It’s here, finally.
The only reason to celebrate the coming of winter officially arrived yesterday: The start of the NHL season.
For the next six months or so, hockey fans around the country will be watching every night as they cheer their respective teams toward the playoffs.
For fans of the western Canadian franchises, those hopes are likely to fade sooner, rather than later.
The Vancouver Canucks are sorta, kinda in a rebuilding mode. They have some of the old guard remaining – namely the Sedin twins, and defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler, but with a new president, a new general manager and a new coach, a new philosophy is also in place. It will take time to get back to the glory days of battling for the President’s Trophy, much less the Stanley Cup. Previous management was too shortsighted to keep the shelves stocked for the future and now we, the fans, must pay the price.
Much the same can be said of the situation in Calgary. The Flames are now in a full-blown rebuild, and again, due to a “play for today” philosophy, it’s going to take some time.
In Edmonton, it’s the exact opposite. The Oilers seem to forever be stocking the shelves and setting themselves up for a rosy future, but management continues to fumble when it comes to acquiring veteran help to guide the young talent.
At least their defence should be better than the past few seasons, where their breakout play of choice was a face-off at centre ice.
The argument is that no one wants to live in the Great White North. Edmonton is perennially voted among the bottom one or two places of choice when players are polled.
It wasn’t always like that, and therein lies the irony.
For all the good Wayne Gretzky did the NHL by developing hockey fever in southern California, and, as an off-shoot, Florida, that has hurt hockey in Canada and particularly in Edmonton. Winnipeg and, to a lesser degree, Calgary, are in the same boat. Who would want to withstand weeks on end of -30C temperatures when you can choose to ply your trade in sunny Florida, where you can work in relative anonymity and collect millions doing so?
As much as I love Canada, I understand the logic.
So now, fans in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary suffer in the same division as NHL powerhouses L.A., San Jose and Anaheim.
With only the top three teams from the division guaranteed playoff spots, the three Canadian teams in the Pacific Division are destined to be battling five other teams for one of two wild card spots.
Included in those five others will likely be the Winnipeg Jets, who are in not much better of a situation than their more westerly Canadian brethren.
And when you consider that Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas are all in the Central Division, the reality is that there is only one wild card spot remaining.
The Canadian teams in the Eastern Conference have their own issues.
For the second straight season, the Ottawa Senators lost their captain, as Jason Spezza was traded to the Dallas Stars, for “potential” and a draft pick.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are … well… the Toronto Maple Leafs. By April it will be 48 years and counting.
Aside from the Montreal Canadiens, who made a believer out of me last year, that you don’t need size to win games in this league anymore, it could be a long, long winter for Canadian hockey fans.
Still, there’s hope. And that’s what makes October great.
Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record