Pat Hickey: Is this the year a Canadian NHL team finally breaks the Cup curse?

Vancouver and Winnipeg seem like the best bets to win Lord Stanley’s chalice for the first time since the Canadiens did it back in 1993.

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A number of Canadiens players will be rooting for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup this season, if for no other reason than they will not have to be constantly reminded that the trophy hasn’t resided in Canada since Montreal won in 1993.

“If we can’t win it, it would be good to see a Canadian team win,” rugged defenceman Arber Xhekaj said.

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There are four Canadian teams all but assured of a spot in the post-season and, with the exception of perennial pre-season favourite Toronto, there’s an argument to be made they all have the right stuff to be a winner.

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“I don’t think Toronto can win it because they rely on a few players and, if you stop them, they don’t have the depth,” said one player who asked to remain anonymous, presumably because he didn’t want to upset friends on other teams.

“Edmonton might have the same problem,” he added. “I think Vancouver has the most balanced team and Winnipeg is playing very well.”

Brendan Gallagher, whose off-season home is in Vancouver, likes the Canucks and so does Tanner Pearson, who spent five seasons in Vancouver.

“I still have a lot of friends there and I’d like to see them do well,” said Pearson. “We had a good run a few years ago and we were disappointed when we lost.”

That good run was in the COVID-plagued 2019-20 season which saw 24 teams make the playoffs, The Canucks had to win a qualifying round against Minnesota and beat St. Louis before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games.

The Canucks have led the Western Conference for much of this season and should serve as an inspiration for have-nots like the Canadiens. That 2020 run was the only time in the past eight seasons that Vancouver reached the playoffs.

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I’m going to be rooting for the Winnipeg Jets for a variety of reasons and they start with Rick Bowness. At 69, the hockey lifer is getting a chance to see what he can do with decent talent.

The Maritimer, who played his junior hockey in Quebec and Montreal, got his first NHL head coaching job with the original Winnipeg Jets in 1989. He coached some bad teams in Boston, Ottawa, Long Island and Arizona before leading Dallas to the Cup final in 2020.

I’m hoping a good run will boost the sagging season-ticket sales in Winnipeg. The Jets play in the second-smallest arena in the NHL, but there is no better atmosphere when the stands are filled.

The Jets have been in a three-way battle with Dallas and Colorado for first place in the Central Division and they added two popular former Canadiens for the stretch run.

They got a jump start on the trade deadline by picking up Sean Monahan from the Canadiens and the veteran has produced eight goals and two assists in 17 games.

The offence received another boost with the acquisition of Tyler Toffoli from New Jersey.

The two deals offer a glimpse into the dynamics of the deadline. The Jets were anxious to add a player before the trade frenzy and Montreal GM Kent Hughes was able to exact a first-round draft pick and a conditional third-rounder.

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New Jersey had hopes of a playoff spot and, when they finally faced reality and became a seller, all they could get for Toffoli was a second- and a third-round pick.

Women eye record: The PWHL will be looking for another record crowd when Montreal and Toronto clash in the Duel at the Top on the afternoon of April 20 at the Bell Centre. With more than 21,000 seats available, Montreal is hoping to top the 19,285 fans who watched Montreal and Toronto in the Battle on Bay Street, Feb. 16 at Scotiabank Arena. The Toronto game sold out in two hours and Montreal is hoping for a similar response when tickets go on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m.

On Sunday, Toronto and Montreal will play at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Toronto is the hottest team in the league with nine consecutive wins, while Montreal will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak.

Atlanta doubles down: The NHL has failed in Atlanta twice but there are now two groups looking for a franchise. A group fronted by former NHL player Anson Carter announced Wednesday it filed an expression of interest with the NHL

It’s proposing to build an arena as part of a multi-use development on the site of the struggling North Point Mall in Alpharetta, an affluent suburb 20 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Earlier this year, another group unveiled a similar proposal in Cumming, which is another 15 miles further out.

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