Cottage Industry: Canada’s On-Ice Arms Race

by Kolby SolinskyWhite Cover Magazine

It’s brought up a few times a season, and I’m never sure why.

It’s been 11 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup… It’s been 13 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup… 14 years… 18… It’s been 23 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.

This is then telephone-translated to be Canada doesn’t have the Stanley Cup. Or, Canada wants its Cup back.It’s relayed as some kind of national drought or tragedy, which it isn’t – the Cup comes back to Canada every year, because Canadian players win the Cup and they bring it back, and Canadians watch the Stanley Cup playoffs every year, because we just do.

And I’m sure some think all Canadians just want ANY northern club to win the thing, the nation’s most treasured trophy – and really, North America’s most treasure trophy, when you consider how irrelevant the actual physical hardware for the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series are. But it’s not true. I don’t want any other Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup – after all, I don’t like the majority of them. The Leafs, Flames, and Oilers can all wither away and starve, far as I’m concerned… the Senators don’t matter to me… the Canadiens are likeable, except when they’re hilariously not likeable… everyone digs the Jets and their heartwarming charm, although the honeymoon is wearing off… and I like the Canucks. Most Canadians don’t like the Canucks, and I don’t expect them to.

We’re rivals with each other, more than we are with anywhere below the imaginary line above Seattle.

Toronto winning the Cup wouldn’t do a damn thing for me. Actually, that’s not true, because it would infuriate me. Ditto for Calgary and especially Edmonton, right now, who have been a little righteous after reaping the obvious rewards for a decade of unprecedented atrociousness.

So I’ll take Los Angeles or Anaheim or Tampa or Carolina winning another, any day, over another Canadian team. And I’d hope those in Toronto or Montreal or Calgary feel the same.

If there’s anything we Canadians can bond over, it’s our loyalty to our own factions – and how we come together selectively to celebrate the national team every four years, or whenever the league’s owners decide to throw themselves a fundraiser and call it the ‘World Cup’.

But hockey is in a good place in Canada, right now, and it has nothing to do with Stanley. At least, not yet.

Because there’s a stockpiling north of the border. There’s an on-ice arms race across the provinces, a reality that this apparently depressing drought has allowed for. The Edmonton Oilers have the best young player in the game – maybe the best player in the game, period – in Connor McDavid, and they’re building around him. The Canucks and Flames have a few irreplaceable pieces and exciting prospects, and they’re bolstering the roster by slowly and strategically accumulating muscle and joints. (Both Vancouver and Calgary are also delightfully mediocre right now, meaning they’ll get a few more elite picks in the next several seasons.) The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets suddenly have the most promising farms and rookies in the league. The Ottawa Senators are finding their way, but likely will – they’ll have to, just to keep pace with their brothers in blue. And the Montreal Canadiens are, at least right now, a contender – the top team in the East with the best goaltender in the world, aided by an undeniably deep collection of forwards and blueliners.

For the past 20 years, every year we’ve been anointing one team as Canada’s best hope to re-capture the grail – one year Vancouver, the next Montreal, for a while Ottawa, with spurts of out-of-nowhere runs from Calgary and Edmonton. Toronto was biding its time, unintentionally. Winnipeg didn’t exist.

Sometimes, it seemed like a Canadian team was actually the favourite. But it never felt like a solid bet, because it was in a vacuum. Since the Habs last won the damn thing in 1993, only Ottawa and Vancouver were ever the league’s best team through 82 regular-season games – the Sens in 2006, the Canucks in 2011 and 2012. But regular seasons are one-offs – not just from regular season-to-regular season, but from regular season-to-postseason,  too. As soon as you clinch first seed, you’re thrown back into the fray.

Now though, it seems the competition from coast-to-coast is putting this exhausted talking point to bed. Canadians are no longer competing with a curse or someone’s idea of destiny – they’re competing with each other. We’re ignoring all the chatter and noise from the United States because, like most things American, chatter and noise is all it is.

It did seem embarrassing, I’ll fully admit, to see California, Texas, Florida and the Tar Heels raise the Cup above their heads. But it wasn’t because I thought it belonged in Canada – it was just because I didn’t think it belonged there. But go ahead, sunbelt states, and win a few more… Tennessee, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, wherever. You can have the thing. Have fun with it, get rowdy, enjoy it while you can, and feel free to make a whole lot of fun of us…

Just remember, we’re getting a whole lot better, really fast. We’re waking up. These violent delights have violent ends.