Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ranking the candidates to be Canada's Team

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised some eyebrows recently when he suggested that the entire country should be rooting for the Ottawa Senators. They’re Canada’s last remaining playoff team, after all, and with the nation riding a Stanley Cup drought going on 24 years, surely we could all unite in a common cause of rooting them on.

Not so fast, responded hockey fans around the country. Once we were done being thankful that this is what passes for a controversial statement from our leader, the backlash to Trudeau’s comments was swift.

The whole “Canada’s team” thing always comes up around this time of year, and it always divides fans. Many are on Trudeau’s side, happily throwing their support behind whichever of the country’s teams is the last one left. But others want no part of switching allegiances, even temporarily. For those fans, the idea of getting behind some other team is a non-starter, and anyone who’d suggest otherwise doesn’t get what being a fan is all about.

We’ll save that particular debate for another day. Instead, let’s take a look back at the teams that have laid claim to “Canada’s Team” status over the years. Since the start of the country’s Cup drought in 1993, there have been 11 Canadian teams that have made it to at least the conference finals as the nation’s last remaining team.

Today, we’ll rank them from least to most likable and see where this year’s Senators would slot in if (and we emphasize the “if”) you were the sort of fan who’d jump on the bandwagon of the country’s last remaining team.

#11. 2011 Canucks

The good: There's a strong case to be made that this was the country's very best team of the Cup drought era. They finished the season with 117 points, the most by a Canadian team in 22 years, and earned the first of back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies. They barely survived their first-round series against the Blackhawks, nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead before winning Game 7 in overtime, and seemed to get stronger as the playoffs wore on. By the time a Stanley Cup final matchup with the Bruins arrived, it really did seem like this was going to be the Canucks' year.

The bad: There's really no nice way to put it: This was a thoroughly unlikable team. Not top-to-bottom – they had easy-to-root-for players like the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo. But they also had guys like Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Maxim Lapierre, all of whom fell solidly into the "like them when they're on your team, hate them when they're on anyone else's" category at the time. (And according to Ryan Johansen, still do today.)

To make matters worse, the team quickly gained a reputation for diving, whining and dishing out cheap shots. It's true that every team does their share of that stuff, but it's a reputation that stuck to the 2011 Canucks, and fans of other teams had plenty of fun with it.

By the time they started biting opponents, their role as post-season villains had been sealed. Nobody was jumping on this bandwagon.

Bottom line: Over the years, it's become easier to overlook some of the unfortunate moments and appreciate this team in a way we may not have been able to at the time. But back in 2011, these guys were a hard no.

#10. 2002 Maple Leafs

The good: They were a solid team that was fun to watch, playing the attacking style favored by coach Pat Quinn. And they had to overcome plenty of adversity just to reach the conference finals, with captain Mats Sundin missing the majority of the playoffs due to injury.

The bad: Let's start with the obvious: It's the Maple Leafs. Most fans in this country wouldn't jump on the Leafs' bandwagon if the entire roster sprouted halos and angel wings.

And this particular team were certainly no angels. While the roster featured guys like Sundin and future Lady Byng winner Alexander Mogilny, it also had Tie Domi throwing elbows and Darcy Tucker taking out knees. Within months, no less an authority than Sports Illustrated would be calling this team "the NHL's most notorious band of whiners, divers and cheap-shot artists". That might have been a little harsh, but given that the 2002 Leafs had a player suspended for a Game 7 because he tried to kick an opponent in the head, only a little.

Bottom line: The fact that they didn't make it all the way to the final is probably the only thing keeping this team from challenging the 2011 Canucks for the least likable crown.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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