You have to look a long way back to find the last Canadian winner of the Stanley Cup. Not without some irony, it was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, when they won the series 4-1 against the Los Angeles Kings. Since then, only four teams from the north have even reached the final championship series.
Considering the modern sport of ice hockey was invented in Canada, as were the NHL and Stanley Cup competitions, almost three decades without a major title is undoubtedly a frustrating record. More than just a matter of pride in the Great White North, ice hockey is their officially recognized national winter sport, after all. Yet fans are still waiting anxiously for one of their NHL teams to triumph, and there may be hope this year.
North of the Border
If there’s one team who appear to be flying right now, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. After their first 23 games of the regular season in the Scotia North Division, the side coached by Sheldon Keefe are blowing pretty much everyone away, with 17 wins. Add to that an equally impressive goal differential of +26, with 81 for and 55 against, none of the other teams north of the border come close.
But as various NHL predictions have recently highlighted, while the all-Canadian Scotia North Division may be exciting for fans to observe, south of the border people are questioning the strength of competition. Toronto Maple Leafs are dominating the division, which tends to suggest rival teams are much weaker by comparison, with Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg jets the nearest contenders.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 2, 2021
All three of those teams are amongst the top ten in the League standings heading into March. That said, following the chaotic planning last season, the atypical divisional format this year could present a somewhat misleading picture. In all of the other three divisions – Discover Central, MassMutual East, Honda West – competition between the leading teams is much tighter, with only a slender gap in points between the top four or five teams.
Despite the current Scotia North and overall League standings the Maple Leafs can boast, they have only faced other Canadian teams during the regular season so far. While they are considered amongst the genuine contenders, certainly in futures betting markets, the true test of their Stanley Cup credentials will undoubtedly come against the American teams.
South of the Border
While the Maple Leafs appear to be the only Stanley Cup contenders from north of the border, south of the frontier in the United States, there are several teams capable of lifting the famous trophy. The clear favorite with many online sportsbooks, Vegas Golden Knights are tipped to go all the way this time. They last reached the championship series in 2018, marking a fairytale conclusion to their franchise debut campaign, ultimately losing to the Washington Capitals.
Coincidentally, both of those teams are ice-melting prospects heading into the March fixtures. The Golden Knights have been consistently leading the way in the Honda West Division, winning 13 of their 18 games at the time of writing, not to mention boasting a superior +16 goal differential. Meanwhile, the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin are firing on all cylinders, topping a mightily difficult MassMutual East Division.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 28, 2021
Interestingly, the Discover Central Division appears to have become a battle of the Sunshine State, which obviously sounds weird when talking about ice hockey teams. Florida Panthers are fighting tooth and claw for top spot, although they will need to stay one step ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning. The thing is, Tampa Bay have amassed a huge +30 goal differential – the best in the entire League – aiming to repeat their 2020 Stanley Cup championship.
Elsewhere, nobody can ever ignore the Boston Bruins a decade on from their last Stanley Cup win in 2010-11, amidst a five-way struggle for supremacy in the MassMutual East Division. Keep an eye on St Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild in the Honda West Division, both ready to pounce if Vegas happen to slide. Finally, prevailing winds of form point to what could be a great season for the Carolina Hurricanes, holding firm in the Discover Central Division.
Does Glory Beckon for Canada?
Sure, there’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are by far the best Canadian team this year, plus they have a roster strong enough to challenge for the Stanley Cup. However, without having faced any of the strongest American teams, it’s hard to judge if they can go all the way. The acid test will be the playoffs, which requires an altogether different mindset. Our friends in the north could be left wanting yet again.