Former NHL star Brett Hull has urged the Canadian government to do more to help the country’s professional ice hockey teams break their Stanley Cup drought.
Three out of the seven Canadian teams made it to the NHL play-offs this year and were aiming to end 30-years of hurt for the fiercely proud ice hockey nation.
However, Winnipeg Jets were knocked out in the first round, while Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs made it no further than round two.
Hull knows what it takes to win the NHL’s top prize, although he had to leave Canada and head to the United States to make it happen.
He was a member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams – Dallas Stars (1999) and Detroit Red Wings (2002) – so understands better than the most the challenges faced by Canadian franchises.
His move south of the border is a path still taken by many of Canada’s top players, who are lured to the US by more favourable employment conditions.
Excessive taxation is a big issue for Canadian sports stars, with many of them losing half of their earnings to federal, provincial and local taxes.
Hull believes the Canadian government should relax its stance on taxation in sport to give the country’s ice hockey teams a fighting chance against their US counterparts.
“They somehow have to be able to make it financially more suitable for players to come up there and play,” Hull told Betway.
“The cities, the people, are fantastic. Being a part of a Canadian team, you’re treated like gold.
“But I just think it’s hard to lure free agents and it’s hard to keep people into multi-year contracts because they just want to play theirs out and leave. That’s the biggest problem.”
While Canadian teams have previously won the Stanley Cup on 43 occasions, the country’s last success was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
In theory, the NHL Draft should create a level playing field in the league, but Canadian teams often find it difficult to retain their top talents.
It is a similar story in the free agency market, with the best players generally enticed by the greater earning potential of playing in the US.
Hull believes Canadian teams will find it tough to end their barren run in the Stanley Cup unless the country’s rulers do more to help them in the future.
“Looking at it from a team’s point of view, with the economy, the taxes, the weather, it’s hard to get superstar free agents to come and play for your team because of where they’re situated,” Hull added.
“It’s great to be a part of a Canadian franchise, but there’s also a lot of great teams in the United States and a lot of states that have no state tax.
“So that’s part of the problem, and that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s been such a drought.”
Given the length of time that has passed since a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup, pressure undoubtedly factors into the equation.
Fans are desperate to see the streak snapped, which places even more weight on the shoulders of the respective coaching staff and players.
That point was highlighted by the Jets in this season’s play-offs, with the team crumbling after taking the lead in the series against the Vegas Golden Knights.
They romped to a 5-1 victory in the opening game, but lost the next four by a combined scoreline of 18-9 to exit the post-season shoot-out.
The Oilers are another perfect example of a team that repeatedly fails to handle big-game pressure despite having some of the world’s top players at their disposal.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are among the best forwards in the league, but they are yet to deliver a Stanley Cup success to Edmonton.
The pair combined for a whopping 281 points during the regular season, sparking talk that the Oilers were finally ready to get their hands on the prestigious trophy.
They subsequently defeated the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the first round, but fell short in round two against the Golden Knights.
The Leafs have also been a repetitive tale of woe when it comes to winning titles, with their Stanley Cup drought dating all the way back to 1967.
They had gone 19 years without a series win in the play-offs, so their fans were naturally thrilled when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the first round.
However, they completely choked in round two, losing in five games against the Florida Panthers – the lowest-ranked team in the play-offs.
While the Oilers and Leafs remain the best hopes of snapping Canada’s Stanley Cup losing streak, it would be a brave move to back them to achieve the feat next season.
The Jets, Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks remain some way off challenging, which places even more burden on the other two teams.
Hull acknowledges that the pressure to deliver success does weigh heavily on the top players, but believes they should embrace the prestige of playing ice hockey in Canada.
“Playing for a Canadian team is a double-edged sword,” Hull said. “It’s the life bed of hockey, it’s the national sport, it’s everything up there apart from the Blue Jays (MLB) and the Raptors (NBA).
“Playing there is spectacular, and you become almost a household name. You look at [Auston] Matthews and [Mitch] Marner in Toronto and Draisaitl and McDavid in Edmonton.
“They’re all household names and they become very famous, but there’s also a lot of pressure on you to win for those Canadian teams.”