Geoff Baker: Hockey's globalization lessening impact of Canada's Stanley Cup drought

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

SEATTLE — Now the real fun, or agony depending on one's outlook, begins for fans north of the Canadian border when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and national pride.

The Edmonton Oilers, who ousted Vancouver in Game 7 on Monday night, will try to become the first Canadian-based team to win the Cup since Montreal did it 31 years ago. That's one plotline for local fans to follow as they await a Kraken coaching hire that became a little clearer after Carolina was eliminated last week and promptly re-signed Rod Brind'Amour to an extension. Boston getting ousted as well also leaves assistant coach Joe Sacco out there for interviews should the Kraken seek permission from the Bruins.

The conference showdowns feature the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers in the East along with the Oilers and Dallas Stars in the West. Dallas won its only Cup in 1999, while the Rangers last won in 1994 and the Oilers in 1990. Florida is 0-2 in finals appearances from last season and 1996.

Another drought looming large, given the NHL's vast Canadian influence, is the lack of a Cup for teams north of the border since Montreal defeated Los Angeles in the 1993 final. And believe me, you'll hear a lot more about that in coming days because it actually matters to millions of people who love hockey.

I was a crime reporter standing outside the Montreal Forum that 1993 night preparing to cover the inevitable and destructive riot that broke out within seconds of the Canadiens capturing their record 24th title.

My riot coverage story made the now-somewhat-iconic front page of the Montreal Gazette on June 10, 1993, to the left of a photo of Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy hoisting the Cup aloft along with an accompanying main story and a column by future Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Farber. No one back then suspected Canada's title drought to come.


But hockey has changed plenty since and no major professional North American league has felt the impact of globalization quite like the NHL.

By the mid-1970s, the NHL had maxed out at 18 teams and was comprised of roughly 95% Canadian players. But that was before the 1980 Team USA "Miracle on Ice" gold medal victory at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics turned Americans onto hockey in greater numbers. And before the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 opened NHL floodgates to Russians and more Europeans.

By the last decade, Canadians comprised only half of all NHL players. This season, they formed just 41.7% which may explain where Canadian angst about Cup team geography comes from.

Mind you, Canada still has the most NHL players. The U.S. is a distant second at 29.1% while third-place Sweden has 9.1%. Canada still enters most international tournaments as the consensus favorite and its current entry at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Prague — bolstered by Kraken players Jared McCann, Jamie Oleksiak and Brandon Tanev — remains undefeated through seven games.


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