Hopes for the Canadian Stanley Cup rest on leaves, flames, oilers

It is a rule of thumb for spring to arrive in Canada erratically, a few mild days followed by a foot of snow, followed by rain, followed by a day so hot that you swear it was summer, usually followed by sleet and more snow. The day I was born in April, my mother needed a heavy winter coat on our way to the hospital, and when I arrived in the afternoon she 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 the thirteenth – and last – Stanley Cup. During this time every year, the city of Toronto gets a little nervous. Occasionally the Raptors provide a distraction, but not this year. They are three games down against the 76ers.

The NHL playoffs begin on May 2, and as of this writing, the picture looks like this.

Canadian fans currently have three basic choices: Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames. The Vancouver Canucks could do it. The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets will 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 mugs.

It doesn’t look promising. But the Leafs are enjoying the good times, mostly thanks to American center Auston Matthews, who did put together his best season. The Flames have Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. The Oilers introduce Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

In hockey, it’s more fun to follow the stars, especially during the playoffs. But the stars have not always ensured success in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a championship in 55 years and 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 defeat in 2021, the Oilers have missed the playoffs every other season since losing in the finals of the Stanley Cup in 2006.

The Calgary Flames haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

It points to the most repeated and reckless fact this time of year: the Stanley Cup hasn’t been won by a Canadian team since Montreal did it in 1993. It’s all a little bleak.

Hockey is a regional interest. The province of Alberta will split sharply and angrily between the Oilers and Flames, but Toronto poses a problem for those outside its sprawling borders. The Leafs, like the New York Yankees, are easy to love and easy to loathe, depending on your zip code and generational loyalty.

One solution is to choose a US-based team with a fantastic Canadian player, a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby, in his 17th season with the team that enlisted him first overall in 2005 when the league sprang from a block and a canceled 2004-2005 season, has quietly experienced one of the best seasons in the NHL.

I spent Crosby’s rookie year in Pittsburgh following a kid burdened with putting the age of the hockey salary cap on the map. His team only won 22 games, but led the Penguins with 102 points. Greatness was not far off. Crosby won his first Stanley Cup in 2009 and two more in 2016 and 2017. Between one championship and another there were numerous Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. On February 15, Crosby scored his 500th career goalbecoming 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 played the Leafs. It was our first long conversation since his rookie season. Now 34, he was relaxed, thoughtful and excited about the team’s playoff possibilities.

“I have great appreciation for being able to play for as long as I have,” he said. “It is a privilege. Don’t get me wrong, I want to play a lot longer, but the more you play the more you realize it’s not easy. “

Yet hey again makes it look easy. Crosby, with 29 goals (nine of them match winners) and 52 assists in 65 games, is experiencing an extraordinary, no-fuss season, which has all gone in Alex Ovechkin’s favor as climb the list of career goals.

Crosby, whose average of 1.25 points per game surpasses Ovechkin, continues to demonstrate his longevity in a sport that takes an incredible physical toll. He remains the best 200-foot player in the game and one of its most creative directors.

Ahead of the playoffs, I will have a lot more from my conversation with Crosby and an idea of ​​what made him such an enduring and dominant player for 17 seasons in his career.

The New York Times will provide coverage of the NHL playoffs, with an initial focus on the Rangers-Penguins series (as is the current bout) in the Eastern Conference.

If you are looking for a bandwagon besides Flames, Oilers and Maple Leafs, it would be wise to never bet against Crosby.

I asked him which milestone is the next milestone. “A Stanley Cup,” he said.

This week’s Trans Canada section was compiled by Vjosa Isai.

Born in Ancaster, Ontario, Shawna Richer lives in Toronto and is an assistant sports editor for the New York Times. She 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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