So here’s where we’re at: it’s April 12, the playoffs open tomorrow, and now is usually the time I grudgingly prepare to root for the Habs for two weeks before they inevitably lose in the third round, having preserved at least a shred of Canadian pride in this 23 year Stanley Cup drought.
However, this year, I’m royally screwed: none of our meagre seven teams made the top 16 out of 30, for the second time in Cup history and the first time since 1970. And sure, if this were any other sports league cut between two countries — which, incidentally, there isn’t — you might expect the nation with a mere quarter of the teams not to make it in all that often. But this is hockey, goddammit. We don’t have much in this world: a pretty PM, a helluva lot of water (yeah, we win global warming), some socialized health care that badly needs more investment, and the glorious game of hockey. So when our teams are a washout, it’s a blow not just to the economy but to our very national identity.
This is particularly true in the context of the NHL: this is the mouse vs. elephant matchup we go through every year, a sporting proxy for the crushing weight of living beside the hegemonic beast that is the United States of America, who dominate us in economy, policy, and, to a lesser extent, culture. Hockey is our proof of valour, an allegory for the quiet everyday resistance of Canadian existence. Yeah, you’ve got everything, but we’re still here, we’re playing a damn good game, and we got a hell of a lot further than we ought to. Canadian teams are skating against the odds, and have been since expansion in the ‘70s and ‘80s coincided with the rise of the sporting entertainment industry.
But here’s the thing: our teams don’t actually represent our national talent. The truth is, Canadians are still the best at hockey. They just all play for the Yanks.
Nowadays, guys who learn to love the game from Canadian childhoods get drafted, bought, or traded to the U.S., or leave for the weather, or because the whole national identity thing leads to ridiculous fan and media pressures. Still, Canadians are essential to the NHL: the league consists of just under 50 per cent Canadians, and no cup has ever been lifted by a team without a cadre of Canadian players. Witness the Florida Panthers, who objectively have no business being in the playoffs. But with 22 out of 33 players from the Great White North, there they are. That includes Roberto Luongo, rubbing salt in the still bleeding wounds of Canucks fans everywhere.
Out of the 16 teams to choose from this year, the Panthers are the most Canadian, but the others aren’t far behind. All of the teams in contention have more Canadians than any other nationality on the roster: 11 of 16 are over half Canadian, and the lagging five (Caps, Wings, Lightning, Rangers and Wild) still have more Canadians than any other nationality. And it’s not just that Canadians are the most; they’re often the best.
Just look at the points breakdown: three of the top five point leaders in the league are Canadian, and Karlsson might as well be since he’s been camped out in Ottawa for a decade. The winningest goalie is one of ours too, even if Canadian save percentages aren’t great. The fact that, saving Karlsson, none of them play for Canadian teams shouldn’t stop us from touting Canadian hockey prowess. If anything, we should celebrate the success of the Canadian incursion. American teams might be winning the cup, but they couldn’t do it without us. So pick a team, any team, and support them conflict-free.