A Very Canadian Cup Final

WELL, they tried; but give the Ottawa Senators credit: they had, hands down, their greatest season ever and could promise to do even more damage next spring. Yes, it is very disappointing for Canadians to have sit through a record ninth straight year without a Canadian team in the Stanley Cup Finals, but, despite all the disappointment, there’s probably never been a better year than this in recent memory for Canadians to get excited about the Cup Finals, since these Finals are very Canadian in spirit.First off, the majority of the key players- on both sides- are Canadian. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks have such stalwarts as Paul Karyia, Adam Oates, and Mike LeClerc, not to mention the fact the biggest name in these playoffs- Jean-Sebastien Giguere- is a Canadian himself, a product of Montreal. On the New Jersey Devils, there’s Jeff Friesen, Scott Stevens and John Madden, not to mention another Montrealer in Martin Brodeur. Sure, there’s other nationalities who also play a big role (and not to discredit their roles either)- like Americans Keith E. Carney and Scott Gomez, Russian Stanislav Chistov and Czech Patrik Elias- but if cheering on fellow Canadians is the trick, both teams have plenty to go about.

Secondly, the stories surrounding both clubs are Canadian in nature. From my experience as a Canadian myself, we’ve always liked to see ourselves as the perennial underdogs, people who get no respect yet triumph against all odds. That exact same mentality surrounds both clubs. With the Ducks, it’s obviously easy to see why: before this year, Anaheim was written off everyone’s playoff pools before a single regular season game started. In fact, nobody- up until now- would have ever counted the Ducks in for the Cup Final, probably best summed up by the TSN commentary after the Ducks swept the Detroit Red Wings: “everyone thought this series would go to four, but nobody thought it would go to the Ducks”. Eight wins later- over the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild, no less- and here they are, competing for Lord Stanley’s Mug.

The Devils’ story entails a lot more than the Ducks’ story, but it’s still there. Up until very recently- and we’re talking 1997- New Jersey had been, for years, seen as a downtrodden franchise, one that would never amount to anything in the long run. Before 1988 (when the Devils played Cinderella and got all the way to the Conference championship), New Jersey had been to the playoffs just once- as the Colorado Rockies in 1977. The following year, the Devils didn’t even make the playoffs, and it wasn’t until 1994 that they actually advanced past the first round (though remember back then it was much easier to qualify for the post-season). In 1994, New Jersey managed to get all the way up until a Game 7 in the Conference Finals, but despite all that, they didn’t manage to earn any respect. In 1995, New Jersey rode a wave of support, playing Cinderella again all the way up to the Cup, sweeping “big, bad” Detroit. In 1997, the Devils began three straight years being the top regular season team in the Eastern Conference, only to fall each year in the first round of the playoffs. It wasn’t until 2000 that New Jersey won again, and managed to almost repeat in 2001, being the first team in National Hockey League history to have their hopes at repeating dashed in Game 7 of the Cup Final. Last year, we all remember the Devils losing the Carolina Hurricanes, that year’s Cinderella story, and this year, well, we’re working on it.

However, the point here is that it’s not until recently would anyone think New Jersey would become a major player in the NHL, just like Anaheim. Even with all the wins, the Devils still don’t enjoy nearly the support Detroit, Colorado or Dallas enjoy (failing to produce sellouts for one), and, for all intents and purposes, are still seen as the poor cousin to the teams out West or even the Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers out East. Try as they might, New Jersey are simply seen as a glorified Ducks, and even if they do win, it still might not even be enough.

If nothing else, Canada, just remember this: as “bad” as Colorado, Detroit or Dallas may be, throwing money at just about everyone to build their teams, New Jersey builds their team the right way. None of their trades for major players involve the Devils giving up piecemeal (like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jaromir Jagr) and are actually, reasonably, fair (Jason Arnott for Joe Nieuwendyk, Petr Sykora for Jeff Friesen), and the Devils’ biggest gun, Brodeur, is one of their draft picks and has been within the franchise since he was drafted in 1990. Their payroll is reasonably fair (I’m not sure what the number is, but I’m fairly certain it’s below $45 million) and they have players like Brodeur and Stevens playing for far less than market value (they’re playing for $7 million a year). So, if nothing else, New Jersey are not nearly as “better off” as Detroit, Colorado and Dallas are to the Canadian teams.

So, cheer up Canada. Our teams may be gone, but it’s still a very Canadian final nonetheless; and, if people still refuse to believe me, well, at least I tried.