This was a hard year for hockey. The NHL got smacked into the boards in March and was shut down right before another Stanley Cup run. When a plan emerged to mount a 60-day playoff tourney in “The Bubble,” it was always seen for what it was — a way to salvage what remained of the season; for the sport, and for the broadcasters.
Rogers, again, was snakebit when it came to Canadian teams advancing deep into the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs failing to make it out of the five-game qualifying round was the first stick infraction. The club’s early exit in August, a shutout defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Five of the Qualifying round, drew an overnight, estimated audience of 2,529,000 on Sportsnet National. As predicted here, no subsequent NHL Stanley Cup playoff game, throughout the entire tournament, came close as a TV draw.
The crowning game Monday night, with Tampa Bay Lightning hoisting their second franchise Stanley Cup in a six game triumph over the Dallas Stars, drew a shade over 1.3 million combined viewers on Sportsnet National (784,000) and CBC (525,000). That’s about half what the Leafs exit drew eight weeks earlier.
UPDATED: Earlier, Game 2 on Monday, Sept. 21, drew 387,000 on CBC, 447,000 on Sportsnet National for a combined 834,000 audience total. Viewership grew for Game 3 on Wed., Sept. 23, with CBC drawing an estimated 363,000 and Sportsnet National doing 564,000 for a 937,000 TV total. Game 4 on Friday, Sept. 25 did slightly better again; CBC (527,000 + SNet National 482,000 = 1,009,000. Better than Jays in 30 repeats for sure, but low by Stanley Cup final round standards.
With the Canadiens, Canucks and Flames all gone by the end of the second round, Canadian viewers, out enjoying sunshine and summer, did not embrace or adopt teams such as Vegas or The Islanders. Some nights there was great hockey on display, but there were a lot of close, along the boards, play for a tie and head into overtime, playoff hockey. The most dynamic plays some games were marveling at how athletes get on and off the bench in 23 seconds, or how nobody came down with COVID 19. Coaches get paid to win Stanley Cups, not excite TV viewers, and it really showed this crazy, cursed summer of 2020.