Two years ago in this space we celebrated the fact that five Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs. One year ago, we were commiserating with readers because zero Canadian teams made it.
And now here we are a year later, and there are five of our teams competing for the Stanley Cup. From ecstasy to agony to ecstasy in two years.
That's NHL hockey. Thanks to the spending cap, it's hard to remain a dominant team (or a bottom-dweller) year after year. For the majority of teams in the middle of the rankings, making the playoffs can depend on getting a few lucky bounces.
Take the Calgary Flames. They're in the post-season after recording 94 points – the same number earned by two teams that didn't make it. It wouldn't have taken much for the Flames to be emptying out their lockers right now.
This spring, the Flames join the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Oilers in the final 16. It's an excellent showing, but no one should think it is reflective of the health of hockey in Canada.
Hockey is "our" game, but the NHL is not "our" league. Based in New York City, it sees all of its growth potential outside of this country. The league doesn't want too many Canadian teams making the playoffs, or too many Canadians teams, period. (Sorry, Quebec City.) On the contrary, the more American franchises in the playoffs, the greater the opportunity to grab U.S. media attention.
That is Canada's plight. The NHL is not designed to soothe our jingoism, even though it relies on our talent and our game to sell eyeballs and tickets.
It's a bit like the French turning over control of their cuisine to a multinational conglomerate, and then hoping to see themselves in the products that result. All the best ingredients and expertise would still come from France, but they would end up in macaroni and cheese instead of pommes de terres salardaises.
At the end of the day, measuring the health of our game by the number of Canadian teams in the post-season is misguided. It'll give you emotional whiplash. But there's this consolation: On some perfect nights in April and May, in arenas across the continent, the NHL's financial games can be temporarily forgotten and even forgiven, transcended by the joy of the game itself.