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Canadians are wondering why most of their NHL teams aren’t very good

Apr 2, 2012, 6:45 PM EDT

Phaneuf vs Gomez Getty Images

How is it possible that just two of the seven Canadian NHL franchises will participate in this spring’s playoffs?

The short answer is, because Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal didn’t earn enough points to qualify.

But the long answer goes beyond the current season. After all, the Leafs have missed the playoffs every year since the lockout, the Oilers haven’t made them since 2006, and the Flames have failed to qualify the past three seasons.

For his explanation, Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox trots out the ol’ “because the rinks are still sold out, win or lose” theory.

Every Canadian team is making money and all the tickets are sold, regardless of record. In Edmonton, where the Oilers have been at or near the very bottom of the league for some time, the customers keep buying the tickets and a new arena is in the works. Tom Renney’s club has been essentially out of playoff contention since mid-December, but last Friday’s home game was sold out.

So if you could once, and still do, accuse the Leafs of lacking motivation to be successful on the ice because they’re filling the building win or lose, could the same now be said of the rest of the Canadian teams, or at least those who won’t make post-season play?

What’s the difference? Not one of these seven Canadian clubs is facing any kind of fan revolt if the team on the ice doesn’t do well. Yes, the Leafs make more money than anyone, but they also pay heavily into profit sharing, as do the Montreal Canadiens, one of the league’s biggest revenue teams because of their huge rink.

Personally I’ve never bought this argument. First of all, the pressure is immense for Canadian teams to win. Secondly, there’s so much more money to be made in the playoffs. If I were an owner, I’d be all over management to make the playoffs, because I’m greedy like that.

Speaking of management, I’m more apt to buy Ken Campell’s assertion that it hasn’t been good enough in most cases.

From The Hockey News:

It starts at the top, of course. Nowhere in the NHL have more people been paid so well for so few results than in Toronto, where the $3 million-a-year [Brian] Burke and his massive band of highly paid lieutenants have delivered absolutely nothing more than bold proclamations. The Oilers have struggled on the management side since the last years of Glen Sather’s regime and the Flames have learned the hard way that the Sutter brothers might have been great hockey players, but their ability to manage and coach NHL teams is spotty at best.

Probably safe to throw the Canadiens in the poorly managed category as well, what with their general manager having just been fired.

Finally, I’d also agree with the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek that impatience — “the general feeling that you have to win RIGHT THIS MINUTE and you have to do it every year” – has played a role in the case of the Leafs and Flames, two clubs that have steadfastly refused to commit to a traditional rebuild.

But hey, at least Canada still has the Senators and Canucks – the first will be in tough to make it out of the first round, the other is despised by most Canadians outside of British Columbia.

  1. phillyphever - Apr 2, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    Calgary: time to rebuild.
    Edmonton: They’re 2-3 years away from being a playoff team.
    Winnipeg: They’ll be in the playoff next year.
    Toronto: Stuck in loserville until they get rid of Burke.
    Montreal: time to rebuild.

    • ikillchicken - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:42 PM

      “Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal didn’t earn enough points to qualify [for the playoffs]”

      “the [Canucks are] despised by most Canadians outside of British Columbia.”

      Gonna go out on a limb here and say that these two things are not unrelated in the slightest. Lol.

      Another interesting couple of facts:
      -When Gillis took over the Canucks he specifically rejected the “must win right now” and instead said that he thought the team was a few years way from being a real contender despite the fact that many fans weren’t to happy to hear this.
      -The Canucks are now one of the best teams in the league.
      So yeah. I think you’re onto something there.

      • homelanddefense - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:11 AM

        They may be related, but I dont think its the major reason. From what Ive read most fans dislike the Cannucks because of their style of play and some of the characters on that team. Last year during the Stanley Cup Finals there were many talking heads on the radio here from all over the NHL and they all seemed to dislike Vancouver because of guys like Lapierre.

      • comeonnowguys - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:19 PM

        Got to admit. That’s the most eloquently put “hater” or “you’re just jealous” statements I’ve read in a long time.

        Doesn’t make it absolutely true.

  2. Josh. - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:02 PM

    Is it really fair to say that the Leafs “didn’t commit” to a full rebuild? Looking at their roster from the year (2008-09) that Burk was introduced as Leafs GM, I see three significant players who remain: Grabovski, Kulemin and Schenn.

