I didn’t always care about how Canadian teams (besides Toronto) did in the NHL playoffs — at least not to the point that I would pull for them more than American teams for the simple fact that the teams played in a Canadian city.
Each year, the Leafs would fail to make the playoffs, I would cheer for the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals in the playoffs, hoping they beat Canadian teams along the way. After all, my reasoning went, the Ducks often had more Canadian players on their team than the Canucks and Oilers anyway. If anything, I was being a patriot.
That reasoning still makes sense to me, but I feel I’ve lost my edge in my old age. As I look at the NHL landscape as the regular season enters the second half, four Canadian teams are likely to make the playoffs, with two more battling for a spot, and I find it all very exciting.
The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets are leading their respective Western Conference divisions. The Jets were supposed to be really good, and the Flames weren’t, but Calgary is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and were just five points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the league, as of Jan. 29.
Perhaps the Flames are just a regular season success story and won’t have what it takes, or maybe they’ll be this year’s version of the Vegas Golden Knights — a surprise team who rolled through the playoffs with the odds stacked against them and made the finals. The Flames might have to beat the actual Knights to get to the final, but I’ll worry about it when the time comes. The point is, both the Jets and the Flames are serious threats to represent the West in the final.
In the East, there’s the Leafs, who everybody, including myself, said were by far the second-best team in the league for the majority of the season. The fact that we were proud to be second place tells you all you need to know about Leafs fans. However, with 33 games remaining, the Leafs probably aren’t the second-best team, and only have one more point than the Montreal Canadiens, who were supposed to be worse than the Flames.
Still, the Leafs are second in the Atlantic Division and had the third-best record in the East at the beginning of the week. Things could certainly be worse, but it just doesn’t feel like glory is on the horizon. The team did swing a big and surprising trade for Los Angeles Kings defenceman Jake Muzzin, so perhaps that will help them crawl back up the standings and put separation between the teams chasing them.
The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers are within three points of the last playoff spot in the West, despite the Oilers firing both their head coach and general manager this year.
One thing I know for sure, if the Oilers do make the playoffs, I won’t be cheering for them. Yes, they’re Canadian, and yes, I do consider Edmonton my home, but a guy can only concede so much.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.