The NHL released its 2016-17 schedule on Tuesday and while there was never going to be any surprises when it came to match-ups, as it is the same drill each and every year, there was something that stood out as a bit of a headscratcher. While it may not seem like that big of a deal to fans in the United States, the fact the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs do not square off on Hockey Night in Canada in either one of their two meetings is rather perplexing.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) June 21, 2016
With rumblings starting to make the rounds that Rogers is seriously considering swapping out HNIC host George Stroumboulopoulos with his predecessor Ron MacLean, things appear to be on shaky ground. It has become painfully obvious the ratings share the network was hoping to gain when they decided to cough up $5.2 billion to acquire the rights to essentially become the sole broadcaster of NHL games across Canada have fallen well short of expectation and changes are coming.
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With that being the case, one would think putting some “must-see-television” over their airwaves would be a priority of sorts. So would it not make perfect sense for the NHL to feature a Connor McDavid-led Oilers side in head-to-head battles against Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs on a coast-to-coast broadcast on a Saturday evening? Seems pretty cut and dry from here but that is clearly not the case.
McDavid vs Matthews Equals Ratings Bonanza
With the two teams playing in different conferences, fans can only be treated to this match-up twice a season and the powers at be decided to have them play both those games on … wait for it … a pair of Tuesday nights in November. Confused? Well, you should be and if you answered that question with a no, please let me in on the gag because this makes absolutely no sense from my end of the spectrum. So much for riding that hype-machine for all it’s worth.
McDavid vs Matthews happens twice in November
1st in Toronto
29th in Edmonton
— Al-Rahim Bandali (@alrahim22) June 21, 2016
While it would not surprise me in the least if one or maybe even both of these games end up being part of a mid-week HNIC broadcast before all is said and done, my question is why bother even going down that road? You already have the opportunity to use both encounters as a centrepiece of sorts for Rogers, simply schedule it accordingly and go from there. Instead, the NHL decides to do their supposed partner in crime no favours on the scheduling front and we are left to sit here and wonder why.
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It is not as if this is some kind of foreign concept. Toronto has traditionally had games scheduled on Saturday nights for ages and Edmonton has 15 dates of their own on the schedule in 2016-17. Obviously, the lack of success of the seven Canadian teams has played a big role in Rogers’ rating struggles but that is something that is out of both their and the league’s control. However, that is not the case when it comes to programming and there is frankly no excuse for this sort of oversight.
Rogers Can Use All the Help They Can Get
While a computer may spit out the NHL schedule on an annual basis, it should not be that difficult to ensure a couple of games are placed on evenings in which they can use to help drive viewership and ultimately get more eyeballs on the game. Come on now, does someone really need to let those in charge know that a McDavid vs Matthews match-up might do ok from a numbers standpoint in this country? At this stage of the game, this sort of thing should be a no-brainer for all parties involved and yet here we are.
The schedule for our 100th season has been released. #TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) June 21, 2016
If nothing else, at least use the games to help promote the popular Hometown Hockey series that runs on Sportsnet across the country on Sunday evenings over the course of the season but has yet to bring in strong numbers on a consistent basis. If nothing else, it would give them a platform to potentially do something special with the broadcast and that should be priority one for both the NHL and Rogers. In the grand scheme of things, a couple of games between a pair of bottom feeders may not seem like a big deal but it certainly is an opportunity missed.
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From the moment Edmonton won the 2015 Draft Lottery and had McDavid fall into their lap, fans outside of the Alberta capital have been crying foul and much of Leafs Nation has been driving that bus. In the blink-of-an-eye, Toronto lost the opportunity to add a generational talent for the first time in their storied history and he was a Maple Leafs fans growing up to boot. It certainly hit a nerve with much of the fan base and who could blame them?
Oilers Nation vs Leafs Nation
To make matters worse, they were not even granted the opportunity of watching the kid do his thing in his own backyard during the 2015-16 campaign, as McDavid was out of action with a broken collarbone during the Oilers’ lone visit to Toronto. Add to that the fact he torched the Leafs for a season-high five points in early February over at Rexall Place and the love-hate relationship only grew further with No. 97.
The NHL schedule will have a different look for the 2016-17 season https://t.co/XtzEKI3t9K
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) June 22, 2016
Fast forward to the present day and fans in Toronto have clearly moved on and can hardly wait to see Matthews pull on a Blue and White jersey on Friday night after hearing his name called as the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. While no one is putting the talented American on the same level as McDavid, he has the potential to become a superstar in this league for years to come. Both these kids are expected to lead their respective teams to something special, so why not take advantage of the all the hype? Seems logical enough.
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Again, when all is said and done, having the Oilers face-off against the Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada is really not a huge deal. This league has bigger fish to fry and making their game more exciting to watch is high on that list. With that said, it does seem rather odd that the NHL nor Rogers seem overly interested in promoting a head-to-head match-up between two of the best young players in the game and both happen to play in hockey-crazed Canadian markets. This just doesn’t add up and it makes zero sense.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.