The Vancouver Canucks 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 on Friday night marked their departure from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and extended the streak since a Canadian team won the Cup to 27 years.
Only five Canadian-based clubs (Canucks – 1994 and 2011, Calgary Flames – 2004, Edmonton Oilers – 2006, and Ottawa Senators – 2007) have made to the Cup Final in that span, and after another season of being shut out, the question of which one of the seven teams north of the border is best positioned to break through.
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7. Ottawa Senators
In spite of a collection of excellent young prospects, a pair of top-five draft picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, and core pieces like Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, the Sens do not have a franchise goaltender and probably will not devote the financial resources necessary to building a contender while Eugene Melnyk owns the club.
6. Montreal Canadiens
There is optimism in La Belle Province after the Habs upset of Pittsburgh and challenging Philadelphia in the first round, but in spite of encouraging performances by youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal did not get enough offensive production from Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi. The fact that the core group (Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry) are all over 30 and that GM Marc Bergevin has difficulty getting free agents to come to Montreal will limit their chances of contending.
5. Calgary Flames
The Flames appear to be a team in transition with a need for an upgrade in goal (veteran Cam Talbot started most of their playoff games over David Rittich), departures on defense (TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic are unrestricted free agents), and questions about their core group other than Matthew Tkachuk. Both Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are rumored to be on the trade market after a disappointing season and showing in Calgary’s playoff loss to Dallas.
4. Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck was responsible for the Jets staying in the playoff race, with a Vezina caliber performance in front of a thin defense. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff must replace Dustin Byfuglien and that could come at the cost of their forward depth. There is speculation that Winnipeg may shop Patrik Laine with a year left on a bridge deal or Nikolaj Ehlers with an affordable cap hit to replenish the blueline and find an adequate #2 center behind Mark Scheifele.
3. Edmonton Oilers
The playoff loss to Chicago exposed the Oilers’ ongoing defensive issues, their lack of a dependable starting goalie, and an overreliance on Connor McDavid and likely Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl. A loaded goalie market and promising blueline prospects Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard may help GM Ken Holland address some of Edmonton’s problems, but their lack of depth upfront is a problem that may take more time to rectify.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander are one of the highest-scoring clubs in the NHL, but after an early exit for the fourth year in a row, GM Kyle Dubas finally appears ready to address Toronto’s long-standing issues on the blueline. Kasperi Kapanen was dealt to Pittsburgh to provide cap flexibility and goalie Frederik Andersen may be moved with a year left on his contract if the Leafs see an upgrade in free agency or a trade.
1. Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver boasts two of the most exciting young stars in the league in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, quality scoring depth with Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller, and has over $17 Million in available cap space going into next season. GM Jim Benning has both Pettersson and Hughes on their entry-level contracts for another year but has to make a decision on whether to re-sign pending UFA forward Tyler Toffoli, defenseman Chris Tanev or goalie Jacob Markstrom.