It’s safe to say that Canadian NHL TV ratings hit rock bottom last season. Blame it on all Canadian teams missing the playoffs for the first time in 46 years, the Blue Jays and Raptors playoff runs, or personalities installed by Rogers; either way, the numbers were lacklustre. Subsequently, Rogers made big changes this offseason in an effort to pick up the pieces heading into the third season of a 12-year, $5.2 billion partnership with the NHL.
Fast forward to last Saturday night when Hockey Night in Canada’s season opener averaged 2.3 million viewers, the highest for a season debut since 2013. It’s early days, but it’s a sign that things are on the rebound, and I’m predicting for that momentum to continue throughout the season for a number of reasons.
The World Cup of Hockey
The World Cup of Hockey was a pleasant surprise. It had passion, it had speed, it had suspense, and, as a result, it was hard for fans to ignore. Team North America in particular, which I thought was too gimmicky at the outset of the tournament, proved to be can’t miss TV. This forced fans back into their winter routine of hockey watching about a month earlier than scheduled. I expect the “World Cup effect” to boost early season ratings, especially considering some of Team North America’s “young guns” are already putting up headline-worthy games in the first week.
Like it or not, the Toronto Maple Leafs are Canada’s team. They are the big Saturday night draw. And when the Leafs aren’t in the hunt, Hockey Night in Canada ratings suffer. The Leafs tanked last season and finished last in the league. Outside of Mike Babcock and the odd good news story, it was doom and gloom, leaving even the most hardcore Leafs fans disengaged. Fortunately, the pain and suffering paid off in the form of 1st overall draft pick, Auston Matthews. He leads a coming-out-party of young talent, including the likes of Mitch Marner and William Nylander, who are making their rookie season debuts. There’s a lot of hype around the Leafs for the first time in a long time, and that will bode well for ratings.
Raju Mudhar of the Toronto Star wrote that Ron MacLean is like comfort food for Canadian hockey viewers. He couldn’t be more right. After Rogers’ attempt to appeal to more Canadians with George Stroumboulopoulos fell flat, they caved to fan pressure last summer and doubled down on Ron MacLean as host of both Hometown Hockey and Hockey Night in Canada. There’s no such thing as too much Ron MacLean, and nostalgia will be a ratings win for Rogers this season.
The Battle of Alberta
Connor McDavid is the real deal, and the Oilers look like they’re finally poised to turn the corner with the additions of Milan Lucic and Adam Larsson. In Calgary, the Flames signed Johnny Gaudreau to a long-term deal and have a new, proven goalie in Brian Elliott. After years of ineptitude, expect there to be reinvigorated interest towards the Oilers and Flames in Alberta, and all eyes across the country will be on McDavid.
I’ve already mentioned Matthews, Marner, Nylander, McDavid, and Gaudreau, but let’s not forget about Patrik Laine (and Nikolaj Ehlers) in Winnipeg. Every cloud has a silver lining, and the silver lining from last year’s Canadian-less playoffs is that some of the league’s most exciting young players have landed in Canadian cities.
I know the title says “5 reasons” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Carey Price. As every Canadiens fan painfully remembers, the Habs were the top team in the NHL before free-falling in the second half of the season after Price was lost to injury. If Price can remain healthy this season, the Canadiens look like Canada’s best opportunity at a Stanley Cup contender. I mentioned earlier in the article that the Leafs are Canada’s team, but the Habs are a close second and will garner lots of attention if they are a contender in 2016.