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Which Hockey Team Will End Canada’s Stanley Cup Drought?

A Canadian team hasn't won the Stanley Cup in twenty years. When's that gonna change? Who has the best chance? Angry Hockey Nerd (the rageman who correctly predicted the Leafs loss) speculates for us.
May 22, 2013, 9:27pm

The Stanley Cup in 1930. Roughly the same time a Canadian team touched it (hiyooo!) via.

Since watching their team’s agonizing choke job in game seven a few weeks back, Maple Leafs fans have consoled themselves largely with lies. The biggest of those lies is that “this is an up-and-coming team, and this series—as disappointing as blowing a two goal lead with two minutes left in game seven was—is just the start of something big.” Yeah, okay.

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Meanwhile, in the Nation’s Capital, the vastly outgunned Ottawa Senators continue to perfect their Houdini act. Their latest trick—scoring a short-handed goal with 28.6 seconds remaining in game three, and winning game three in double overtime—has them poised to even up their second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game four on Wednesday night in the middle of a cornfield Kanata.

Thinking about the agony and self deception of Leafs fans, and watching an inferior Senators team hang with one of the most explosive offensive teams of the past decade got me wondering: which Canadian team really has the best chance of ending Canada’s twenty year old cup drought the soonest? Yeap, our country’s Stanley Cup drought is of legal age to make porn, drink beer, but not quite old enough to rent a minivan.

Every Canadian hockey fan desperately wants their club to end the drought, I figure, and concurrently would hate life if any of the other six clubs managed the feat before them.

So it’s a pertinent question, really, and to try and answer it I’ve put together a “Canadian Cup Drought power-rankings.” The list takes into account the state of each Canadian team currently and their future prospects in an effort to answer the question: “which Canadian team seems most likely to end Canada’s twenty year national nightmare first?” Let's start with Ottawa.

Why?

I basically see the Senators and the Habs as a coin flip, with Ottawa’s team narrowly edging Montreal’s because they’re still alive this season, and because they have a way better coach.

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Ottawa’s General Manager Bryan Murray has done some stellar work of late, most recently when he completely stole Cory Conacher and a pick from Stevie “Why are you so intent on wasting Steven Stamkos’ prime by relying on unproven goaltenders?” Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Secondly, Ottawa’s head coach is one of the best in the league (and also the funniest, and also the funniest looking). The Senators have, what, maybe four top-six quality forwards in their lineup at the moment (Michalek, Alfredsson, Turris and Silverfberg)? Yet they’re one of the league’s best puck possession teams and effectively play an aggressive uptempo style of hockey even though they’re severely undermanned. That’s a pretty neat trick.

I like their core pieces going forward too. Craig Anderson is really good at stopping pucks, Erik Karlsson is an elite blue-line piece, and Jason Spezza—when he’s healthy, of course—is still probably a top ten NHL centreman. As a playmaking centre who generally relies on timing and intelligence to be productive, he probably has two or three seasons left as a top-line force who you can win with.

Fourthly and most importantly, the Senators have some solid young forwards with top-line potential who will enter the prime of their careers over the next season or two (Zibenajad, Silverfberg). And a couple of young defenceman who look like really good players (Cowen, Wiercioch). Plus, they’ve been really good and consistent at identifying young players who can contribute and drive play at the NHL level in bottom-six roles (Zack Smith, Erik Condra, J.G. Pageau). That’s a pretty lethal combination.

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Why not?

Gary Roberts is still alive, and this country isn’t big enough for both Gary Roberts and a Stanley Cup Champion Ottawa Senators team.

Why?

For whatever reason PK Subban—who only just turned twenty-four—isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, and Shea Weber. But he should be, and if he puts in another season like the one he just had, he will be.

So les habitants start out with a super elite twenty-four year old defenceman that they can build around. Then there’s twenty-four year old power-forward Max Pacioretty, who is just entering his prime, and twenty-five year old puck-stopper Carey Price, an above average starter who battles inconsistency from time to time. There’s a future number one centreman in Alex Galchenyuk—who is only 19 and had a wicked rookie season—and a top-six pest in Brendan Gallagher, who just turned 21 and is nominated for the Calder.

That’s an absurdly talented, youthful core. If Montreal can manage their assets shrewdly over the next couple of years the Habs could morph into a very legitimate juggernaut… and soon.

Why not?

I’m not a big Michel Therrien fan. Though of course if it’s not working out they can always replace him in midseason (at which point they’ll surely go on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup).

Why?

The Canucks were probably the hardest team to rank, because there’s so much uncertainty in their projection. The Sedins are aging, but their decline is over-stated.

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Ryan Kesler was banged up all season, and when he was in the lineup, he was pretty much unable to drive play the way he has throughout his career. Is that a fitness and recovery thing, or does it suggest a structural physical deterioration in his game? If it’s the latter, the Canucks are boned. If it’s the former, they’re a lot closer than it might appear after the club was swept in the first round of the playoffs this season.

What the Canucks have going for them is their blue-line group, which is deep and pretty damn good. The Canucks need to inject some serious offense into their lineup this summer, but with a surplus of good, young, affordable defenceman on the roster—and defencemen always draw a premium price on the trade market—there’s some opportunity for creative destruction here.

Unfortunately boy wonder Mike Gillis has turned into King Midas in reverse over the past season and a half. Unless he pulls a fluffy fucking bunny out of his top hat, his handling of the Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider situation will make for an interesting asset management case study, filed under “what not to do.” Meanwhile trades for David Booth, Zack Kassian, and Keith Ballard have uniformly backfired for Vancouver, even though the decision-making processes behind each of those deals strikes me as mostly solid.

