Oilers’ Deep Playoff Run Makes Them Canada’s Team

As the last remaining Canadian team left in the search for a Stanley Cup, the Edmonton Oilers’ chances just became very slim. Regardless of the outcome of the Western Conference Final where the year-long Stanley Cup favourite Colorado Avalanche are one win away from advancing, the Oilers have surprised and emerged as what should be considered “Canada’s Team” this year and moving forward.

It is common knowledge that the two most popular teams, not only in Canada but also in the NHL, are the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. This of course is due to the amount of time they have been around and the success each have had winning Stanley Cups. Though, neither of them have had too much playoff success since the Canadiens last won the Cup in 1993.

Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

The Canadiens had a very unlikely run to the Stanley Cup last season after they came out of the North Division consisting of exclusively Canadian teams. They finished 18th overall in the league and still qualified for postseason action. The Oilers were swept in a very close series to the Winnipeg Jets while the Maple Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead to the Canadiens before sweeping the Jets in Round 2.

After upsetting the Vegas Golden Knights and making the Cup Final, the Canadiens were run over by the Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to their second consecutive Stanley Cup. This season, they proved what many said last season was, in fact, a fluke, as they finished last in the NHL and would’ve been completely irrelevant if not for Martin St. Louis taking over as head coach. Even with the first overall pick in 2022 and likely more high picks to come in the coming years, they won’t be relevant again unless they start making waves by winning games.

The Maple Leafs ended this season like they’ve ended the last four, losing in the first round of the playoffs. Fans are getting very frustrated with the team as a whole after dominating in the regular season year after year. Since 2017-18, they have the third-most wins (220) and points (478) in the NHL but have just 14 playoff wins which rank 13th. They also have absolutely zero series victories to speak of.

Maple Leafs’ management have tried different things each season while their stars consistently disappear in the playoffs. William Nylander was the only star who stepped up during the 2021 Playoffs, while the core five players finally all contributed and finished with the most points on the team during the first round this season. As another campaign goes by, while the Maple Leafs can’t make a deep run at the very least, the less hope everyone has in the organization as a whole (from “Maple Leafs lose in first round of playoffs: ‘We’re getting sick and tired of feeling like this’”, The Athletic, May 15, 2022).

The Oilers pushed further than the Maple Leafs have in the playoffs since 2001-02 and didn’t do it on the back of one player like the Canadiens and Carey Price did during last season’s run.

Oilers Won the Battle of Alberta and Pushed Further Than Any Other Canadian Team in Playoffs

Only three Canadian teams qualified for the playoffs this season: Oilers, Calgary Flames, and the Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs exited in the first round as they usually do without fail, while the Oilers and Flames both took their Round 1 series to seven games and won to set up the Battle of Alberta for the first time since 1991.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The two teams came out and delivered an explosive throwback game in Game 1 which ended 9-6. The Oilers eventually defeated the Flames in the next four games to close out the series in five, all of which were closely contested. With the Maple Leafs already eliminated, the Battle of Alberta had a little higher stakes as it would determine the last remaining Canadian team standing and in some people’s eyes, be considered Canada’s team on that fact alone.

This series also featured a couple of NHL records broken by an Oiler as Leon Draisaitl recorded four assists in one period and also registered five consecutive games with three or more points. The Oilers have one of the most potent offences in the league and put on a show almost every night, providing entertaining hockey whenever they’re playing.

Oilers’ Roster Filled With Canadians

The Oilers have had 24 players dress for them in a game in the 2022 Playoffs. 17 of those players are Canadian, and that excludes Devin Shore who is also Canadian and hasn’t played a playoff game but is on the active roster. The only non-Canadian players on the Oilers include Draisaitl (Germany), Jesse Puljujarvi (Finland), Kailer Yamamoto (U.S.A.), Derek Ryan (U.S.A.), Philip Broberg (Sweden), and Mikko Koskinen (Finland).

Oilers' Deep Playoff Run Makes Them Canada's Team
2022 Edmonton Oilers’ Roster (source: hockey-reference.com)

The Oilers don’t only have their active roster filled with Canadians, their entire system is filled with them. Notable top prospects that are Canadian include, Dylan Holloway, Raphael Lavoie, Carter Savoie, Xavier Bourgault, Stuart Skinner, Ryan Fanti, and Oliver Rodrigue while other players who have dressed for the Oilers this season are Slater Koekkoek, Tyler Benson, Brendan Perlini, Kyle Turris, Colton Sceviour, and Seth Griffith.

Yes, a few of the non-Canadians on the Oilers are key players, but the captain, Connor McDavid, starting goaltender Mike Smith, longest-tenured Oiler Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and top defenceman Darnell Nurse are all Canadian which also have 11 of the top 13 playoff scorers being the same nationality. A true Canadian or American team should consist of a majority of players from that country, but also have the success to come with it.

Judging the Remaining Canadian Teams

As for the rest of the field, the four other Canadian teams – Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Canadiens, and Jets, all missed the playoffs.

The Canucks had a great second half but were in too deep of a hole when Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach to pull them out of it and into the playoffs. They have qualified for the postseason in only one of the past seven seasons, winning the qualifying round and then Round 1 in the NHL Bubble (2019-20). The Canucks are also without a Stanley Cup and have been around since 1970.

The Jets failed to meet expectations after making it to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons where they won three total rounds along with a Western Conference Final appearance. They were mediocre last season and missed the playoffs. They have started to become more relevant over the past few seasons, however, they have only made the playoffs in one other campaign after relocating to Winnipeg before the 2011-12 season. This franchise or any other Jets team, for that matter, has never won the Stanley Cup in a total of 28 seasons and 16 playoff appearances.

Winnipeg Jets Celebrate
Winnipeg Jets Celebrate (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Senators are the other Canadian team without a Stanley Cup in the modern era after bringing the franchise back in 1992-93. They were much more relevant in the early to mid-2000s during the Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley era, but haven’t made the playoffs since their 2017 Eastern Conference Final appearance. General manager Pierre Dorian was confident in saying the rebuild was over but rephrased his statement regarding where the team was at after they found themselves at the bottom of the standings again. They finished 26th, and despite having some hope for the future, they still appear to be a few years away from being relevant. As the smallest market team in Canada and a horrible arena location, it makes it difficult to get to games and for allegiances to switch within Ontario from the Maple Leafs to the Senators.

The Canadiens will be rebuilding for some time as they tore everything down this season, have some bad contracts, and their captain Shea Weber’s career is most likely done, but he will wait out the contract before signing the retirement papers.

Related: Oilers’ Season on Life Support Due to Mike Smith’s Weak Goals Against

After being the most successful team this season, having the best Canadian hockey player and overall best player in the world, a roster full of Canadians, and little hope north of the border, the Oilers have proven they are Canada’s team for the foreseeable future.

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