Thursday, October 26, 2023

A brief history of Canada's early Cup favorites, and where they went wrong

So about that Canadian Cup drought…

It’s been a while since one of the country’s teams has won a championship. You may have heard about it. In fact, you may be sick of hearing about it. You might even be looking for an exceedingly dumb alternate universe where things were easier, and if so I’ve got you covered.

Or you might be wondering if this is the year the drought ends, in which case the news isn’t great. Heading into this season, the oddsmakers pointed to two Canadian teams as legitimate contenders: the Oilers and Maple Leafs. Depending on where and when you looked, you could even make the case that those two teams were the leaguewide favorites. At the very least, they were near the top – in June, our list had the Oilers second at +900, while the Leafs were tied for fourth +1200.

(I’ll pause here to explain that +900 is the same as 9-to-1, which is to say an implied 10% chance at winning. The lower the number, the better for a team's chances, so +500 or 5-to-1 is a strong favorite, while +2000 or 20-to-1 is a much longer shot.)

But two weeks in, the Oilers are a mess and the Leafs have been inconsistent. And while we’ve seen some positive signs from the Canucks and Senators, none of the country’s teams are looking like Cup favorites right now.

There’s time for all that to sort itself out, but for now it had me wondering: Which teams were Canada’s best Stanley Cup hopes of the drought era, based on the preseason odds? We know teams like the 1994 Canucks, 2004 Flames and 2006 Oilers all came agonizingly close, but all of those were Cinderella runs. Which Canadian teams in the last 30 years went into a season as consensus Cup favorites? And then, what went wrong?

Luckily for me, it turns out there’s a site that tracks exactly this sort of thing. And as it turns out, there have been 15 Canadian teams that have gone into a season at less than +1000 since 1993. Let’s look back at those teams and see whether we can learn anything from what happened to them once the games mattered. At the very least, we can try to cheer up those salty Oiler and Leaf fans.

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