It’s been almost three decades since a Canadian NHL team hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Ever since the Montreal Canadiens took down the Los Angeles Kings in 1993, the NHL’s seven Canadian teams have seemingly been cursed when it comes to the league’s postseason.
But, with a unique format as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, could 2021 be the year that changes everything?
After the playoff bubble took the NHL by storm in the summer of 2020, the league had to get even more creative for the 2020-2021 season. To solve issues related to travel between the United States and Canada, the NHL created four new, geographically-based divisions for its first full season of the pandemic.
As a result, each of the seven Canadian teams played a schedule amongst themselves, while the league’s 24 others were split into three other divisions of their own in the United States.
So, with the idea of conferences scrapped, the Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket had to be adjusted, as well.
The top four teams from each division advanced to the first round of the postseason, guaranteeing a 25-percent representation for the league’s Canadian teams in the 2021 playoffs.
Two teams are guaranteed to advance to the second round, with one guaranteed to take up residence in the Stanley Cup Semifinals, which will be reseeded based on the league’s overall standings in 2021.
With all of that said, the mathematical chance of a Canadian champion is much better than in years past.
The country is confirmed to have a better showing in 2021 than it did in 2020, which had three Canadian qualifiers out of 16. Only one team, the Vancouver Canucks, advanced past the first round, and none made it past the quarterfinals.
In 2019, Canadian teams (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets) took up just three of the 16 playoff spots in the postseason bracket. In 2018, that number was just two (Maple Leafs and Jets).
The league had a similar 25-percent representation in the playoffs in 2017, and even had the Ottawa Senators one game away from the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, the Senators lost a double-overtime heartbreaker in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
So, with so many guaranteed opportunities for advancement in the bracket, it seems like 2021 has to be the year that the curse gets broken, right?
Not so fast.
While the formation of new divisions created loads of positives for the NHL’s Canadian fans, there are plenty of question marks that became evident, as well.
Teams are less familiar with each other as a result of a condensed schedule with limited travel, and many of the league’s Canadian teams haven’t played a United States-based squad since the early part of 2020.
At the same time, only the Montreal Canadiens have played in a postseason series since the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the idea of a seven-game series could turn into a daunting endeavor for franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.
Meanwhile, teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and more are playing in the postseason for the second time in less than 10 months, and may still have those calluses built up from last August and September.
With so much up in the air as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s tough to pinpoint anything that could happen throughout the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But, don’t be surprised if history is made and a Canadian franchise makes a run to bring the Stanley Cup back home in 2021.