With the new season almost upon us and a refreshing sense of normal familiarity returning to the league, seven teams from Canada will embark on a quest to end the soon-to-be 29-year wait to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup home. While we do live in the now and it’s up to new heroes to make their mark, it’s always fun to play fantasy, and wonder what former players would make a pivotal difference for their perspective teams this season.
Taking into account each team’s strengths and weaknesses, here’s a list of one former player for each Canadian franchise that would be a welcomed addition this year. Starting with last place in the North Division last season and working our way up the standings.
Vancouver Canucks – Mattias Ohlund, Defenceman
The Canucks must be feeling good about their forward line this season, the signing of Elias Petterson sure’s up a top-six that is certainly capable of scoring and causing problems for most of the league’s defences. It was the other end of the rink however that could weigh down Travis Green’s side.
Vancouver gave up more five-on-five chances than any other team last year and while Quinn Hughes has the potential to become a franchise defender, the Canucks could be doing with a bonafide star on the blue line.
That’s where Mattias Ohlund comes. The Calder nominee Swede still holds the record for goals and points, providing yet another scoring threat for Canucks as well as assurance at the back thanks to his defensive prowess. Renowned as well for his leadership, Ohlund could be perfect to help mentor Hughes and take his game as well to the next level. Ohlund possesses the perfect combination of defensive skills, leadership and scoring instincts that would truly take this team to the next level.
Ottawa Senators – Craig Anderson, Goaltender
There’s reason for optimism in the nation’s capital. While they were expected to be an easy two points for the rest of the division last year, the Sens finished with 23 wins in a 56 game shortened season. Equipped with promising young players like Stützle, Chabot and Norris, the Sens will be hoping the rebuild continues to climb in an upward trajectory.
Where this team remains suspect, however, is between the sticks. Ottawa conceded 190 goals last season and haven’t made any personnel changes at goaltender. Matt Murray failed to inspire confidence at the position last year, posting the lowest save percentage of his career and if he can’t keep the puck out then goalie duties will fall on the shoulders of Anton Forsberg, who has yet to establish himself as a number goalie anywhere in the NHL.
That’s why I think the presence of an in his prime Craig Anderson would be a perfect addition to this Sens team. The holder of the franchise record, best save percentage, Anderson, at his best was a Vezina candidate calibre goaltender who was the anchor for two deep Ottawa playoff runs in 2013 and 17. His ability to play up to the big games such as a .936 save percentage in the 2017 conference finals would be a great boost for this young core and take the rebuild up a gear.
Calgary Flames – Jarome Iginla, Right Wing
The Calgary Flames are asking questions of themselves. After an underwhelming season last year, there are plenty of people wondering if the current core of players such as Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Monahan will be the ones to deliver a Stanley cup run to southern Alberta.
While the time was right to move on from long-time captain Mark Giordano there are lingering questions about who will be the team’s leader on the ice. Enter an icon. The franchise leader in points, assists and appearances, Jarome Iginla. I’m sure it goes without that the Flames could do with a prime Iginla always, but the former captain and Hall of Famer would be a perfect combination of talent, leadership and big-game experience that would give this team a superstar x-factor to help galvanize this team.
Iginla has shown that he can dominate in the playoffs before and has two Olympic goal medals as well to add to his resume, including two goals in the gold medal game in 2002. The playoffs have been tough sledding for Calgary in recent years but a prime Iginla could make a huge difference for this team this season, and maybe a deep playoff run in this hypothetical scenario make resigning upcoming free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk easier to negotiate with.
Montreal Canadiens – Larry Robinson, Defenceman
It was a cinderella story for the Habs last season, despite finishing as the bottom seed of the division last season, the team managed to put it all together in a playoff campaign that fell just three wins short of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Quebec.
This year will be intriguing for sure, now back in a heavily stacked Atlantic division that reacquaints them Tampa, Boston, and Florida, keeping pucks out of the net will be key for this team to compete with the elite teams in the East. Shea Weber will be a big loss for this team, and while they added David Savard to their blue line, they could still be doing with someone with the presence and experience of their captain.
