BOCA RATON, Fla. — With the rare prospect of an all-American NHL post-season looming large, Gary Bettman hopes Canadians still tune in to watch the battle for the Stanley Cup.
The NHL commissioner acknowledged in an interview that there is a sense of uncertainty regarding TV ratings in Canada, with no Canadian teams likely to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1970.
Still, he was hopeful that fans north of the border would tune in regardless.
Bettman said local teams “tend to draw better” in terms of ratings.
“But as long as the hockey is entertaining and exciting and competitive we’re hoping and expecting that fans will tune in and watch great hockey,” he added.
The four worst teams in the NHL are Canadian, as are six of the bottom 10. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers currently have the fewest points in the league, just behind the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.
Last season five clubs from Canada — Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver — qualified for the post-season. One year earlier it was only one — Montreal, also the last Canadian team to capture the Stanley Cup in 1993.
Bettman said the wealth of Canadian talent should be enough to attract interest, as should the appeal of exciting, competitive hockey.
From Jonathan Toews to Drew Doughty to Jamie Benn to Patrice Bergeron and Steven Stamkos, Canadian players will indeed be well represented come playoff time.
“Fifty per cent of the players in this game are from Canada so for people to suggest that there isn’t still a Canadian-centric focus I think is a little misleading,” Bettman said.
As for all seven Canadian teams potentially missing out on the post-season for the first time in nearly 50 years, Bettman suggested it as a cyclical, if rare, event.
“This is a league of 30 teams,” said Bettman. “Last year there were five Canadian teams in the playoffs. It happens, though I don’t think it’s happened for a long time.”