With Mike Gillis’s back up against the wall this summer, he has the assets and the opportunity to transform his team back into a contender. Alternatively, it could go the other way and Vancouver’s “championship window” could rapidly snap shut (if it hasn’t already).

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Why Not?

The Canucks have one of the toughest cap situations in the league right now so their hands may well be tied this summer.

Why?

Here’s the thing about the Winnipeg Jets: they’re actually a good team with lots of quality pieces and some good prospects. They’re fast and employ Evander Kane (who owns and is yet to really hit his prime), Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien, so they’re also massive. I think they’d be a nightmare to face in the postseason if they could ever make it there.

Why not?

They won’t make the playoffs unless they manage to receive at least average goaltending over the course of a full season. Hilariously that’s not something they’ll get—at least not consistently—from Ondrej Pavelec. It’s a dirty little secret, but the Winnipeg Jets were basically a playoff team from the blue-line out over the past two seasons. They’ve been done in, however, by one of the worst regular starters in the NHL.

It’s interesting that Jets fans—arguably the stupidest Canadian fanbase—almost uniformly seem to believe that Pavelec is a hero, and that Winnipeg’s issues are on defence. That’s in stark contrast with Oilers and Leafs fans who are skeptical of Devan Dubnyk and James Reimer, even though both are good bets to be above average NHL starters…

Pavelec makes outrageous saves from time-to-time, but those saves mostly look so good because he’s so far out of position. He’s basically Dominik Hasek, if Dominik Hasek were terrible.

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Still, the True North ownership group and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff strike me as really smart hockey folks, outside of evaluating goaltenders. So on the one hand, the Jets are better than their results the past two seasons might suggest and are only one piece away from being a pretty formidable club. On the other, I have no faith that they realize this.

Why?

The quality, potential and sheer amount of blue-chip young talent on the Oilers roster is intoxicating.

For example, the denizens of YakCity get massive boners whenever they watch the electric Russian sniper play. Taylor Hall is already a super elite piece—a fast, physical winger and a top-10 NHL scorer at the age of 22. Jordan Eberle isn’t a top-line piece and the contract the Oilers handed him is a laugher, but he’s a good hockey player and had a more impressive season this past year—in my estimation—than he did when he was lighting it up with the benefit of smoke and mirrors.

The Oilers are still a top-four defenceman and a quality third line away from being a serious team. But at least along the blueline they have some solid young players in Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, and Ladislav Smid. You can begin to see the exoskeleton of an intriguing group. Also Devan Dubnyk is a very safe bet to be an above average NHL starter going forward, though I’m not sure that the Oilers understand that.

Why Not?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having offseason surgery (who could’ve seen that coming?) and will return just in time to get a massive raise next summer. “The Nuge” has more hockey intelligence in his fingernails than the majority of professional hockey players, but man did the Oilers ever screw up both his development, and their management of him as an asset.

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This is symptomatic of their organizational inability to evaluate anything well, frankly. Just look around the league and you’ll find former Oilers players like Erik Cole, Joffrey Lupl, Sheldon Souray, Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Brodziak, Dustin Penner, and Lubomir Visnovsky playing big minutes on team’s better than the Oilers. Most of those players were traded away for absolutely fucking nothing too (the Oilers once turned Joffrey Lupul into Joni Pitkanen into Erik Cole into Patrick O’Sullivan. LOLOLOL).

Maybe some of that, hell maybe even most of it, can be blamed on deposed General Manager Steve Tambellini. New General Manager Craig MacTavish seems like a smart guy, but he’s got a lot of organizational rot to contend with.

Why?

I don’t totally hate what the Leafs have going on. Phil Kessel is very probably a top-five pure offensive talent in the NHL, James Van Riemsdyk is a top-six beast, Joffrey Lupul is looking increasingly like one of the best offensive forwards in the game, and James Reimer seems like—even if he doesn’t often look like—a safe bet to the be one of the ten best starting goaltenders in the national hockey league.

Toronto’s blueline isn’t good yet, but Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly give Leafs fans some reason for optimism here. Mikhail Grabovski is a hell of a two-way player, and the Leafs will be a better team next season if Randy Carlyle leans on him in the regular season the way he did in the playoffs.

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Why Not?

Besides the fact that they just fucking lost and I knew they would, Expectations are high in Toronto right now, which would be fair if Dave Nonis’ club had a coach who anyone trusted to evaluate players, or a top-line centre, or more than one top-pairing defenseman…

Nazem Kadri, for example, had a nice first full season as an NHL player, and came to play in games six and seven of Toronto’s first round series. That’s a good sign, but he’s unlikely to produce at the same level next year as he did this season, when he was just about the luckiest player in the entire league.

Will Kadri take on a bigger role with Tyler Bozak moving on in free agency? Or will the Leafs overpay Bozak because he’s Phil Kessel’s roommate and also he wins faceoffs? If you have to ask yourself stupid questions like these, and you do if you’re a Leafs fan, then I’m sorry but your team’s not going anywhere in a hurry.

Why?

They might get Connor McDavid in a few years?

Why Not?

LOLOL

Follow the Angry Hockey Nerd on Twitter: @ThomasDrance

More angry hockey ranting:

The Edmonton Oilers Are a Useless Franchise

The Bruins Will Beat the Leafs Because They’re Better

The 2013 JerkPuck All Star Team