Could a Canadian team bring home the Stanley Cup in 2018?
It has been 25 years since the Stanley Cup belonged to a team north of the border and unfortunately that streak will extend to 26 this spring. We only have about two weeks left in the NHL regular season and there are only two Canadian teams in a playoff position – there is no chance anyone else is squeaking in. The Calgary Flames had what looked like promising stretches throughout the year but have a 9-13-3 record since the start of February. Sure, they lost Mike Smith to injury for a month but even since his return they’ve lost five of their last six games (as of March 22nd) fizzling out during the home stretch of the schedule. Other than Winnipeg and Toronto who sit second and third in their respective divisions every other Canadian club has had a season to forget.
Now a month after the NHL trade deadline Leafs fans may still be disgruntled over managements decision to only bring in Tomas Plekanec and not mortgage the future to try and win now. But he defence is still inconsistent and prone to giving up multiple goals in a short period of time and the defenceman available would’ve cost them a fortune. Winning a Stanley Cup is a process that doesn’t happen in a year or two. Besides the blueline Frederek Andersen also has inconsistent stretches and this group hasn’t even won a playoff series yet. The Stanley Cup won’t be in Toronto this summer.
The Jets however made a rash decision acquiring Paul Statsny from the Blues. History shows they jumped the gun too early in the process and will miss that first round draft pick come June. Since 2007, there has only been one team to win the Stanley cup without winning at least one playoff series in the previous two years; the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. That Kings team snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed and went on a run of the century, only losing four games the whole post season. The Jets have played one playoff series since returning to Winnipeg. They were swept in the first round by the Ducks in 2015.
Winnipeg reminds me a lot of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015. A deep group of young forwards who can score at a high clip with a goaltender lacking playoff experience. The Lightning made it all the way to the cup finals and then regressed to the conference finals in 2016 and missed the playoffs all together last season. They now look poised to take the next step three years later. Both the Leafs and Jets have promising futures ahead of them, but their time hasn’t come yet.
Could the Leafs realistically land John Tavares or Drew Doughty?
Leafs nation has been dreaming of the day a home town superstar would dawn the blue and white for as long as I’ve been alive. They thought that was going to happen last summer but ultimately Steven Stamkos took a pay cut to stay in Tampa Bay and was likely never close to coming to Toronto.
Financially, for the Leafs to sign either Doughty or Tavares they would need multiple players to take a slight pay cut. If they are able to keep Matthews extension under $12 million with Nylander and Marner’s new deals between $6 to $7 million and let James VanRiemsdyk walk this off season they could offer Tavares or Doughty $10 million a year and come in just under this years $75 million salary cap. It is a tough task but doable.
The reason neither will end up in Toronto is due to the team’s biggest need. Doughty would fill the dire need for a top pairing defenceman but he has been vocal about his desire not to be a celebrity in the city he plays in which would be inevitable in Toronto. Auston Matthews was getting mobbed by fans before he ever stepped on the ice in a Leafs jersey. To be the hometown hero in the Toronto market you need a different type of personality from most closed off, quiet hockey players. A stereotype that describes John Tavares to a tee.
Unfortunately, when coming to play for the Leafs the decision will never be just hockey related. Management will have better luck targeting the likes of John Carlson or an Oliver Ekman Larson the next couple of summers to bolster the back end. For Leafs nation, they will have to hope Mitch Marner is able to develop into the hometown star they deeply desire. Nobody is coming home to save them.