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Who should be Canada’s team in the 2020 NHL playoffs?

It was a year of promise. After the season was almost completely wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL returned to play with 24 teams, giving Canadian teams the best chance to win the Stanley Cup in a long time.

While the Cup will definitely be awarded in Canada (Edmonton specifically), it will not be hoisted by a Canadian team. The Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs failed to win their qualifying rounds to advance to the playoffs; the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens lost in Round 1; and the Vancouver Canucks lost in Round 2.

Officially, the Stanley Cup drought for Canadian teams is at 27 years, with no team hoisting the trophy since 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings.

Seven teams remain: the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the West, and the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning in the East. With only American based teams remaining, which one should be Canada’s team?

Vegas Golden Knights

Roster Breakdown

Vegas currently has 20 Canadians on their roster. Key Canadian players include Marc-Andre Fleury, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Rielly Smith, and Shea Theodore.

The Case For

Vegas is automatically a strong contender solely due to them having the most Canadians on their roster. And it’s not just the raw total either, Vegas boasts some of the best Canadians in the game. Fleury is a surefire hall of famer, Stone is probably the best two-way winger on the planet, and Theodore is turning into one of the best young defenders out there.

They finished first in the Pacific for good reason; Vegas is one of the best teams in the league and are definitely a favourite to win the West, especially now that Colorado has been eliminated. The longevity factor helps their case.

The Case Against

Out of all the cities in the USA, few are as iconically American as Las Vegas. Maybe New York and Los Angeles are more synonymous with the nation as a whole than Vegas, but it’s pretty close. If we’re really trying to find a team for Canada to throw it’s support behind, the fact that Vegas is so intertwined in American identity makes it a bit tougher to sell.

On top of that, Vegas is easily the most successful expansion team in NHL history which still has many fan bases with a sour taste in their mouths. It might be a tad unfair to expect fans of teams who have endured such despair for so long, like the Oilers and Senators, to cheer for the instantly successful Golden Knights. Not to mention they knocked out the last remaining Canadian team in the Canucks.

Dallas Stars

Roster Breakdown

Dallas currently has 13 Canadians on their roster. Key Canadian players include Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Corey Perry, and Jamie Oleksiak.

The Case For:

When you talk about star power, Dallas’ Canadian players sure have it, pun fully intended. The collective trophy case for just Benn, Seguin, and Perry is filled to the brim and Perry is probably one of the best Canadian players of all time.

What makes the Stars most compelling though, is their style of play. Canada has worked hard to develop the reputation of a peacekeeping nation. Never on the offensive, but mostly content with playing a defensive role and make sure things stay neutral. That’s basically the exact same way the Stars operate: defense first, excellent play in the neutral zone, and not very offensive (until the postseason).

The Case Against

Just like Vegas, Texas is one of the most iconic states in the USA. We’re not talking about the Stars from South Dakota, or Oregon, or Arkansas. This is Texas, home of big oil and the American dream. They were also responsible for knocking out one of the last standing Canadian teams in the Flames.

Dallas just isn’t a very Canadian team. They have the fewest Canadians out of the remaining teams, and the players who drive the bus aren’t Canadian for the most part. Miro Heiskanen, Alexander Radulov, Denis Gurianov, Joe Pavelski, John Klingberg, Ben Bishop; none of these players hail from Canada. Tough for a team with such little Canadian representation to be chosen as Canada’s team.

New York Islanders

Roster Breakdown

New York currently has 18 Canadians on their roster. Key Canadian players include Mat Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

The Case For:

In many ways, the Islanders are the less objectionable and less in-your-face New York team. New York is probably the most iconic American state, but the Rangers are more synonymous with the state and city than the Islanders. With 18 Canadians on their current roster, they are a close second to Vegas, and they have the quality to match the quantity. Barzal is already one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, and with a supporting cast of scrappy, hard-working, responsible players alongside him, the Islanders are a great candidate for Canada’s team.

Despite being an absolute powerhouse in the 1980s, he Isles haven’t had a ton of recent success. They definitely have an underdog feel to them with Barry Trotz leading them through the trenches against what look like much more superior teams. They’ve risen up against them all so far, what’s to say then can’t go all the way?

The Case Against

At the end of the day, the Islanders are still in New York and New York equals USA. If the Islanders end up winning the Stanley Cup, it’ll be an American in Anders Lee to hoist it first, and an American in Andy Greene who will probably lift it second as the elder statesman of the club.

Canada may be well represented on this team, but it might not be enough for Canada to jump on the New York bandwagon.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Roster Breakdown

Tampa Bay currently has 14 Canadians on their roster. Key Canadian players include Steven Stamkos (injured), Anthony Cirelli, and Brayden Point.

The Case For:

The Lightning may have one of the lowest number of Canadian roster players, but when they’re captained by a player like Stamkos and being led by Point, it’s hard not to feel proud of Canada when watching the Lightning.

It’s a team that was built by one of the best Canadians to ever play the game in Steve Yzerman, who did all the right things to construct one of the most dominant teams in recent memory. The Lightning winning the Stanley Cup would be a testament to the work done by a true Canadian hockey icon.

The Case Against

With only 14 Canadians on the roster, the Lightning aren’t starting out on the best of feet. Throw in the fact that their leading scorer in Nikita Kucherov is from Russia, their starting goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy is from Russia, and their top defenseman in Victor Hedman is from Sweden and the Lightning might just not have the representation they need.

The biggest nail in their coffin though is the fact that they robbed a Canadian team from snapping the Stanley Cup drought in 2004 when the Flames’ would-be series winner was not counted in Game 6 of the final. It’s still a tough pill to swallow for Canadian hockey fans.

The Verdict

As compelling the cases were for each team, it seems like the one we should don as Canada’s team moving forward is the New York Islanders. Their underdog status throughout the playoffs combined with the strong Canadian representation makes them a great choice. Add in the fact that they have the chance to take out the Lightning and you’ve got yourself a perfect pick for Canada’s team.

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