A year ago, five of the seven Canadian teams were getting set for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Among them included two all-Canadian series. And while none made it past the second round, it certainly beats the alternative.
One year later, that alternative has become a reality. On April 30, all seven teams will assemble in Toronto, during the heat of the playoffs, for the 2016 NHL Draft lottery. There, the luck of the draw might mean an end to a 23-year drought.
But is it really fair to characterize Canadians as disinterested? Does their national past time and its entertainment value hinge on the presence of a Canadian market? Many are suggesting just that. Quite frankly, I find the assertion exaggerated and even a little insulting to the sport’s origin.
Just a month ago, the Ottawa Senators were mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, making it the first time since 1969-70 that no Canadian team qualified. Instead, five of the seven have at least a 7.5 percentage at winning the Saturday, April 30 draft lottery and a shot at American-phenom, Auston Matthews. Toronto leads the odds with 20 percent, followed by Edmonton-13.5; Vancouver-11.5; Calgary-8.5 and Winnipeg-7.5. Montreal’s five percent and Ottawa’s 2.5 percentage rounds out the height of excitement above the 49th parallel.
I know the common thread: Braden Holtby, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jamie Benn and a ton of other Canadians will be among those vying for Lord Stanley. Who will bring the cup back to Canada this summer, a celebration of the nation and its roots.
A year ago, Rogers made off huge on the draw of two Canadian match ups. One SportsNet report listed the estimations of some 2.4 million viewers per games featuring Canadian teams, accounting for three total series.
I’ll accept the idea that Canadian interest rises with the success of their direct markets. That’s obvious. And the numbers in that same report cite the 2014 playoffs, where the only Canadian participant was Montreal. It didn’t hurt that they went to the Conference Finals, either.
From a pure ratings perspective, it seems likely that TV numbers will take the hit, in the same way that American ratings took a major hit in 2007 when a small-market Anaheim Ducks team met Ottawa in a Finals that averaged 1.2 million viewers. The lowest average viewership in NBC’s tenure as the exclusive provider for the National Hockey League in the United States.
In the end, fans across North America will become entrenched in the game as long as its exciting and adds some drama to it. Take 2011, when the large U.S. market Boston Bruins met the second-largest Canadian market in Vancouver, a series that included plenty of drama, going the distance in the Finals’ last seven game series since. It averaged roughly 8.5 million viewers.
The Product Sells
If we’re using the American TV ratings as a template for interest, I think it’s fair to suggest that: A) the product sells; and B) the greater markets can help the product succeed, even if it hums the Star Spangled Banner before the start of games.
Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Henrik Lundqvist. Anyone who knows the NHL knows these names, and likely have been impressed with their body of work, this year in particular. If history repeats itself, fans will find themselves entertained by their level of skill, desire and determination on the highest stage, something that is bound to entrench Canadian fans in the postseason, even though the three are Russian, American and Swedish, respectively. They are the essence of the hockey product.
Simply put, the suggestion that hockey fans will be counting down to the draft (or, draft lottery), denies the fact that this is the nation’s national past time and asserts a notion that it can only be enjoyed with or to the point that Canada is directly involved. It also seems to suggest that Canada isn’t buzzing about the Stanley Cup playoffs. A regular follower to some 200-Canadian media personalities online and as a regular listener to TSN 1050–Toronto, I can tell you that hockey remains the topic of discussion, even amidst the success of the Raptors and off the high that was the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays.
But, while we’re there…
What about baseball? Does a fan in the United States contend that a baseball game isn’t worth their time because the Toronto Blue Jays, the MLB’s lone-Canadian team, are playing? Or, does the entire country rise on its feet against Toronto, Canada? I would hope that baseball fans aren’t deciding to push aside the Blue Jays because of multiple national anthems–or the fact that their roster boasts several Canadian players. If that’s the case, they might want to know they’re missing out on one of the most entertaining, offensive teams in baseball. A team that averaged more home runs a game than any team in baseball and produced one of the league’s most valuable players in third baseman, Josh Donaldson.
The Raptors will enter the NBA post-season as a second-seed, and could conceivably meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to represent the East in the NBA Finals (likely playing the Golden State Warriors). Would that series see a major dip in American viewership? Likely–er, not at all.
Interest may not flourish as it did a year ago–there’s always greater interest when your local market has great success. And make no mistake about it, the Raptors and Blue Jays are as local to Winnipeg as they are to Toronto or Mississauga. But let’s not conclude that there is a significant dip simply because of some false ethnocentric premise that no Canadian team equals zero interest.
At any rate, I suppose we’ll see you on April 30.
Neal McHale began contributing to The Hockey Writers in 2015, covering NHL hockey and the New Jersey Devils. He also writes for Inside Hockey. Previously, he’s served as a correspondent to the Big East Conference and a staff writer for The Setonian. He graduated from Seton Hall University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Public Relations.