Norris trophy, Conn Smyth and six-time cup winner Larry Robinson, a member of Montreal’s big three defence in the ’70s would be a more than welcomed addition to this roster. Similar in size and height to Weber, Robinson was an incredibly imposing player for NHL offences to deal with and was not one to back down from a physical challenge in an era marked by tough and physical hockey. But Robinson was much more than a big body, to this day he still has the most assists and points of any defenceman in the long history of the Montreal Canadiens and boasts an incredible plus-minus rating of +730. Robinson is the perfect addition to this team and would certainly make the absence of Shea Weber an easier pill to swallow.
Winnipeg Jets – Dale Hawerchuk, Centre.
Despite an anticlimactic end to the season last year at the hands of Montreal, the Winnipeg Jets must be feeling pretty good about themselves. They added to their blue line with the additions of Nate Schmitt and Brenden Dillon which should make getting past Vezina trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck even more difficult for opponents. On the other end, talent like Wheeler and Scheifele means that a playoff run should be expected.
A big question still remains around the January 2021 acquisition of Pierre-Luc Dubois who only managed eight goals in 41 regular-season games and failed to score in the playoffs. While Dubois could easily have a bounce-back season this year, I’m sure Winnipeg fans would be more than happy to have all-time great Dale Hawerchuk on their roster.
The Hall of Famer and Calder winner comes with great pedigree, never scoring less than 80 points in a season for the Jets and had a phenomenal stretch of scoring above 100 points in six out of seven seasons. While the Jets don’t lack talent up front, Hawerchuk who was the face of the franchise in the ’80s would catapult the Jets up a level and make them a truly daunting prospect for the other 31 teams in the league.
Edmonton Oilers – Grant Fuhr, Goaltender
This was a tough one, while great players like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier would be nice additions, Edmonton really shouldn’t be looking at their forward line for an upgrade here. The case is for the defence, and it came down to if Edmonton could benefit more with a defenceman or a goaltender. Ultimately a solid goaltender will breed confidence for the blue line and the team as a whole.
Mike Smith played well last season, but that has been an outlier based on his last couple of seasons, and at 39 years old, it’s very possible his best years are behind him. In the ’80s the Oilers had great players on their forward line and a goalkeeper between the sticks that would make crucial saves that would win them championship after championship, a formula Edmonton would love to replicate.
It’s time for Grant Fuhr to take his place between the pipes. The hall of fame Vezina winner was amongst the best goalies in the ’80s and even got in on the points scoring with a record of 14 assists in the 1983-84 season, imagine the fun he could have setting up McDavid and Draisaitl this season? Perhaps crucial, Fuhr has plenty of Stanley cup winning experience, something that could make a difference for this team who must be looking to have real Stanley cup aspirations as McDavid, Draisaitl and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers seek to break out into a real legitimate contender.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Dave Keon, Centre
This team has demons. Come the end of this season it will mark 55 years since their last Stanley Cup triumph, the longest drought between championships in league history. It’s one thing to deal with that demon, but perhaps a more pressing demon is not making it past the first round of the playoffs since 2004.
The Leafs showed over the course of the regular season last year they are the best team in Canada, their lineup stacked with stars like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reily just to name a few. While you can never have enough, talent is not what this team needs added. It needs a player who has been a winner with the Leafs, someone who has won titles and can come up big come playoff time.
That’s why Dave Keon, the 1967 Conn Smythe trophy winner is the exact player this current iteration of the Leafs needs. A four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Leafs in the ’60s, Keon was also named Toronto’s captain in 1969, further cementing his legacy for the Leafs. His experience in winning in the playoffs for Toronto would be invaluable in helping to change the culture in Toronto to a team that believes in themselves come the springtime, and who knows, all it could take is winning in the first round to propel this team to heights not seen since Lester B. Pearson was prime minister of Canada and not just an airport.
Choosing the best player in each team’s history would have been too easy, and simply not as entertaining. We would love to see who you think your favourite team would bring back if they had the chance in the comments below!