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Another Tough Year for Hockey in Canada

 

A quarter of the way through another NHL season, and a cloud of disappointment is already settling over the air of Canada as another sub-par season for Canadian hockey is emerging on the horizon. Although this sport is native to Canada, the country has not seen a home team win the Stanely Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadians. A few Canadian teams have come so close – the 2004-2005 Calgary Flames losing in game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Cinderella 2005-2006 Edmonton Oilers losing in game 7 to the Carolina Hurricane – but there is a lack of consistency that has plagued many of Canada’s teams. While it doesn’t help that the NHL has diminished hockey in Canada in attempt to spread the sport through unusual regions in the United States (seriously, what the heck is hockey doing in Phoenix and Tampa Bay instead of Winnipeg and Quebec City?), there still needs to be a sense of pride and urgency with the owners of some teams (ahem, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers) that can eventually lead to greater success and a much deserved Stanely Cup parade for the most loyal fans of the sport.

I cannot point the finger at all teams in Canada, but let’s take a look at Canada’s teams and the struggles that plague most of them this year:

 

Calgary Flames

  • Positives: One of the few teams that doesn’t deserve any criticism. This team was fortunate enough to snag a future hall-of-fame player in Jarome Iginla who is looking to have another stellar year. On top of that, the loss of Mike Cammalleri seems to have no affect as youngsters like Rene Bourque stepping up their game. While the offense has not been spectacular, the defense has been extremely stable with the leadership of a healthy Donny Phaenuf (this kid is pretty much a replica of a young Scott Stevens) and newly added Joey Bouwmeester. This is also the main reason why Calgary’s goaltending has been exceptional this year.

  • Negatives: The lack of depth at center has prevented the Flames from competing with Stanley Cup contenders. That lack of depth at center has also hampered the team’s powerplay. The Flames cannot rely only on 5-on-5 scoring considering they only have a 0.55 goals differential (GDIF). A key contributor to the lack of special team scoring is the lack of shots. The flames rank 28 th in shots on goal (SOG).

  • Key Factor: Goaltending by Mikka Kiprusoff. He is looking like his old self again. His 2.15 GAA and 0.929 save percentage rank among the league’s best for goaltenders. As long as he can keep this play up, there is no reason to think the Flames can’t finish as one of the top in the Western Conference and go far in the playoffs.

  • Predicted Season Outcome: As long as they can keep up with Colorado, Calgary has a legit chance to take the Northwest Division, especially if the young Avs team falters under the pressure near the season end.



Edmonton Oilers

  • Positives: Dustin Penner has been a nice surprise. The young forward leads the team in scoring.

  • Negatives: Behind Penner, nobody has contributed more than 9 goals this season. While injury has plagued this team with the loss of Ales Hemsky for the year, lack of consistent goaltending has been this team’s biggest trouble. Nikolai Khabibulin has not been his usual self for quite some time, but his recent injury has opened the door for rookie Jeff Deslauriers to showcase his talent. The fact remains that the Oilers lack the same goaltending stability that successful teams like the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks possess.

  • Key Factor: The play Jeff Deslauriers. Most important to the rebuilding of the Oilers is if they can find their franchise goaltender in Deslauriers who has been playing like one lately. Khabibulin is past his prime – the Oilers aren’t the only team in this exact situation.

  • Predicted Outcome: Mediocre scoring, soft defense, and a lack of consistent goaltending. It’s unfortunate that Edmonton won’t be able to showcase its loyal, and extremely loud fans this postseason. The team just doesn’t have the right personal to compete among the best this year, but can build some potential for the new decade with the right moves up front.

Montreal Canadians

  • Positives: After this team lost Andrei Markov, I thought they were going to hit rock bottom early this year. However, Corey Price is starting to play like he belongs again and if he can bring stability in front of the net, the Canadians should be very tough to score on (especially with the return of Markov – my vote for most underrated defensemen). Additionally, Mike Cammalleri has been a nice scoring addition to the roster.

  • Negatives: The loss of Alexi Kovalev has hampered this team’s scoring ability. The reuniting of Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta has been a total bust; Gomez has been absolutely awful and Gionta has been out with injury. With only Mike Cammalleri scoring the goals, and linesmen Tomas Plekanec providing the helpers, the Canadians have no one else providing any scoring support.

