Zize Matters: What's up with Canada?

Sidney Crosby carries the Canadian flag after Team Canada won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics....

Sidney Crosby carries the Canadian flag after Team Canada won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Canadian-based NHL teams haven't been nearly as successful in recent years. (QMI AGENCY)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:40 PM ET

Oh, Canada?

Maybe it should be more like “Uh oh, Canada.”

Or “No, Canada.”

With just two weeks left in the regular season, you can bet the suits at TSN and Hockey Night in Canada already are fretting at the potential lack of Canadian content in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.

There are legitimate reasons for their concerns.

Imagine a Stanley Cup playoffs with just one Canadian team represented, something that has not taken place in 39 years.

It could happen again this spring.

Now that all 30 NHL franchises are down to their final handful of games, Vancouver is the lone Canadian-based certainty to qualify for the upcoming Stanley Cup tourney early next month.

At the start of play on Saturday, the Ottawa Senators were the only other squad from north of the border that found itself in a post-season position, sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference. But that is a precarious position indeed, with the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres entering the day lurking just two points behind.

On the outside looking in, the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, who dropped a 4-1 decision in Dallas on Saturday afternoon, still have playoff lifelines, although their post-season hopes are fading fast.

As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, they are jostling for draft pick positioning, setting the stage for the possibility that three Canadian teams might be selecting in the top 5 come June in Pittsburgh.

If the Canucks do, in fact, become the only Canadian-based team to reach the 2012 playoffs, it will mark the first time since 1973 that just one Canadian side had made the NHL post-season.

Some 39 years ago, the Montreal Canadiens, Canada’s only representative in those playoffs, blazed their way to yet another Stanley Cup title. Remember, too, that there were only three Canadian teams at the time, the Canucks and Maple Leafs being the others.

How long ago was that? Just a month prior to the start of aforementioned 1972-73 season, Paul Henderson scored his famous goal against the Soviets, arguably the most memorable moment in Canadian sports history.

Starting in 1973-74, there have been multiple Canadian-based teams in each and every set of NHL playoffs.

Now, that might change.

After a 39-year run, there might be only one Canadian team in the post-season.

You don’t have to wrap yourself in the flag to understand how brutal that is.

So, what gives?

Perhaps a look at each of the Canadian teams might shed some light on the problem.

Among the seven Canadian clubs, the Canucks easily are the elite of the bunch and have a legitimate shot to reach the final for a second consecutive year. Perhaps of most concern will be any elongated absence of former scoring champion Daniel Sedin, who suffered a concussion after having his marbles rattled by a cheap-shot elbow from Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith.

The Senators and Jets organizations, whether they qualify for the Stanley Cup dance or not, deserve kudos for exceeding expectations.

The Senators were picked by most of the so-called experts, including yours truly, to finish near the bottom of the NHL standings. All the credit must go to GM Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean for icing a young team that, led by vets Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and kid star Erik Karlsson, has developed much quicker than expected.

The Jets and the city of Winnipeg, meanwhile, should be proud for the way they’ve embraced the return of the NHL to Manitoba. While the artists formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers might be lacking a bit in talent, they have an outstanding work ethic, as witnessed by their come-from-behind 4-3 victory in Washington on Friday, a game in which they trailed 3-0.

As for the Flames, Leafs, Canadiens and Oilers, management in each of those organizations had better do some serious soul searching.

In Calgary, GM Jay Feaster must decide whether to keep the veteran core of his roster intact or blow it up.

In Toronto, Brian Burke, whose team completely collapsed in the past six weeks, needs to find consistent goaltending, something the Leafs have not enjoyed since Ed Belfour.

In Montreal, the restless natives want so badly for GM Pierre Gauthier to be fired, they are getting the tar and feathers ready.

And in Edmonton, it’s time for Steve Tambellini to surround young stud forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with a better supporting cast.

However it plays out, you can bet there are a lot of Canadian TV execs pulling for the Sens, Flames and Jets in the next two weeks.

Not to mention the fans.

WOE CANADA

(Since 2004, the number of Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs has progressively whittled down from five in ‘04 to just two a year ago. With two weeks remaining in the 20011-12 season, there is a possibility that only one representative from the Great White North will make the Stanley Cup tournament, the lowest total in 39 years. Here’s a look at the past seven seasons.

2011: 2 (Vancouver, Montreal)

- Canadiens lost to Bruins in first round.

- Canucks lost to Bruins in final.

2010: 3 (Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa)

- Canadiens lost to Flyers in third round.

- Canucks lost to Blackhawks in second round.

- Senators lost to Penguins in first round.

2009: 3 (Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary)

- Canadiens lost to Bruins in first round.

- Canucks lost to Blackhawks in second round.

- Flames lost to Blackhawks in first round.

2008: 3 (Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary)

- Canadiens lost to Flyers in second round.

- Senators lost to Penguins in first round.

- Flames lost to Sharks in first round.

2007: 3 (Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary)

- Canucks lost to Ducks in second round.

- Senators lost to Ducks in final.

- Flames lost to Red Wings in first round.

2006: 4 (Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton)

- Canadiens lost to Hurricanes in first round.

- Senators lost to Sabres in second round.

- Flames lost to Ducks in first round.

- Oilers lost to Hurricanes in final.

2005: Playoffs cancelled due to lockout.

2004: 5 (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary)

- Canadiens lost to Lightning in second round.

- Senators lost to Leafs in first round.

- Leafs lost to Flyers in second round.

- Canucks lost to Flames in first round.

- Flames lost to Lightning in final.

