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Woe Canada! Your Teams Didn't Make The NHL Playoffs

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The National Hockey League playoffs start tonight - 16 teams seeking the Stanley Cup. Sports commentator John U. Bacon confidently predicts that no Canadian team will be crowned champion. And from his perch in Michigan near the Canadian border, he explains why.

JOHN U. BACON, BYLINE: Any American can tell you the United States declared its independence on July 4th, 1776, won two World Wars and went to the moon - a pretty good list of greatest hits. But if you ask Canadians to name their nation's greatest moment, many will tell you about the 1972 Summit Series, when Team Canada took on the Soviet Union in hockey. In the deciding game played in Moscow, Canadians from all walks of life dropped everything to watch it on TV, just like Americans did for the first moon landing three years earlier. With only 34 seconds left, Paul Henderson scored the winning goal, which Canadians still call the shot heard 'round the world.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Henderson going down. Shot to the defense - goes right there in front - he scores.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Henderson - right through to the goal for Canada. A beautiful goal by Paul Henderson.

BACON: There were victory rallies, a famous photo, a stamp - the kind of things you get when you walk on the moon, all of which helps explain why Canadians are panicked about their place in the world of hockey. In the NHL's first 74 years, Montreal and Toronto together won the Stanley Cup 37 times - exactly half. But no Canadian team has taken the grail since 1993. Instead, squads from such hockey hotbeds as Los Angeles, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Raleigh, for crying out loud, have sipped from the Cup while the seven Canadian teams have had to drink their Molsons from the bottle just like the rest of us.

So desperate are Canadians for a winner, they put aside centuries-old tensions between the English and the French to cheer on any Canadian team that's still standing. But it gets worse. This is the first season in the NHL's 98-year history when less than half the players are Canadian. And for only the second time in a century and the first time in 46 years, not one Canadian team made the playoffs - as in none. Who is to blame? I'd vote for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman, a former NBA executive, is trying to turn Canada's national game into America's. He's moved franchises from Quebec City and Winnipeg to Denver and Phoenix. He's expanded the league into snow-free zones like Miami and Nashville, where fans cheer the zambonis because they think they're racing. A crash in Canadian dollar has not helped either. All NHL players, no matter where they play, insist on being paid in American dollars. And this costs Canadian teams about 30 percent of their revenue.

And U.S. teams have got another advantage. Taxpayers here have spent more than $21 billion to build pro stadiums. In Canada, teams have been expected to pay for their own arenas while tax dollars go for things like education and health care for some reason. Add it all up, and Canadians do not have a single team to cheer for this spring. Woe Canada.

INSKEEP: Author and commentator on both sports and zambonis, John U. Bacon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.