  • Key Factor: Corey Price and the return of Andrei Markov. Price and Markov can help the Canadians compensate for their lack of offense and give the team a chance to earn a point every game.

  • Predicted Outcome: This team has too much history to not give it a good fight for one of the last playoff spots this year. The bottom of the East is very close, so it won’t be surprising to see the Canadians sneak past four or five others teams to the last playoff spot by one win. Then again, it wouldn’t be surprising the see Corey Price crying again if the Canadians were to lose their playoff spot by one loss.

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Ottawa Senators

  • Positives: Fans were fuming with only getting two under-performing stars from San Jose for an all-star in Danny Heatley. However, Milian Michalek has been quite good (Cheechoo is another story). He leads the team in goal scoring and has been a nice surprise to go along with the break out of Mike Fisher. Even with young and inexperienced defense and goaltending, the Senators are finding ways to win and remain in the middle of the Eastern Conference.

  • Negatives: Jonathan Cheecho and Alexi Kovalev have been busts. The defense and goaltending is young an experienced. Jason Spezza is no where to be seen and Daniel Alfredsson is beginning to play like he is actually 37.

  • Key Factor: Jason Spezza. What has happened to this guy? Earlier this decade, he was tearing up the stat sheets, and now we forget that he is still only 26. He is a young star who is playing like a fading veteran. He needs to get back to his 30 goal scoring days.

  • Predicted Outcome: What has happened to this team? A few years ago they were the East’s powerhouse with Alfredsson and Spezza racking up the score sheet and Wade Redden and Zedno Chara bruising opponents. They tried to regain some style points with the acquisition of Danny Heatley, but that was a short gig. At first I was confused on how the Sens are ranked 6 th in the Eastern Conference, then I realized the competition after them consists of eight teams within 5 points of each other. There is a huge division in talent between the top and bottom of the Eastern Conference. I say the Sens make the playoffs, but don’t go far after that.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Positives: Brian Burke is trying to work a fast miracle in hockey’s most prestigious city. Good call on Phil Kessel. The young scorer has been a stud ever since returning from his injury, and lately, has made the Maple Leafs look actually good for once. There is a lot of young talent on this team, and may be they just needed a young role model to set the bar for the expectations in Toronto.

  • Negatives: While the defense was toughened with the additions of Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, the goaltending issues continue for Toronto. Veska Toleska will never be the answer in Toronto, but Jonas Guastavsson might be. Unfortunately, “The Monster” has been slowed down by his past heart problems, putting the question mark back after the word “goaltending” in Toronto.

  • Key Factor: Jonas Guastavvson. Phil Kessel was my first choice, but he has already proven that he is going to be Toronto’s offensive poster boy. The question is when will Toronto have solid goaltending again? The last time the Maple Leafs made it to the playoffs, they were amongst the top in the league with goaltending by Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour. If “The Monster” can perform at the level fans and the front office expect, then the Maple Leafs will have had a successful rebuilding year.

  • Predicted Outcome: While this team is showing improvement in Brian Burke’s first year, I think he needs at least one more year to make the right moves and get the right personnel to make this team a powerhouse once again. When that happens, watch out.

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

  • Positives: Resigning the Sedin twins to long-term deals was the best move this team could have done. Along with the solid play of Roberto Luongo, this team has the scoring depth to compete with anyone.

  • Negatives: The biggest enemy to a good offense and defense is penalties. The team ranks 3 rd in the league for penalties; thus, putting their goalie and defense on its heels and not allowing its offense to dominate games.

  • Key Factor: Roberto Luongo and the 2 nd scoring line. The defense in front of him is young, so much like Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, Luongo needs to play like his stellar self to give his defense some confidence and his team a chance to win. The Sedin line will always produce, but the question is what happens when they can’t? The Canucks have depth with players like Alexandre Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, and Ryan Kessler, but will they breakout – especially during the playoffs?

  • Predicted Outcome: The Canucks are stuck in a tough division with Calgary and Colorado, but the team was able to stay afloat even when they lost Daniel Sedin for sometime. They may not win the division, but they will definitely be with the Calgary Flames as representation for Canada in the postseason. The Canucks were the only Canadian team to win a playoff series last year, and it would be special to see them go far into the playoffs this year.

 

By: Vik Mediratta
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer