Let's be real — it's hard to seriously accept there was a threat to remove the Saskatoon Blades as the MasterCard Memorial Cup host team.
The situation, both in terms of the financial scope of the tournament and the host team's performance to date, is light-years from 1990, when the dismal Hamilton Dukes gracefully bowed out of the tournament. At the same time, there's no ducking that there's no wool to be pulled over anyone's eyes when the Blades are not even the best team in their province nearly two-thirds of the way through the Western Hockey League.
It wouldn't be sporting to heap dirt on a team from two provinces away. The Memorial Cup has its random crapshoot element. In the wake of CHL president David Branch ("They’ve got all the pieces now. It’s just about bringing them together. We have every confidence they’re going to be a worthy host") and WHL commissioner Ron Robison issuing a vote of confidence on Tuesday, it's worth wondering how Saskatoon's performance rates with other Cup hosts across the past decade and a half.
Please bear in mind Saskatoon coach-GM Lorne Molleken acted prudently at the trade deadline with his final roster tweaks. Adding the likes of erstwhile Calgary Flames farmhand Michael Ferland and forwards Erik Benoit and Collin Valcourt gives Saskatoon a better shot at being able to grind out a win against a more talented league representative on any given day. There is a lot of hockey to be played before May. There are no supposed-tos in any junior league worth following; if there were, Saskatoon would have won in the WHL. With that preamble established, how does Saskatoon's 23-20-0-3 record ahead of its Wednesday game against powerhouse Edmonton rate with other recent hosts?
Short answer: not especially well. Even the 2000-01 Regina Pats, who infamously lost in the first round of the playoffs, had a higher point percentage at this point in the calendar.
|Season||Host team||Lg.||Jan. 23 point pct.||Playoffs||Cup result|
|2002||Guelph||OHL||0.598||2nd round||Lost tiebreaker|
|2001||Regina||WHL||0.551||1st round||Semifinal (OT)|
So every host since 1998 was doing better than the Blades at this point, not that it's a complete shock they haven't dominated. There is too much random chance to real make any hard-and-fast conclusions, so by no means is anyone trying to heap dirt on the Blades. It's far too cold anywhere in Canada this week to stick a shovel in the ground, eh.
However, it can be taken as a proof it's reasonable to have strong doubts about Saskatoon; not because it absolutely will not compete, but because it hasn't offered as much evidence of it as other teams did. (Cue Principal Skinner from The Simpsons: "Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.") There are always extenuating circumstances, but even teams which were out of their depth at the tournament such as the 2002 Guelph Storm and '03 Quebec Remparts were better during September-to-January phase.
But the Blades might not be the problem. This has arguably built to a head since the economics of major junior hockey mean only a handful of 'have' franchises can host the Memorial Cup and the 'have less' teams need to see the league maximize the revenue from the event. The reality that junior hockey is also a local game proscribes any collaboration between franchises; no owner is going to take on the risk of hosting without the team having the golden ticket into the tournament.
(That said, with the Prince Albert Raiders and Swift Current Broncos having superb seasons, it is tempting to imagine that the Saskatchewan-based team which has the longest playoff run ought to be the host team. But where else would that work?)
If the Blades bomb out in the tournament, perhaps someone will think about brainstorming another way to stage the tourney. But chances are the hockey world will treat as an anomaly, even though it isn't.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.