiens

Current position: 1st place, Atlantic Division, 68 points

What went wrong last year: A complicated situation steeped in poor team chemistry, a lack of toughness and players miscast in their roles led to a … nah, just kidding. Carey Price was hurt all year. That's what went wrong.

What's gone right this year: That Price guy hasn't had anything rupture or tear but it's more than that. Alex Radulov is the most surprisingly good Russian to come out of nowhere since Viggo Mortensen's character in Eastern Promises. Alex Galchenyuk has taken the next step and become a more dynamic player (when healthy). Paul Byron might score 25 goals, which seems unexpected until you look him up and learn he's a 17.4 percent career shooter who happens to be at 21.9 percent in 53 games. Oh, and don't forget Shea Weber, great leader, grit and heart, blah blah blah.


What's coming the rest of the way: Anything short of a trip to the conference finals would be a surprise. They're a very good team in a very meh division. They could use another top-four defenseman (rent Kevin Shattenkirk already) to get them into true Cup contender position. As long as Price avoids a sliding Chris Kreider in a possible first-round matchup, things look great for Montreal.

When you, Milan, are singlehandedly responsible for the revival of hockey in Canada. Photo: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports.

Edmonton Oilers

Current position: 3rd place, Pacific Division, 66 points

What went wrong last year: Well, everything. They couldn't defend and when Connor McDavid suffered a broken collarbone, the Oilers had no chance. Of course, that terrible Taylor Hall was weighing the team down with his skill and speed, so luckily GM Peter Chiarelli was able to find a team to take him.

What's gone right this year: As we all expected, swapping Hall for Milan Lucic up front and using Adam Larsson to solidify the defense has transformed the Oilers from laughingstock to solid playoff team. McDavid is playing at an MVP level. Leon Draisaitl has carried over his excellent World Cup. Cam Talbot has kept his save percentage above .920 for almost the entire year. The new terrifying mascot hasn't consumed any children's souls, and that can't be discounted in boosting team morale.

What's coming the rest of the way: In all likelihood, the Oilers will draw either the Ducks or Sharks in the first round. If it's the Sharks, the Oilers will probably get their doors blown off. But if it's the old, plodding, somewhat shallow Ducks, look out. This season is a building block for the Oilers, but a first-round win is the ceiling.


Ottawa Senators

Current position: 2nd place, Atlantic Division, 60 points

What went wrong last year: It will be quicker to list what went right: Erik Karlsson. That's it. Anything else either was just OK or bad. And Karlsson losing the Norris Trophy was another thing that went wrong. It was a bad year in Ottawa.

What's gone right this year: Karlsson and … it's hard to understand why the Senators have this good of a record. No one is really having a career year. Craig Anderson has missed most of the season while attending to his wife as she fights cancer, and Mike Condon has posted a .911 save percentage in his place, which isn't great. The Sens are 24th in score-adjusted Fenwick (48.4 percent), so you could say the thing that's gone right for the Senators this year is the wish they made on a local Zoltan machine to be good has been granted.

What's coming the rest of the way: Probably disappointment. The teams nipping at their heels are all better on paper. There are seven teams within five points of the Senators. Their season may come down to how well Anderson plays when he returns from family leave.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Current position: 3rd place, Atlantic Division, 58 points

What went wrong last year: Mainly, it was the intentional losing that led to all the losing. But it also led to the first pick of the draft and Auston Matthews, so the going wrong went right. It's all very confusing but let's just say tanking is good and this proves it.


What's gone right this year: Matthews and all the rookies have been carrying the Leafs, and all that offense has the team on track for a playoff spot perhaps ahead of any schedule anyone thought possible. There have been other contributors, but it's mostly been the team scoring enough goals to cover its defensive flaws.

What's coming the rest of the way: The Leafs have allowed 22 goals over their past four games; if that doesn't get corrected, the playoffs aren't happening. No matter what, the Leafs are going to be fun as hell. It's just a matter of whether they can outscore their defensive issues enough times to grab a playoff spot.

You can't make the playoffs if you don't stretch first. Photo: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports.

Calgary Flames

Current position: 9th in the West, tied with the Blues (57 points) but out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker

What went wrong last year: Bob Hartley was the coach. A guy with no system that wants to win with grit and fight is never going to make the playoffs (unless he wished on the same Zoltan machine before the 2014-15 season).

What's gone right this year: New coach Glen Gulutzan has the Flames in the black in score-adjusted Fenwick for the first time since 2010-11. It's led to a balanced scoring attack that has done everything it can to keep the team in contention while Brian Elliott (27 games, .895) and Chad Johnson (30 games, .913) scuffle in net.

What's coming the rest of the way: The Flames need saves. If they can get league average goaltending while scoring at the same rate, they'll be a playoff team. Elliott has been below .917 in save percentage once since 2011-12. Unless he's a sleeper agent sabotaging the Flames so his old mates with the Blues can get into the playoffs, he'll be better than .895 over the final portion of the season.


Winnipeg Jets

Current position: 10th in the West, three points out of a wild-card spot

What went wrong last year: Everything was pretty good but the goaltending was god-awful.

What's gone right this year: Everything has been pretty good but the goaltending has been god-awful. The Jets have the second-most goals in the West but for yet another year, nobody wearing the goalie pads can make saves. Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers look like they'll be offensive forces for years to come. But Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have been so bad in net that they recalled Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL. Pavelec (.895 in seven starts) is still bad.

What's coming the rest of the way: If you think the answer to your problems is turning over your net to Pavelec, you don't have the answer.

Vancouver Canucks

Current position: 11th in the West, five points out of a wild-card spot

What went wrong last year: Much like a car with three wheels and a puppy cage where the engine should be, the Canucks were poorly built and designed to go nowhere. So they went nowhere.

What's gone right this year: The West is so bad that despite a minus-27 goal-differential, they're not technically dead yet. So really, the thing that's gone right for the Canucks is the geography.

What's coming the rest of the way: A smart GM is trading Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Miller and everything of value that's not nailed down to start a rebuild. Jim Benning, however, is not a smart GM and will probably stand pat at the deadline as his team fades away. He signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $30 million deal this past summer, so maybe Benning will throw more money at some point that won't help next year. God, being an NHL GM seems like an amazing job. You can do everything wrong, blame the media for it and ignore the fans that pay your salary. Heck, it's like being the current U.S. president only with better pay and summers off.