As the temperature outside steadily drops day by day and autumn leaves dangle from the trees, Canadians across the country have one thing on their mind: hockey.
Yes, it’s finally that time of the year. On Thursday, Oct. 7, the 2010-11 NHL regular season officially kicks off, so to get all you puck-heads thinking about the upcoming year, here’s my take on a question that comes up every season: will the cup finally be coming home to a Canada this year? The following is a breakdown of the Canadian teams, ranking the most likely to the least likely of those who may drink from the Stanley Cup come playoff time.
- Vancouver Canucks
Of all the Canadian teams, the Canucks have the most going for them. They have arguably the best goaltender in the world in Roberto Luongo, a set of playmaking forwards in the Swedish-born Sedin twins, depth at the blue line and a great supporting cast, including several former-Moose players who’ve made the leap to the big league. After getting eliminated in the West semi-finals by the Chicago Blackhawks last year, look for the Canucks to have another solid playoff run in 2011.
- Montreal Canadiens
After eliminating the first seed Washington Capitals and second seed Pittsburgh Penguins in successive seven-game series, the Montreal Canadiens just couldn’t match the firepower and physicality of the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals. Coming into this year, the Canadiens look to build on their success in the playoffs, but it might be a difficult road back to the post-season. After almost singlehandedly stealing the first two series for the Canadiens, Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the offseason for a pair of forward prospects. Only time will tell if the Canadiens can have the same sort of results with Carey Price as their number one goalie.
- Calgary Flames
The Flames just barely missed the playoffs last year, losing several games down the final stretch to finish tied for ninth place in the Western Conference. The Flames traded away key defensemen Dion Phaneuf to the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season to bolster their offence, so the coaching staff will have to prove to Flames fans that it was the right decision. Team captain Jarome Iginla is still a great hockey player, but without a solid and consistent supporting cast surrounding him it might be a long year in Cowtown.
- Ottawa Senators
It can be said that the 2010-11 season is a make or break year for the Ottawa Senators. With superstar talent like Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Sergei Gonchar and Alexei Kovalev leading the charge, complimented with plenty of key role players with experience, there’s no reason to think that the Sens won’t make a splash in the Eastern Conference. Whether they will be able to find the chemistry they had during their improbable run in the 2006-07 season, when they made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history, will depend on second-year coach Cory Clouston keeping his team focused.
- Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers finished the 2009-10 regular season dead last in the NHL with a 27-47-8 record and 62 total points. It was a season most Oiler fans would like to forget but it did allow for the possibility of great things in the future. With the top pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft, the Oilers had their choice of two highly sought-after prospects: Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. Selecting Hall, the Oilers hope to have found a consistent scoring threat who can grow to become a future superstar in the NHL. With other promising young forwards like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, these next few seasons can’t possibly be as miserable as last year. There is reason for Oiler fans to have hope in the future of the franchise, although immediate playoff contention may be a bit fantastical.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
Finishing last in the Eastern Conference, with only three more regulation wins than the Oilers, the Leafs were absolutely horrible to start the season. They only won 12 of their first 40 games of the season and had been essentially eliminated from playoff contention by the holiday break. Only compounding Leafs fan frustration was the fact that the team had traded away their first-round pick in the 2010 draft to the Boston Bruins as part of a deal that brought Phil Kessel to Toronto. While he would lead the team last year in points, one can argue that the Bruins have already got the better end of the deal, selecting promising forward Tyler Seguin with Toronto’s pick. Dion Phaneuf, who was awarded captaincy over the offseason, will have to step up into the leadership role for this team if they are to improve in 2010-11. Furthermore, 2009 draft first-round pick Nazem Kadri has yet to show the coaching staff any significant improvement that proves that he deserves a spot on the team’s starting roster. Too much has to happen right away for the Leafs to be considered contenders this year, but it is a long season where anything is possible.