Friday, June 10, 2022

Canadian teams stopped winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. What’s going on?

The Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the NHL playoffs on Monday, ensuring that one of the strangest streaks in pro sports will continue for another year. No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993. For almost three decades, the oldest trophy in North American professional sports, one that predates the NHL itself by a quarter-century, has resided in the United States. It’s all but the trophy’s permanent home these days.

Canadians are, to put it mildly, not thrilled about this.

Oh, many of them are fine with the Oilers losing, just like they’re fine with whichever rival has the lonest run every year ultimately falling short. This isn’t about the whole “Canada’s Team” debate, which was conclusively settled here. Many Canadian fans would never sell out for the Oilers, Habs, Leafs or any other team other than their own.

But still… 28 seasons? Somebody can’t step up and win one championship in all that time, if only so we don’t have to hear about it anymore?

On the surface, the odds are hard to fathom. There are seven Canadian franchises, nearly a full quarter of the NHL’s 32 teams. Those numbers have changed over the years, but the ratio has been roughly consistent, meaning you’d expect a Canadian team to win a Cup every four or five years. Instead, nothing.

Various attempts have been made over the years to calculate just how unlikely all this would be. We asked our own Dom Luszczyszyn to crunch the numbers, factoring in the quality of each season’s Canadian entries. Here’s what he came up with, using odds data from

You’re reading that correctly. Since 1993, the numbers tell us that it would have been more likely for Canada to win 10 or more Stanley Cups than to win zero. And yet, here we are.

What’s going on?

That’s what we’re going to try to figure out today. I’ve put together a list of eight of the more common theories about what’s behind all of this. Some are more convincing than others, but we’ll give them each a chance to make their case. Let’s see if we can crack the code on Canada’s national Cup drought.

Theory 1: Canadian fans are not demanding enough

We’ll start here, because it might be the most common theory. And often, somewhat oddly, it comes from Canadian fans themselves.

It goes something like this: Canadian fans prefer to see their teams win, but they’ll support them even if they don’t. The sport is so ingrained in our national culture that the idea of tuning out a losing team is foreign to us. We’ll complain, we’ll boo, we’ll rant on twitter or the local call-in show, but we won’t cancel our season tickets or make other plans for a Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the American teams are dealing with more fickle fan bases that have no problem looking elsewhere for their entertainment. Canadian teams want to win, but American teams need to. So they do.

Why it makes sense: As with a lot of these, we can point to the Maple Leafs as a prime example. The Leafs have a league-record Stanley Cup drought of 55 years and counting; they haven’t even been to a final in all those years, and haven’t won a playoff round since 2004. But their building is full every night, even with some of the highest ticket prices in the league, and they consistently draw monster ratings on television. The franchise makes lots of money, even when they’re losing. So why invest in winning?

It makes a certain kind of intuitive sense in Toronto, as well as in other larger Canadian markets like Montreal and Vancouver.

Why it doesn’t: The theory kind of falls apart when you think about it.

For one, the Maple Leafs spend a ton of money – not just on players, where the team is always up against the salary cap, but on facilities, the front office, coaches (and ex-coaches), you name it. So do most other Canadian teams. If the idea is to rack up profit by being cheap, they’re doing it all wrong.

Beyond that, this theory seems to be stuck in the 1980s, when cartoonishly evil Toronto owner Harold Ballard could ice a legitimately awful team and still sell out Maple Leaf Gardens. Back then, gameday revenue made up almost all of the bottom line. Today, teams have more revenue streams than ever, and many of those have nothing to do with selling tickets. The Leafs make money even when they miss the playoffs, but they’d make so much more if they ever won a Stanley Cup. Think of the difference between the profitable Yankees of the 80s and early 90s, and the juggernaut they’ve been since the Jeter-era championships. The Leafs could be the NHL’s version of that, if they ever actually won anything.

There simply isn’t a viable business model that sees any Canadian team making more profit as losers than as champions. If it’s all about the bottom line and responding to financial incentives, the country’s teams should be winning all the time.

They’re not, meaning we need something else. So let’s flip our first theory around…

Theory 2: Canadian fans are too demanding

Does this theory directly contract the first one? Yes. Do some fans and media use both interchangeably? Somehow, also yes.

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1 comment:

  1. It is called the league is run out of New York. The Betman mafia will do what ever it takes to ensure a Canadian Team does not win the cup. Even though the Canadian teams generate70% of the revenue.