There's an annual tradition in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where the last remaining Canadian franchise, attempting to bring the chalice north-of-da-border for the first time since 1993, is anointed "Canada's team" by the barometer of public sentiment, the newspaper editorial page. "The Winnipeg Jets are the perfect team for all Canadians to root for, and we should do so with abandon!" wrote the Globe & Mail. (The exclamation point was mine.)
Then there's another annual tradition in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where legions of Canadians declare that the concept of "Canada's team" is absurd, because the country is split up into warring factions of die-hard fans who view anyone else winning the chalice as "not us." Please note this is especially true for those fans that inhabit the Centre of the Hockey Universe.
Here's the thing: The Winnipeg Jets are not Canada's team, despite being anointed as such by members of Parliament, and I wish the U.S. Congress had that kind of time on their hands. They're a team that plays in Canada, and they have some Canadian virtue, but they're not Canada's team.
There's another team worthy of such a distinction. It's just that they play in an area better known for stealing Canadian teams rather than embodying them.
Yes, friends. The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team.
Allow me to explain. First, the head count. As the conference finals began, the Golden Knights had more Canadian players than the other three contenders:
The Vegas Golden Knights are the most Canadian���� Team remaining in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Winnipeg Jets are overwhelmingly the most American���� Team remaining. pic.twitter.com/jkzU7XGH2O
- Hockeytoronto.com (@hockeytoronto) May 16, 2018
But beyond that, they have the fewest American players. Nate Schmidt and Alex Tuch are basically the only U.S.-born players who see significant ice time. Contrast that with CaTINO (Canada's team in name only). The Jets have roughly 10 players from the United States, ranging from captain Blake Wheeler to Dustin Byfuglien to Paul Stastny to Connor Hellebuyck. From a personnel perspective, the Jets are about as Canadian as Toby Keith.
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because Nevada might as well be an honorary province. According to the Business Council of Canada and Nevada, which is a thing that exists, 1.7 million Canadians visit Nevada annually, which would make it the third largest city in Canada. The siren's song of affordable hockey tickets and warm weather is undeniable.
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because they embody the shared values of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice." And that's just Ryan Reaves.
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because they play the way Canadians are always complaining more teams should play. They were fifth in goals per game (3.27) in the regular season while rolling four lines and skating teams out of the building with nary a neutral zone trap, which had been a hallmark of NHL expansion teams since the mid-1990s. This isn't to say the Jets don't also "play the right way," having averaged 3.33 goals per game. But again, basically half the team is American so, like, they don't even know about hockey.Vegas' Jonathan Marchessault is essentially the embodiment of the Canadian hockey dream. Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because of Jonathan Marchessault, who is basically the embodiment of the Canadian hockey dream. He was an undrafted free agent from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, because he was a 5-foot-9 forward and scored only 40 goals with the Quebec Remparts. He bounced around the NHL from the New York Rangers' organization to the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Florida Panthers, who decided they didn't want him because he was a 5-foot-9 forward and scored only 30 goals. It's the proverbial story of the young Canadian boy who works hard, plays hard and eventually earns a six-year, $30 million extension, Conn Smythe buzz and this car:
- Tyler Corder (@tcordervegas) May 5, 2018
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because of Marc-Andre Fleury, who is a proud Canadian, unlike Hellebuyck, who is an American, and therefore inferior. Fleury has a chance to potentially make the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is indeed located in Canada, because of course it is.
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because of Gerard Gallant, who is Canadian to the point where he's from Prince Edward Island. This is a coach whose former non-traditional market team fired him after a division championship and then made him call a Shame Cab from the arena. Like any true Canadian, Gallant kept his head high, until he lowered it to see the ridiculous check the Knights cut to hire him.
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who [checks notes] was born in Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, but really sort of sounds Canadian, right?
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because their hearts will go on and on:
- TheDionFamily (@TheDionFamily) November 20, 2017
The queen has spoken.
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because the legacy of the Canadian Football League's Las Vegas Posse will not be ignored nor denied, especially that time their anthem singer sang "O Canada" to the tune of "O Christmas Tree."
The Stanley Cup playoffs on ESPN
The Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because they played by the rules. Granted, they were incredibly generous, unprecedented rules, but what else does one expect when one pays $500 million for a hockey team -- or $644 million Canadian?
Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights are Canada's team because Canada needs a Vegas Stanley Cup win as much as the NHL needs a Vegas Stanley Cup win. It needs something unpredictable, uncategorical, unquantifiable and unbelievable. It needs a playoff newbie to burn postseason norms in a bonfire of the vanities. It needs every single owner to look at every single general manager with narrowed eyes when it's suggested ancillary players are given fat and happy contracts, instead of keeping them hungry like the Knights are. It needs an expansion team to win the Stanley Cup to underscore that no one knows anything.
And if they win ... well, that's a lot of revenue pouring into one franchise, which means they probably wouldn't require revenue sharing welfare -- which would be very Canadian of them.Jersey foul of the week
Las Vegas is rapidly becoming a haven for jersey fouls. Why wouldn't a city that gave a residency to Carrot Top also frivolously spend money on goofball name plates?
- Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) May 17, 2018
This Tuch tribute jersey will also bounce off of Byfuglien. Meanwhile ...
- Kevaney Martin (@KevaneyMartin) May 17, 2018
These couples jerseys are like one of those grandiose hats at the Kentucky Derby that looks like someone purchased everything at a Lexington craft store and glued it to their heads: great for a photo opportunity, utterly impractical otherwise. There's always going to be one half of the couple walking around in some dumb "STORY" jersey.Listen to ESPN ON ICE
Brian Boucher is one of our favorite broadcasters with whom to talk puck, and he brought it in our conversation about Pekka Rinne, Fleury and the complicated relationship between goalies and referees. That, plus plenty of conference finals chatter and an in-depth discussion on legalized betting in hockey. Stream it here, or grab it on iTunes here.Puck headlines
Get ready for the 2018 NHL draft
Date: June 22-23 Host city: Dallas, Texas
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Any love for Eddie Olczyk is worth the read. [Chicago Tribune]
Paul Maurice has been around the block a few times. [The Athletic]
What one dude learned coaching a travel hockey team. "It's one thing to watch and be around teams and think that you understand a bit of what goes into success. It's another to be in there every day with a team and trying to make it happen." [SCTimes]
How does a youth hockey league not notice $200,000 is missing? [ABC 13]
The ongoing coverage of Alex Ovechkin's chicken parm obsession is better than playoff beard stories. "It's a tradition from day one," Ovechkin told Kaplan. "They have the Italian food always when we came to the rink, and it's very delicious." [Washington Post]
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
Why do certain players fight more than others? "The facial structure is a reliable cue of aggressive behavior." [Grandstand Central]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Read Emily Kaplan's piece on Humboldt bus crash survivor Kaleb Dahlgren. It's incredibly moving.