Jets represent Canada’s best bet
SENATORS: A Week in Review is a weekly column looking back at the week in Ottawa Senators hockey written by OLMSports Dave Gross.
Feature photo Courtesy NHLI via Getty
That grandiose sense of hope for Canada took a turn towards minimal optimism some time just after Christmas this past year.
"Could we really see a Canadian club prance around the ice with a Stanley Cup on its shoulder come mid-summer?" . . . came the often-heard question.
Well, it's been a long while.
And it could be another year gone by given the number of Canadian teams that are even qualifying for the post-season brackets in 2018. We knew the list of teams from Great White North would be short this coming spring when clubs like Edmonton and Ottawa tumbled and stumbled their way out of playoff contention by mid-winter.
So then – the last time Canada claimed Lord Stanley? That would be 1993 when Jacques Demers led the famed Montreal Canadiens to the title.
The last time a Canadian team actually made the final? That would be 2011 as Alain Vigneault watched his Vancouver Canucks get bounced by Boston (Bryan Murray and the afore-mentioned Senators were also runners-up, in 2007).
Ottawa, in fact, could be argued as being the Canadian-based team with the best opportunities since the Habs claimed gold. They certainly had the man-power and talent through the past couple of decades to make a run, but be it a tougher Scott Niedermeyer-Chris Pronger duo, a Chris Kunitz double-overtime chip shot, a Jeff Friesen clutch goal, or just facing the Toronto Maple Leafs – in series after series after series – Ottawa perpetually fell short.
Ah yes, the Leafs.
If you truly buy in to that whole "I can ONLY root for Canadian teams in the playoffs" routine, guess you'll need to latch on to the Blue-and-White come early April.
Toronto is one of two legitimate Canadian hopes.
Oddly enough, the other top contender also dons the colour blue and the colour white – the underrated Winnipeg Jets.
Fact is, of the seven teams from Canada, four are assured of missing the post-season: Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton.
Toronto and Winnipeg are playoff sure-things, Calgary is the only other option and the Flames are fighting to grasp one of the final rungs during this final month of the regular season.
So what are the odds a team from around these parts wins it all?
Most sports books list Tampa Bay as the overall odds-on favourite.
Pittsburgh (not surprisingly), Nashville and Boston are getting a ton of love from the wager-takers, as is (surprisingly?) expansion Vegas.
Toronto and Winnipeg slot anywhere from 5-8 on most lists and Calgary is a long-shot.
Of the two 'contenders,' we here in this corner like the Jets.
Toronto has a couple of things not helping the cause. One, the Leafs play in their own zone continues to baffle at times (this is why goalie Freddie Andersen is a Vezina candidate), and they did zip to shore that up by not acquiring help at the trade deadline.
I'm also not a fan of Toronto's first-round (most likely) opponent letting the Leafs through the door to Round 2. It'll be the Bruins, and the Bruins are playoff-tested and possibly the best team in the East.
Winnipeg, meantime, boasts the NHL's top collection of forwards. The Jets are fast and lethal. They're also large-framed and physical – a nice blend to have in the West. That's led by giants Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the back end.
If new-ish netminder Connor Hellebucyk holds true to his regular-season form (2.38 GAA, .923 save percentage), Canada's best hopes for Lord Stanley lie in Winnipeg.
NEWS, NOTES AND NOTIONS: There are very few no-brainers in Senator-land, but in the event Erik Karlsson moves on, Mark Stone gets the captaincy. (This is me not going out on a limb) . . . According to the Sabres' blog site, Diebytheblade.com, you can snag a very good pair of tickets in Buffalo for less than $15. That's for TWO tix, folks . . . The NHL's draft lottery is slated for April 28th (according to insiders). Let the countdown begin Ottawa, just 15 more trying games to get through until that potential ray of hope . . . Love this little tidbit as pointed out by the Bruins' blog, StanleyCupofchowder.com: When wee Brian Gionta scored his first goal as a Bruin this past week, the assist went to Zdeno Chara. This might have represented the biggest disparity between a goal-scorer and assist-maker – Chara is 15 inches taller than Gionta . . . Sidney Crosby hit the 1,100 point plateau for his career this past week .
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Monday, March 12: Ottawa at Florida (7:30 pm)
Tuesday, March 13: Ottawa at Tampa Bay (7:30 pm)
Friday, March 16: Dallas at Ottawa (7:30 pm)
Saturday, March 17: Ottawa at Columbus (7 pm)