Hall of Famer Denis Savard on Canada’s Stanley Cup drought


Denis Savard looks back on the Stanley Cup he won with the Montreal Canadiens 30 years ago and assesses what has caused the Canadian drought.

It will be 30 years before the NHL playoffs in 2023 that a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup.

In 2022 the Edmonton Oilers would have been Canada’s only hope, but the Colorado Avalanche’s sweep of them in the Western Conference Finals ensures that the 1993 Montreal Canadiens will be the last North American team to win the iconic trophy.

Denis Savard, a Hall of Famer in hockey, was a member of the Montreal team which beat the Los Angeles Kings by 5-1 during the Finals in 1993. He still remembers vividly the moment of victory and its aftermath, even nearly 30 years after it happened.

He says, “I still get goosebumps when I think about it.” It’s an incredible feeling. It’s a great feeling, especially for a Montreal-born kid.

It’s heavy. The ultimate goal of any player is to reach the final buzzer, and then raise the trophy. You can’t take it away. As I watch the post-season, many great memories come back.

“That entire time was incredible. It was crazy. You’re right, there were many parties. “You can’t replicate that. You can’t invent that.”

Savard’s illustrious NHL career spanned 17 years and 1,196 games. But he may never have made it there without a pivotal moment during Game 2.

Jacques Demers, the Canadiens’ head coach, called a stick illegal on Marty McSorley when the Kings were 1-0 ahead in the series. The Kings would win 2-1 to give them a two-game lead in LA. McSorley was penalized with a minor of two minutes.

Demers pulled Patrick Roy from the goal to create the 6-on-4. Eric Desjardins then scored the second goal of the match to send it into overtime. He completed his hat trick in the extra time to secure the win.

Savard admits, “That was a huge step forward for us to win the Cup.” We had two men in mind, Marty McSorley and Luc Robitaille.

When you reach the final minutes of a match and are using an illegal stick you should switch to a legal one. You don’t wish to be penalized.

It was a risk, but it worked out well for us. In a desperate situation, we had no choice but to act. “We had nothing else to do but try and get some power.”

The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup and series by a 4-1 margin.

Savard is not sure if the situation would have changed if McSorley had been called out for using an illegal stick.

The series was very tough and physical. “LA faced Toronto seven times before the finals. Who knows?

He says, “But coming back from being two games down going to LA is very difficult, especially to win the series.” We probably would not have.

I don’t remember the last time a team was down by two points and went on to win the next three games, but the odds would not have been in our Favor.

Savard does not regret how things ended up for Montreal.

He says, “You want to win in the best way possible.” It’s not like we lost the game in a bad way. There was just one rule. It was the norm in those days.

We knew it as players. There was no doubt that we had players who used illegal sticks. It could have been any of us.

It’s okay to be greedy. I am glad that we have won. “It is what it was, and we got a good result.”

Savard could not have imagined that in 30 years, a Canadian hockey team would win only one Stanley Cup. This is especially true when you consider the dominance of Canada from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s.

Savard explains that there are two reasons for the Stanley Cup drought.

First, there is the incredible depth of talent that exists in the modern NHL.

He says, “It is pretty amazing that it has been this long.” This just shows you how deep our league is.

You’ve had franchises that have been in the league for a while and made it to the Finals. The process of building a winning team is very difficult. “It’s that simple.”

Savard argues that, at this time, players do not find the idea of playing hockey in Canada as attractive compared with the opportunity to play the sport in the United States.

He explains, “Players have a choice.” As a free agent, the player could choose to play in Florida for either Tampa or the Panthers.

When Canadian teams are close to reaching the top and need a free agent, they often don’t receive them.

They choose cities where it is a bit warmer for them and their families. Free-agent players going to other cities is part of the reason, I believe.

Savard believes that free agents will choose teams that they feel have the greatest chance to win.

I’ll use Toronto and [John] Tavares as an example. “He went there and signed thinking that he would win the Cup,” says he.

The closer the Canadian team gets to winning the Cup, the freer agents are likely to go. The ultimate goal of raising the Cup is the only thing that matters. There’s no question about whether it is Florida or Dallas.

Toronto is close, and they could achieve it in two or three years. Matthews is a leader, a player, and an excellent coach. They also have many other great players.

The Edmonton Oilers has the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid. If they can surround him and give him additional help sooner rather than later, they may win a couple of Cups. “That’s just how good he is.”

Some have blamed the lack of Stanley Cups won in Canada on Commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman has been responsible for expanding the NHL southwards into markets that are not traditional hockey markets.

Savard isn’t in agreement.

He admits, “I like expansion.” I think that the league did a fantastic job not only with expansion but also in changing rules throughout the years. Salary caps have created parity within the league NHL public betting.

Vegas was in the finals in 2009, and that is a brand-new team. The game attracted a great deal of attention. Many people were eager to see it.

The playoffs have been restructured so that you now get the Battle of Alberta and the Rangers in the first round. What could be better?

I think they have made a lot of improvements. The league has a very good balance. We have so many stars, and the crowds are huge. “Right now, the atmosphere is very appealing.”

Savard also has a positive outlook on the future of Canadian hockey, despite the lack of success in the playoffs north of the border.

Canada’s game. “Hockey is our sport,” says he. I don’t believe it will ever go away. Ever. It’s bound to happen sooner or later.

You look at the Canadian teams today, Edmonton and Calgary are very close. Toronto has a very good chance of winning the championship in two to three years. They’ve certainly learned from the past two years. This is a process of learning.

I don’t believe [the drought] will affect our game in any way. We’ll be okay as long as teams remain competitive.

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