    Contrast that with, say, Ottawa (whose exclusion from this blog post signifies to me that perhaps the author believes *has* committed to a rebuild), who have 7 significant pieces remaining from the same season (Foligno, Smith, Spezza, Alfredsson, Neil, Kuba and Phillips), and you wonder what a “committing to a full rebuild” would have to look like.

    Maybe the Leafs didn’t commit to *the right* rebuild, but I fail to see how they haven’t attempted to rebuild.

    • Josh. - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:04 PM

      Oh and I’d add that Ottawa had other pieces kicking around in 2008-09 who now remain odds and ends for the team – Carkner and Regin.

    • kitshky - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:09 PM

      He didnt exclude Ottawa from this post…

      No one can deny that the Leafs have made changes, but they clearly didnt (dont?) have the patience for a rebuild. Refusing to realize it was time to strip the club down to the core and start from scratch (in contrast to saay … trading away draft picks for a top scoring winger) is the epitome of “not commting to a full rebuild”.

      • Josh. - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:10 PM

        I meant he excluded Ottawa from the list of loser teams, because, presumably, he believes they’re rebuilding the right way.

      • Josh. - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:12 PM

        And I feel like you’re cherry-picking, besides.

        I mean really, 99% of the time, if you say that a team traded for a 21-year old 35-goal scorer, there is no reason to think that’s not part of a floor-to-ceiling rebuild.

      • kitshky - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:31 PM

        Fair enough on the Ottawa comment, I wasnt bein disagreeable I jus didnt get what you were saying there.

        It’s not cherry picking to point out that a trade like that wasnt part of full rebuild … if the facts now show that it wasnt and they’re still mired a mess of band aid fixes with a GM who’s seem to be completely without a game plan. And I’m not picking on the Leafs, I’ve kind of always liked Burke going back to his days in Van … but the guy just seems lost.

        There is no reason why the Leafs aren’t a perrenial contender and a team that free agents line up to play for. They have the money, the history, and it’s well documented how many players come from Ont and grew up Leafs fans. Instead they’re mediocre at best, cant seem to convince the big free agents the last couple years to come over (Nash, Richards, ect), and Burke seems convinced that they’re only a few changes away from contending …which is delusional and is why it’s more than fair to say they “havent commited to a full rebuild”. All I was saying.

      • Josh. - Apr 2, 2012 at 8:51 PM

        “if the facts now show…”

        But that’s my point. Back when Burke took over the team, he *thought* he was going to rebuild the right way. I bet if you go back to when he first arrived in Toronto, everything he said indicated that a “full” rebuild was on the way. And then he got rid of about 90% of the roster.

        It doesn’t matter what happened after, what matters is that he was attempting a full rebuild (and if anyone clicking the thumbs down on my comments could explain to me how getting rid of 90% of the roster in three years is not a full rebuild, that would be very helpful).

        It’s easy to look back on moves and say that because they weren’t successful, it wasn’t a “full” rebuild. But by what measure (other than not winning, which is not an indicator of whether something is a rebuild) has this NOT been a big rebuild? You don’t necessarily have to keep your draft picks for it to be a full rebuild.

      • kitshky - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:55 PM

        By facts I don’t mean results, I’m not saying the facts show that Burke didnt do a full rebuild because we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I mean facts as in the difference between what Burke said he was going to do, and what he actually did.

        Changing personnel on a team is not the same thing as rebuilding, that’s just making changes. A full committment to a rebuild involves dumping salaries of veterans, shiftin the focus from hoping to make the playoffs to building a winner from the ground up, going through some lean years, aquiring high draft picks, refocusing on a brand new game plan … and then in a couple of years adding some talent (such as Kessel) to compliment this newly built franchise.

        Burke talked the talk about changing the mentality of the Leafs but the facts have shown that he betrayed you the fans by succumbing to the pressure for short term “success” over sticking to a long term plan. That’s why the Kessel trade is looked upon the way it is, no ones denying his talent, but no “full rebuild” should be based around a talented Winger.

    • nardwar - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:01 AM

      Leafs didn’t commit to a rebuild because they skipped the most important step: accumulating draft picks and building through the draft. Burke has tried to rebuild through trades (Phaneuf, Kessel) and free agent signings, most of which have been incredibly poor.

      Burke’s trade record is hit and miss, but overall he’s sent away more picks and prospects than he’s received.

