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Canadian NHL teams falling short

By David Song, February 23 2016 —

If the NHL’s 2015–16 season ended today, not one of Canada’s seven teams would qualify for the playoffs.

With the end of the season approaching, the possibility of Canada being shut out of the postseason is becoming more and more likely, as Canada’s seven teams all currently rank among the bottom nine spots in the league’s standings. Ottawa sits atop that pile with 62 points — six points out of a playoff spot — while Toronto holds the worst record in the league.

If the current rankings hold true and all Canadian teams do miss the postseason, then 2015–16 could serve as a historical disappointment for Canada. The last time we witnessed an NHL playoff run without a single Canadian team was nearly half a century ago, during the 1969–70 season. For 46 years since then, Canada has managed to send at least one club to the postseason. Last year was a notable step forward in this regard, as five Canadian squads made the playoffs, including the Calgary Flames.

But the Flames have regressed this year. Notable free-agent signings Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik have failed to offset Calgary’s special-teams weaknesses, and goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo have left Calgary among the league’s worst in terms of goals allowed.

The Edmonton Oilers — who entered this season with high hopes after drafting generational talent Connor McDavid last summer — have continued to reside in the league’s basement. While McDavid has enjoyed a remarkable season — when healthy — the Oilers are once again last in the Western Conference.

There wasn’t much hope for the Leafs to begin with, as the club has committed to a rebuild that figures to leave them out of the playoff race for the next few years. The Senators, a fellow Ontarian club, seemingly have the talent to contend but have been sunk by poor defensive play and goaltending as well.

The Montreal Canadiens started out hot, winning their first seven games to earn the best start to a season in the history of their 107-year-old franchise. But losing star goaltender Carey Price to a lower-body injury all but doomed the Canadiens’ playoff bid, and the club that once seemed to be Canada’s top contender has now lost 32 of 60 games.

Both the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets have undeniable talent, but inconsistency has stalled both teams’ 2015–16 campaign, resulting in them sitting eight and 12 points back of a playoff spot, respectively. With just over 20 games left in the season, Canada’s teams would have to put together some significant winning streaks to even have a chance at making the cut.

Not only are our teams being outplayed in the NHL, but hockey’s other nations are set to make their presence known at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft as well. The 2016 draft class projects to have no Canadian skaters selected in the top-five, which hasn’t happened in nearly two decades. Consensus number-one prospect Auston Matthews hails from Scottsdale, Arizona and the four top-ranked prospects beneath him are from Finland and the United States.

Make no mistake — there are still plenty of Canadian stars leading many of the elite American teams, and Canada has certainly not been usurped as hockey’s top nation quite yet. However, recent trends in the NHL and junior leagues — along with a disappointing Canadian loss at the 2016 World Junior Championship in January — demonstrate that hockey’s elite talent is more evenly dispersed right now than it has been for quite some time. Canada is still a powerhouse in the game it loves, but for the time being, it is no longer an unstoppable juggernaut.

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