It has long ceased being surprising to hear Don Cherry praise Canadians at the expense of other nationalities. Pointing out that Cherry is jingoist is like saying that Patrick Kane likes to party. Silly Patrick: he should know that Rod is the only one who parties.
Just prior to game one, Cherry shouted his prediction for the series over top of the spectacularly loud introduction in the arena. My theory is that CBC knew he was going to be shouting anyway, so timed his segment for when his shouting wouldn’t seem out of place. Cherry wasted no time getting to the good stuff:
If you’re smart, you’re going to pick New Jersey for this thing – best goalie, higher in the standings, home-ice advantage – but I’m going to go with LA. I picked them at the start of the playoffs. They’re big, they’re mean, they might have a little rust, 7 days off, but y’know why I’m picking them? 23 North Americans, 14 Canadians, 8 guys from Ontario – heart and character, that’s why they’re going to win.
The most charitable interpretation would be that “heart and character” is a separate thought from him talking about North Americans, Canadians, and Ontarians. I’m not feeling charitable. Cherry was pretty clearly suggesting, as he has so many times in the past, that Europeans lack heart and character. That they don’t have what it takes to win in the playoffs.
Anyone hoping that this type of attitude would die when Nicklas Lidstrom captained the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup were sadly mistaken. Even as Lidstrom announces his retirement, Cherry is spouting the same tired horse twaddle. As Ellen Etchingham so elegantly pointed out, Anze Kopitar doesn’t even get to the NHL without heart and character and, after last night’s gamewinning overtime goal, he’s now tied with Dustin Brown for the team lead in scoring.
Really, I should have stopped paying attention when he suggested that the Devils would be the smart choice to win the Stanley Cup because they have the “best goalie.” Anyone suggesting that Martin Brodeur has been better in these playoffs than Jonathan Quick might actually be crazy. Seek help. But alas, I kept listening.
The Kings do indeed have 23 North Americans on their active roster, though just 18 of those have actually seen any ice time in the postseason. Of the 14 Canadians Cherry mentioned, 12 have actually played for the Kings in the playoffs. And that 8th player from Ontario is Kevin Westgarth, who played 25 regular season games for the Kings, but none yet in the playoffs. But his very presence on the roster as a “good ol’ Ontario boy” will definitely win the Cup for the Kings.
His defence for saying all this during the first Coach’s Corner of the evening is that Americans promote themselves all the time, apparently. He showed an article titled “Captains America,” which pointed out the fact that for the first time in NHL history, both the captains in a Stanley Cup Final were Americans. Apparently Cherry thinks this means the Americans are getting a bit too uppity and fought his own miniature War of 1812 by promoting the poor, underrated Canadians.
Canadians may be quiet about a lot of things, but hockey isn’t one of them. That defence doesn’t wash.
The thing is, someone can be xenophobic without being completely wrong. It’s completely unreasonable to argue that North Americans have more heart and character than Europeans, but it might be true that teams with a higher than average percentage of North Americans are more successful in the playoffs. There could be rational reasons for that: the rules and style of the NHL might favour players who were trained in that style in North America or perhaps players who grew up watching the NHL might have a stronger desire to win the Stanley Cup and give that extra 10% above 100 when necessary. But that’s speculation and there’s really no proof that either of those things are true.
But, just on the off-chance that Cherry has stumbled into the secret ingredient for winning Stanley Cups, let’s look at a few statistics.
There were 894 people who played at least one NHL game this season. Of those, 197 were from Ontario, 480 were Canadian, and 219 were American. That’s a grand total of 699 North Americans, making up 78.18% of the players in the NHL. Transposed onto the 25-man active roster that most teams carry, that would make for 19-and-a-half North Americans on the average team. We’ll assume the half is a dual-citizen.
So the Kings, with their 23 North Americans, are above average, while the Devils, who have just 14 North Americans, are below average. So what difference does that make? We’ll look at the Stanley Cup Finals since the lockout and see whether having more North Americans correlates with winning.
In 2011, the Canucks actually had more North Americans play in the playoffs than the Bruins, with 20 to the Bruins’ 17. The Bruins, however, had a slightly higher concentration, since they had fewer injuries and skated fewer players during the playoffs. 77.27% of their roster was from North America, compared to 74.07% of the Canucks’ roster. That must be why it went to 7 games.
In 2010, the Blackhawks and Flyers had equal numbers of Ontarians and Canadians, while the Flyers had an extra American. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to tilt the series in their favour, despite their starting goaltender, Michael Leighton, being from Petrolia, Ontario.
The 2009 Final fits the model, as the Penguins, with their 17 North Americans, defeated the Red Wings, who had just 12. Unfortunately, in 2008 the reverse was true, as the two teams had the same number of North Americans each, but the Red Wings came out victorious. A grand total of 5 players from Ontario participated in the two series.
Sanity prevailed in 2007, however, as the Ducks loaded up on Canadians, with a whopping 19 (including 9 from Ontario) and added 6 Americans to the mix. The poor Senators, who had just 13 Canadians and 2 Americans, didn’t stand a chance.
That doesn’t explain 2006, however, when the Oilers had 8 players from Ontario, a total of 15 Canadians, and 4 Americans, and still managed to lose to the Hurricanes, who had only 5 players from Ontario, 11 Canadians, but did have 6 Americans. A 19-to-17 edge in North Americans just couldn’t push the Oilers past the Hurricanes to the Cup.
So, what have we learned? Almost every team in the NHL has a lot of North Americans, because the NHL has a lot of North Americans. Because of this, a lot of the teams that face each other in the Final are pretty close in having a similar amount of North Americans in the lineup. Of the last 6 Cup winners, however, 4 of them had fewer North Americans than their opponents.
Hey, what do you know: Cherry’s half-baked analysis of the Stanley Cup Final is based on no evidence whatsoever. The Kings may still win the Cup this year, but it will be because they’re good at hockey, not because they have more heart and character from being born in North America.