It’s a rule that spring comes to Canada infrequently, a few mild days followed by a foot of snow followed by rain, followed by a day so hot you’d swear it was summer, usually followed by sleet and more snow. On the day I was born in April, my mother needed a thick winter coat on her way to the hospital, and by the time I arrived in the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach.
Something else happened that same spring, but unlike the unpredictable weather, it hasn’t happened since. In May 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs won their thirteenth and final Stanley Cup. Every year around this time, the city of Toronto gets a little nervous. Occasionally the Raptors are a distraction, but not this year. They are three games behind the 76ers.
The NHL playoffs begin on May 2, and at the time of writing, the picture looks like this.
Canadian fans currently have three carrot choices: the Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Vancouver Canucks can make it. The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets do not.
If the playoffs started today, the Oilers would face the Los Angeles Kings; the Flames would play the Nashville Predators; and the Maple Leafs would play the Tampa Bay Lightning, winner of the last two Stanley Cups.
That doesn’t sound hopeful. But the Leafs have had some good times, thanks in large part to American center-back Auston Matthews, who put together his best season yet. The Flames have Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. The Oilers feature Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
In hockey it is a lot of fun to follow the stars, especially during the playoffs. But star players have not always ensured playoff success. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a championship in 55 years — and they haven’t even won a playoff round since 2004.
McDavid, for all his otherworldly talent, has only won one playoff series (in 2017) and, with the exception of a first-round loss in 2021, the Oilers have missed the playoffs in every other season since they were in the Stanley. Cup final lost. in 2006.
The Calgary Flames have not won a playoff series since 2015.
Just look at the most repeated fact this time of year: The Stanley Cup hasn’t been won by a Canadian team since Montreal did in 1993. It’s all a bit grim.
Hockey is a regional interest. The province of Alberta will be divided neatly and rabidly between the Oilers and Flames, but Toronto poses a problem for those beyond its vast borders. The Leafs, like the New York Yankees, are easy to love and loathe, depending on your zip code and generational loyalty.
One solution is to choose a team in the United States with a fantastic Canadian player, a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sidney Crosby, in his 17th season with the team that drafted him first overall in 2005 when the league emerged from a lockout and canceled 2004-05 season, has quietly had one of the best seasons in the NHL .
I spent Crosby’s rookie year in Pittsburgh following a kid saddled with putting the pay-ceiling era of hockey on the map. His team won just 22 games, but he led the Penguins by 102 points. Greatness was not far away. Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009 and two more in 2016 and 2017. Between the championships, there were numerous Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. On February 15, Crosby scored his 500th goal in his careerbecoming only the second active player to reach the milestone and the 46th in NHL history.
A few days later I saw him in Toronto when the Penguins were playing the Leafs. It was our first long conversation since his rookie season. Now 34, he was relaxed and reflective, and excited about the team’s playoff opportunities.
“I’m extremely grateful that I was able to play for so long,” he said. “It’s a privilege. Don’t get me wrong, I want to play a lot longer, but the more you play, the more you understand that it’s not easy.”
Yet he is still make it look easy† Crosby, who has scored 29 goals (nine of which are match winners) and 52 assists in 65 games, is having a remarkable season – without fanfare, which has been Alex Ovechkin’s way as he climbs the career goals list.
Crosby, whose average of 1.25 points per game surpasses Ovechkin, continues to prove his longevity in a sport that takes an incredible physical toll. He remains the best 200-foot player in the game, and one of the most creative game makers.
For the play-offs I will have much more of my conversation with Crosby and insight into what has made him such a durable and dominant player 17 seasons into his career.
DailyExpertNews will cover the NHL playoffs, with an early focus on the Rangers-Penguins series (as the current match-up stands) in the Eastern Conference.
If you’re looking for a band other than the Flames, Oilers, and Maple Leafs, never bet against Crosby.
I asked him what milestone is next. “A Stanley Cup,” he said.
This week’s Trans Canada section is curated by Vjosa Isai.
Toronto’s marijuana stores, one of the selected businesses allowed to operate during the lockdown, thrived during the pandemic. Nowhere is that more evident than along Queen Street West, writes Catherine Porter, The Times’ Toronto bureau chief.
Are we living in a simulation? Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel explores the question in her latest novel and in “The Ezra Klein Show,” a DailyExpertNews Opinion podcast.
Documentary filmmaker John Zaritsky started out as a police reporter for The Hamilton Spectator in Ontario, and went on to explore uncomfortable topics in his work and won an Oscar. mr. Zaritsky died in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was 78.
Guy Lafleur, a beloved Hockey Hall of Famer who helped lead the Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cup championships, died Friday. He was 70. Canadian sports journalist David Shoalts writes that even on a glamorous Canadiens team, Lafleur was a rock star.
These Canadian marathoners started out as teenagers in British Columbia and made their debut at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, 20, has a shot at the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award after one regular season with the team.
Shawna Richer, born in Ancaster, Ontario, lives in Toronto and is an assistant sports editor for DailyExpertNews. She has spent more than 25 years as a sports journalist in Canada and is the author of “The Kid: A Season With Sidney Crosby and the New NHL”. Follow her on Twitter at @richershawna.
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