NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada's NHL teams don't make the grade

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Canadian hockey fans should be getting more for their buck than the abysmal performance of our country's seven NHL teams.

Despite paying more for tickets and generating a disproportionate amount of league revenues, the product on the ice does not equate.

Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs is about to open with not a Canadian team to be found. Not since 1993 has a Canadian club won the league title and there's little reason to believe this is about to change any time soon.

The Vancouver Canucks are Canada's best team and the Ottawa Senators made a surprising run to get in the playoffs this spring. But now Canada's only two hopes are already done. The rest? Collectively awful.

The Leafs, Canadiens, Jets, Flames and Oilers are all non-playoff organizations in a league where over half the teams qualify.

Only the Canucks will be pre-season favourites to qualify when next season begins. The Senators will be a 50-50 proposition. After that the pickings get thin.

The Jets have only been back in Winnipeg for one season and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff inherited a roster that comes up short on a number of fronts.

The Jets aren't a good team, but they haven't had decades to get it wrong. We'll excuse them for the time being, and for the sake of Jets fans, here's hoping management doesn't take a page out of the handbook of losing most Canadian teams have been following.

If there's anything the Winnipeg organization can learn from their Canadian lodge brothers, it's that the quick fix is a risky gambit. Cheveldayoff has said he will draft and develop a team in hopes of creating a consistently competitive franchise. He'll need to be stubborn to stick to his plan because Winnipeg hockey fans are not unlike those all across Canada. They want a winner and they want it now.

Malaise

The Leafs have the worst case of this malaise as the richest team in hockey is, of course, one of the worst, having missed the post-season for seven straight years and gone since 1967 without a title. They set the standard for underachieving, but in recent years have been joined by the Canadiens, Flames and Oilers in a class of once-reputable organizations that now seem to be aimless.

While it was once easy to give Canadian franchises a pass because many of them were small-market clubs unable to compete on a level financial plane with larger U.S. cities, that argument is no longer valid.

Canadian fans pay more for tickets in a salary-cap NHL. Money is not an issue for Canada's teams. The top six average ticket prices in the NHL are all claimed by Canadian teams. Only Ottawa, which logs in at 15th in the league, isn't in the top 10.

The Leafs charge the most and, one can argue, give back the least. The Jets check in with the second-highest average ticket price and hopefully will use their off-ice success to generate a winning operation. Time will tell.

Hockey is still Canada's game and we still produce more of the best players in the world than any other country. But our NHL franchises don't make the grade right now.

Canada's fans deserve better.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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