      Ottawa on the other hand has done a modest re-build through excellent drafting and having high-quality veterans that have rebounded. The Leafs’ veterans had career years this year and still aren’t close to the playoffs, while there are no blue-chip prospects in the pipeline even 8 years after last making the playoffs.

      • Josh. - Apr 3, 2012 at 7:12 PM

        But draft picks are only *one way* of rebuilding – that’s all I’m saying. That’s the most popular way to rebuild right at the moment, but far from the only way.

  3. pastabelly - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    I actually partially agree with the Toronto columnist. It took several years for the Bruins to hit rock bottom (the Joe Thornton deal) and then they decided to rebuild. While they were rebuilding, they had two for one tickets before Thanksgiving (the US Thanksgiving) and several give aways and lower prices. Of course, the US based teams, with some exceptions are also competing at the gate and on tv with the city’s NBA franchises. So, the american franchises have that extra motivation even when they are already good.

    But I only partially agreed with the Toronto columnist. The real reason for any franchise to suck for so long is rotton management. The great general managers will win wherever they go. The Ron Wilsons of this world won’t.

  4. davebabychreturns - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    For various reasons, choosing a course of action for the franchise that involves a guarantee of a worse on-ice product in the short term is simply not feasible for many Canadian franchises – the Flames were “a phone call away” from moving within the last decade or so and may lose many of the fans they’ve gained since if they abandon playoff contention for a few seasons, and the Leafs and Canadiens would certainly have a hard time justifying their annual ticket price hikes if they were out of the playoff race by January.

    Then there are the Thrashers, who are doing a good job of recovering from the number Don Waddell did on that franchise (but not all the way there yet) and the Oilers whose braintrust have been mismanaging the team nearly as badly for half a decade now – they are pure products of mismanagement, although obviously the other franchises I’ve mentioned have some pretty embarrassing decisions to account for as well.

    • davebabychreturns - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:09 PM

      Oh yeah and I’d just like to take this opportunity to trash Damien Cox since his name was mentioned. He’s only too happy to write an article bemoaning the lack of commitment to success from certain franchises right now, but can you imagine what he’d be writing if the Leafs were in the middle of a rebuild, were $15m under the salary cap ceiling and decided to raise ticket prices (something they will do every year as long as they continue selling out)?

      • haterzgonahate - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:59 PM

        Damien Cox is an Asshat.. plain and simple

  5. bcisleman - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:21 PM

    Winnipeg had been poorly managed in Atlanta and came close to the playoffs. Their management probably deserves a mulligan or two. Edmonton is in the midst of a rebuild and is only six years removed from a Game 7 in the Cup Finals. They probably rate one as well.

    The Leafs never adapted to the expansion era. When 6 teams horded all the talent, it was relatively easy to turn things around. In the expansion era, rebuilding requires patient acquisition and development of available talent and quick fixes are illusory. The Leafs and their fans, like the Rangers for many years, have deluded themselves into believing they can get this player or that player and turn on a dime. That philosophy has led to mistake after mistake of which the Kessel trade is but one example. Calgary and Montreal have fallen victim to that same issue of impatience as well.

    As an Islander fan, I have a unique perspective on this issue. Bill Torrey was an exceptional GM but he also had the good fortune to have the #1 overall the year Denis Potvin was the top prospect. After that, astute scouting led him to draft players like Bossy, Trottier amd Tonelli who were passed on by others. That is how he won four straight Cups.

    Perhaps it was karma that, after becoming a champion so quickly under such exemplary management, the Islanders went down the toilet with criminal owners and horrible management. Mike Milbury just about destroyed the franchise all to get a series of one and done playoff appearances.

    Milbury left the franchise in 2006 with almost virtually nothing. Apart from DiPietro, the few current players who predate his departure were such new prospects that he hadnt had the opportunity to trade them away for players of little long term value yet.

    In 2008, when the rebuild began, Hockey’s Future rated the Islanders’ prospect pool one of the very worst. It is now third best. Yet everyone wants to throw rocks at Charles Wang and Garth Snow.

    Wang should get over his issues with local politicians and move aggressively to relocate the Islanders within the New York area. Nassau and the Town of Hempstead have had more than long enough to resolve the aren issue. He should not be as stingy as he has been in the wake of last year’s referendum debacle.

    Both he and Snow should develop a better media and public relations program. And there is a general consensus among Islander fans that Coach Capuano should be replaced.

