I had a few minutes to kill on Sunday afternoon, flicked on the TV and started channel surfing. I happened upon the start of NBC's national coverage of the game betwee the Detroit Red Wings and Anahiem Ducks. I was surprised that the commentators were showing clips of, and talking about, all the fighting going on in the NHL. "It's not the 'No Hit League' any more," one of them effused with great jocularity.
So, is this the new way to try to attract US television viewers to the NHL--by portraying it as a goon-fest, smack-down orgy of violence? Have we decided to come full circle after that idiotic glowing puck and the "free flowing European style of play" initiatives failed to give the NHL more viewers than, say, bass fishing? I know that the NHL is courting US audiences with the hope of securing a lucrative national TV contract. Guess what NHL, it's never going to happen. The US is just not that into you.
The NHL should focus on the limted number of US markets that truly have embraced hockey and Canada, the country that loves the game above all else. I checked this year's NHL attendance records as compiled by ESPN at http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/attendance?year=2008. In terms of home game attendance, five of the six Canadian teams (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver) are in the top eight (Edmonton is seventeenth). These five teams all have 100.0% or more attendance at their home games meaning it's "standing room only" each night, every night.
This, of course, is in contradistinction to teams like Florida, Columbus, Washington, Nashville and Phoenix which all draw in the mid-14,000s for each home game and the New York Islanders who are averaging a paltry 13,288 fans per game.
What's the point of all this? Well, I think it's high time that the NHL thought about relocating some of its franchises. And I'm not talking about moving teams to Seattle, Portland or Kansas City either. The NHL needs more teams in Canada! Moving the Phoenix Coyotes back to Winnipeg is a no-brainer. Putting a team back in Quebec City also seems to make sense. I also think that each of Toronto and Montreal could very easily support an additional franchise each. If the metro New York area can support three teams, Toronto and Montreal could easily support two each.
How about it Canadians? It's time for you to rise up and bring some NHL teams home!