It certainly is better for hockey, for international relations and for Canadian television executives that the number of franchises based in Canada in the NHL playoffs has risen from zero in 2016 to five this spring.
But traditionally, Canadian teams have been considered ratings poison for NBC, in part because it gets no credit for viewers in those markets and in part because outside of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, those teams’ brands are weak south of the border.
Here we are, though, and NBC is seeking to put as happy a face on this as possible.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to expose these two young stars [the Oilers’ Connor McDavid and Leafs’ Auston Matthews],” executive producer Sam Flood said on a conference call with reporters Monday.
“Beyond that, Ottawa, depending on its health, has the best end-to-end defenseman [Erik Karlsson] in all of hockey. Montreal to me is like the Green Bay Packers in football. It’s a brand that people know and they see that jersey, and they know it’s a very special, history-filled franchise. So I think that’s a fun thing for the American fans to have.
“Last year everyone was saying there are no Canadian teams. Was that great for the U.S.? No, it’s not. What’s great for the U.S. is great hockey and great stars. It doesn’t matter where they play; it matters that we get to showcase them. And we put a number of games on this year with Auston Matthews. We’ve put two on with Connor McDavid.
“So we’re out to build these stars and change the way you watch hockey.”
The way the pairings worked out, all five Canadian teams are playing U.S.-based teams, so they could be off NBC’s radar quickly. Of course, they all could advance, too.
It is possible the Rangers’ road to the Stanley Cup could travel entirely through Canada – Montreal, then Ottawa, then Toronto, then Calgary or Edmonton.
Truth is, NBC’s overall ratings picture for the NHL playoffs is formed mostly by the Cup Final, so the matchups in the early rounds depend more on good hockey than on good markets.
Still, let’s put it this way: an Ottawa vs. Calgary Stanley Cup Final would cause all of the color to drain from the Peacocks’ plumage.