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Canadians Hope For An End To 22-Year Stanley Cup Drought

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Canada likes hockey the way Brazil likes soccer. It's a national obsession. The Montreal Canadiens won a record 24th Stanley Cup in 1993. And since then, titles have been won by teams from such unlikely hockey hotbeds as Raleigh, N.C., Tampa and Los Angeles. But in 22 years, no team from Canada has won the cup. This year, the long national nightmare may finally be over. There are five Canadian teams in the playoffs. That's 5 out of 16. And joining us from the CBC in Toronto is Cameron French, who wrote about this for Reuters. Welcome to the program.

CAMERON FRENCH: Hi, thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: I jokingly called the 22-year drought a long national nightmare. But for Canadians it's not such a joke, eh?

FRENCH: Not so much. I mean, it's not exactly a crisis of hockey confidence because Canada's still producing top NHL players. Canada's winning Olympic medals. But not having the cup come to a Canadian city for two decades is a sort of strange, baffling, maybe a bit humiliating thing that really sort of comes alive this time of year.

SIEGEL: Yeah. I should note, in the National Hockey League, just over half the players are Canadian - 7 of the 30 teams are in Canada. So why? Why hasn't a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup in all these years?

FRENCH: You know, with this kind of thing, there's always a bunch of factors. And first off, we should say there's a little bit of bad luck there. Five of the finals since that Montreal win have included a Canadian team, and four of them went to a game seven, which means that a Canadian team was within a goal or two of winning the cup, a couple of bounces either way. And if that happens, you know, this issue is not nearly what it is.

But there are fundamental reasons as well. In the '90s, the Canadian dollar was down the mid-60s cents versus the U.S. dollar. That put some of the smaller Canadian teams on the ropes financially.

SIEGEL: But that's no longer the case.

FRENCH: No. The Canadian dollar rebounded in the early part of the 2000s and a salary cap was implemented in 2005. So there's no longer an economic excuse. You know, we can only blame luck and bad management at this point, I guess.

SIEGEL: Do Canadian teams have any special access to Canadian talent, or is it just all in the NHL draft?

FRENCH: Yeah, the draft makes sure that the talent's distributed fairly evenly. There is a free-agent market as well, but some of the Canadian teams would say that it's actually tougher to get players to come back here because, you know, you've got, in the U.S., a lot of southern cities with very pleasant climates. And would a player rather go there than go play in Alberta, where it's -25 Celsius in winter? And also, I mean, a lot of people would say that there's a bit more pressure playing at home. You know, a Montreal player in Montreal trying to play in Toronto - some would relish that, but some would say it's maybe a better lifestyle to go to the U.S. and play on a team where hockey's not the center of everyone's attention.

SIEGEL: Do you think it's really that much more meaningful to fans in Toronto for a team in Calgary to win the Stanley Cup than it is for a team in Buffalo to win the Stanley Cup?

FRENCH: Not necessarily. You know, a Toronto fan would probably not be too happy to see Montreal go that deep. A Calgary fan would almost never root for Edmonton. It's just kind of the notion that the Stanley Cup, which is, you know, a Canadian trophy - it's a beloved national treasure, but it hasn't been on a Stanley Cup parade in Canada since 1993.

SIEGEL: Since this is a perennial conversation over the past couple of decades, are Canadians getting sick of hearing about the Stanley Cup drought?

FRENCH: Sure, but they're getting sick of it existing. I guess when people start talking about it again, there's a bit of eye-rolling - not this conversation again. But at the same time, I think everyone in this country carries a bit of frustration for it.

SIEGEL: Cameron French, thanks for talking with us today.

FRENCH: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Cameron French spoke to us from Toronto, where he writes about hockey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.