FREE AGENT FOLLIES

The sight of Brad Richards decked out in Broadway Blue at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night must have left depressed Maple Leaf fans wondering what might have been ...

Thirsting to plug the first-line centre vacancy with the type of dominating player that has not filled the role since Mats Sundin, the Leafs fell short in their efforts to woo the then-unrestricted free agent Richards to Toronto last summer.

With Richards also leaving teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames at the altar in order to ink a deal with the New York Rangers, the Leafs were left looking at a Plan B in Tim Connolly, an alternative that has not worked out as hoped.

One year later, the class of pending unrestricted free agents looks like it will be thin again. Come July 1, New Jersey forward Zach Parise would appear to be the cream of the crop, although Devils head honcho Lou Lamoriello has made suggestions that Parise will not be going anywhere.

Here is a look at some of the top pending UFA’s agents at their respective positions:

CENTRES

Name Team 2011-012 Cap Hit

Olli Jokinen (Flames): $3 million

Jiri Hudler (Red Wings): $2.875 million

Jarret Stoll (Kings): $3.6 million

Jochen Hecht (Sabres): $3.525 million

Jason Arnott (Blues): $2.8 million

Daymond Langkow (Coyotes): $4.5 million

Kyle Wellwood (Jets): $700,000

Sammy Pahlsson (Blue Jackets): $2.65 million

Saku Koivu (Ducks): $2.5 million

Paul Gaustad (Sabres): $2.3 million

Chris Kelly (Bruins): $2.125 million

LEFT WING

Zach Parise (Devils): $6 million

Alexander Semin (Capitals): $6.7 million

Ryan Smyth (Oilers): $6.25 million

Kristian Huselius (Blue Jackets): $4.75 million

Dustin Penner (Kings): $4.25 million

Andrei Kostitsyn (Predators): $3.25 million

Ray Whitney (Coyotes): $3 million

Marco Sturm (Panthers): $2.25 million

Andrew Brunette (Blackhawks): $2 million

Sean Avery (FA): $1.938 million

Tomas Holmstrom (Red Wings): $1.875 million

Steve Sullivan (Penguins): $1.5 million

RIGHT WING

Jaromir Jagr (Flyers): $3.3 million

Shane Doan (Coyotes): $4.55 million

Teemu Selanne (Ducks): $4 million

Milan Hejduk (Avs): $3.6 million

Brad Boyes (Sabres): $4 million

Brian Rolston (Bruins): $5.062 million

Jamie Langenbrunner (Blues): $2.8 million

David Jones (Avs): $2.5 million

Mikael Samuelsson (Panthers): $2.5 million

David Moss (Flames): $1.3 million

Jordin Tootoo (Predators): $1.25 million

P.A. Parenteau (Islanders): $1.25 million

George Parros (Ducks): $875,000

DEFENCE

Ryan Suter (Predators): $3.5 million

Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings): $6.2 million

Dennis Wideman (Capitals): $3.875 million

Michal Rozsival (Coyotes): $5 million

Pavel Kubina (Flyers): $3.85 million

Brad Stuart (Red Wings): $3.75 million

Filip Kuba (Senators): $3.7 million

Barret Jackman (Blues): $3.625 million

Willie Mitchell (Kings): $3.5 million

John Oduya (Jets): $3.5 million

Matt Carle (Flyers): $3.438 million

Joe Corvo (Bruins): $2.25 million

Hal Gill (Canadiens): $2.25 million

Sami Salo (Canucks): $2 million

Greg Zanon (Bruins): $1.933,333

Johnny Boychuk (Bruins): $1.875 million

Sheldon Souray (Stars): $1.6 million

Nicklas Grossman (Flyers): $1.625 million

Matt Hunwick (Avalanche): $1.55 million

Brett Clark (Lightning): $1.5 million

Francis Bouillon (Predators): $1.35 million

Shane O’Brien (Avalanche): $1.1 million

Matt Gilroy (Lightning): $1 million

GOALIES

Martin Brodeur (Devils): $5.2 million

Tomas Vokoun (Capitals): $1.5 million

Josh Harding (Wild): $750,000

Cristobal Huet (Blackhawks): $5.625 million

Dwayne Roloson (Lightning): $3 million

Antero Niittymaki (Sharks): $2 million

Chris Mason (Jets): $1,85 million

Michael Leighton (Flyers): $1.55 million

Dan Ellis (Ducks): $1.5 million

Johan Hedberg (Devils): $1.25 million

Scott Clemmensen (Panthers): $1.2 million

Alex Auld (Senators): $1 million

Martin Biron (Rangers): $875,000

Ty Conklin (Red Wings): $750,000

Andrew Raycroft (Stars): $650,000

Al Montoya (Islanders): $601,000

Ray Emery (Blackhawks): $600,000

Curtis Sanford (Blue Jackets): $600,000

ZIZE’S WEEKLY PRIZES

* To The Pittburgh Penguins: A Blue Ribbon for being a class organization.

When the Pens faced off against the Nashville Predators this past week, each Pittsburgh player had a No. 3 sticker on the back of his helmet in memory of the late Wade Belak. Sometimes there are more important things than hockey.

* To Ilya Kovalchuk: A sharpshooter’s medal.

Entering play Saturday, the Devils’ sniper was 11-of-13 in shootouts this season. Incredible.

* To The Rangers and Devils: Ogie Hoglethorpe jerseys.

After dropping the gloves like the chief goon from the cult flick Slapshot while waiting for the opening faceoff on Monday at Madison Square Garden, shouldn’t they dress like him?

 


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