An American team will once again win the Stanley Cup this year and the Montreal Canadiens remain the last Canadian champions, almost 30 years ago.
If all teams had the same chance of winning the championship every year, the probability that a Canadian team would not win the cup in 29 years would only be 0.7%. Bad luck cannot be the only explanation for this scarcity.
Money has long been a factor. During the 1990s, player salaries skyrocketed and there was no salary cap, so the wealthiest teams grabbed the best players. The dominant formations of the time maintained unequaled payrolls for Canadian teams whose finances were weighed down by the unfavorable exchange rate and by the aftermath of an economic crisis that was harsher in Canada than in the United States. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs had the resources to compete with the wealthier clubs.
The salary cap put in place following the 2004-2005 lockout establishes parity between the teams. All Canadian teams are now able to maintain a payroll at the ceiling level. Money is no longer a factor.
Some argue that Canadian teams fail to attract the best because taxes are higher in Canada. This argument does not hold water.
First, the Canadian teams manage to recruit the best players: Connor McDavid, the best player in the league, plays in Edmonton, and Toronto has attracted John Tavares, a particularly coveted free agent. Then, Allan Walsh, an influential players’ agent, revealed that his foals could use tax schemes such as retirement agreements to be taxed less than in the United States.
win in the short term
What are the causes of this crossing of the desert? In my opinion, and this is only a theory, Canadian teams tend to be more short-term winners than American teams, which hurts their chances of developing a competitive core of players.
There seem to be two complementary ways to build a champion team: maximizing the value of team assets by trading good players before they become free agents, and finishing low in the standings to draft otherwise unreachable future stars. Both of these strategies require taking a step back in the short term in order to improve the team in the long term. These are necessary conditions, but not sufficient: finishing at the bottom of the table does not guarantee winning the Cup, but (almost) all the dominant teams of recent years have done so.
Unlike American teams, Canadian teams operate in markets where hockey is the most important sport. Canadian teams are popular if they stay in playoff contention.
We only observe a disaffection of the supporters when their team flounders at the bottom of the classification. The dying Canadian rarely filled the Bell Center this winter, but the amphitheater is full to cheer on an average team that remains in the playoff race.
Thus, Canadian teams usually finish in the middle of the rankings and therefore can rarely draft in the top three. To avoid the wrath of fans and the media, they are reluctant to trade their best players at the right time. For example, to win in the short term, the former GM of the Canadian Marc Bergevin, lost Tatar and Danault on the free agent market and offered monstrous contracts to Petry and especially to Gallagher, annihilating their market value. Each of these players could have yielded assets to build a more competitive team in the long run. Conversely, when Bergevin was forced to trade Pacioretty in his prime, he got Suzuki, the cornerstone of the team’s rebuild.
This strategy relentlessly leads to a collapse, forcing the team to rebuild, which is what the Canadian is going through right now. However, because the pressure to win in the short term is unbearable, the Canadian teams never complete their reconstruction. They will quickly seek to obtain reinforcements, which encourages them to get rid of promising young players to obtain veterans, at the risk of unbalancing their salary structure. The hiring of John Tavares in Toronto is a clear example.
Conversely, building a dominant club is the only way to stand out in an American market where the hockey team is much less popular than other sports teams. American teams are therefore better able to accept the sacrifices necessary to create long-term champion teams.
At least, the staff of the Canadian and the supporters finally seem to have understood that the club will not be able to claim serious honors without thinking in the long term, even if it means making sacrifices in the short term.