    With all that said, Islander fans need to take a breath. The Leafs are a perfect example of how fanm and organizational impatience can ruin a franchise. Wang and Snow are doing exactly the right thing by patiently rebuilding the team. There is a ton of blue chip talent in the system that will mature over the next few seasons and then your patience will be rewarded.

  6. iamanidiotfan - Apr 2, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    I think the argument about fan pressure has a lot of merit. If you look back at the Oilers when they made their charge to the Cup, they had a super-hot goalie in Roloson, and they had arguably the top d-man in the league in Pronger. They came one game away from winning it all, and fans were convinced they were closer than they were, especially after they traded Pronger away.

    It took a season where they lost most of their core to serious injuries before management could convince the fans that it would be in the Oilers’ best long-term interests to commit to a full re-build. It wasn’t like they had much choice but they got the average fan on-board. “Hey it’s going to be at least five years before we can make the playoffs again.” And now Oiler fans are loving it.

    Flame fans are already talking about a full re-build, and it could happen as soon as this summer. They’re talking about trading Kipper & Iginla this summer, and starting over. Though they’d never admit it, I’m sure Flames fans are looking north at what a full re-build is starting to look like, and starting to think that is a lot better than a team that battles for 8th place every year.

    • bcisleman - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:54 AM

      Strange how Ryan Smyth has been at the center of rebuilds by two iconic franchises. His departure from Edmonton was the signal for the Oiler rebuild and his departure from Long Island led to the Islander rebuild.

      • iamanidiotfan - Apr 3, 2012 at 3:45 AM

        It is a weird phenomenon, particularly for a classy guy like Smyth. But they both have very bright futures, if they can get their goaltending situations ironed out. (More so for the Oil).

  7. bostonhasrealhockey - Apr 2, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Man, I love that headline.

    • blomfeld - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:38 PM

      I’m Canadian and I’ll have you know that I love that headline too. Whether it’s hockey or just about anything in general, we Canadians have always had this smug, bourgeois, condescending attitude that Americans are somehow beneath us ? … that we Canadians are somehow more intelligent and morally superior, etc ? Well I’ll be damned … five of our seven NHL franchises are losing concerns ! … who would have thought, eh ?

      • habsman - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:00 AM

        Nice, and the best part is 90% of them won’t get it.

      • bcisleman - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:00 AM

        Oh I get that Canadians are frustrated by living in America’s shadow. I get that they have a need to be validated by claiming hockey as their sport even though Americans in New England and the upper Mid West have a hockey culture that is as old as any in Canada.

  8. riles1008 - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    It’s awesome. When’s the last Canadian Cup? Love it cause their asshole fan tendencies need to be punished. Karma

    • Josh. - Apr 3, 2012 at 7:15 PM

      Yeah. Fans in Boston are known for their classiness. They deserved that Cup last season.

    • mannixxx - Apr 4, 2012 at 3:53 PM

      exactly how many Canadieans were on the bruins team when they won?? that’s right…eat it.

  9. emperorzero - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Clearly instead of folding teams in the South we should consider folding Canadian teams…

  10. ron05342 - Apr 3, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    The Canucks are despised by most hockey fans everywhere.

    • haterzgonahate - Apr 3, 2012 at 3:01 PM

      “jealousy and envy.. coming from my enemies!”

  11. tommytd - Apr 3, 2012 at 6:28 AM

    Living in Chicago, I can certainly relate. The Bears haven’t won a SB since ’85, their management is pathetic and Soldier Field is packed whenever they play there. The Cubs…well you know where I’m going with this! The objective is to put fans in the stands. If that’s happening, what they actually do on the field doesn’t matter! GO BLACKHAWKS.

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:24 PM

      I could go into detail on how you need to need to update your stances on the Chicago sports scene, but that would be a giant digression from the topic at hand.

  12. sunking1 - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    I call it Karma for rooting so passionately for “Non-traditional hockey markets” to fail instead of rooting for NHL hockey to succeed and grow throughout the land.

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 3, 2012 at 3:50 PM

      Considering it came at the expense of Canadian markets getting or keeping teams, I can’t really blame them in least.

  13. mannixxx - Apr 4, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Well. you can’t count the leafs as a Canadian team…burke has made sure of that…it looks great on him and will be lingering for many, many, many decades to come….love it!

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