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Lack of interest in the Stanley Cup final suggests hockey isn't what it used to be for the Canadians

Lack of interest in the Stanley Cup final suggests hockey isn't what it used to be for the Canadians
Lack of interest in the Stanley Cup final suggests hockey isn't what it used to be for the Canadians

 


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Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid is stopped by Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, in Edmonton, on June 13.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After losing the game and, more than likely, the series Thursday night, the Edmonton Oilers were talking comebacks.

We have shown that we can beat [Florida]said head coach Kris Knoblauch, after not having a single defeat all season. It's not like we're being outplayed.

One wonders what would be played out in Knoblauch's mind? Losing a doubleheader every night instead of just one game?

I understand he's an employee and this is what he thinks he has to say, but for the love of God, put a little wink in there. Something that tells the rest of us you're in on the joke.

I'm still waiting for the hockey coach who's willing to put his own head over the stump and say something wild. Guaranteed victory. Summon one of your stars.

Something, anything, to get people excited. But not in hockey. This is show business run by tax lawyers.

It's getting late to talk about the possibilities here. The Oilers are halfway through the wood chipper.

Another Stanley Cup Final is coming for the NHL.

This one hurts more than usual because it's not an institutional disappointment. It's Canadian.

The few ratings that have been released haven't been great. They are active in Canada, but not in a way that suggests the Oilers have captivated all non-sports obsessives. According to the NHL, seven million people in North America watched Game 1.

When the Toronto Raptors were on their way to the 2019 NBA Championship, the overnight tally was eight million. And that was only in Canada.

Our game? Yes, we're still the best at it, but we don't care like we used to.

Early this week, Lger released a poll after asking Canadians and Americans if they planned to watch the Edmonton-Florida series.

The headline was that a majority in this country, 58 percent, didn't pay much attention to it. This was reported in Canadian media in the same way that tractor production used to appear on the third page of Pravda as an obligation and not as a reason for conversation. No one talked about the fact that no one cared.

The number that stopped me was the claimed percentage of Americans after the Stanley Cup Final: 27 percent.

So you're telling me that a quarter of the United States, about 85 million people are interested, but only about three million people are watching? I call shenanigans about that.

This is one of those questions people answer with: Hockey? Um. Certainly. I care a little, even though I don't even know for certain that Florida has a team. It's something you say to sound interesting.

If that effect is at work in the United States, how amplified must it be in this country? There's still some pressure here to claim to like the Stanley Cup. Not because it's good, or because you'll watch, but because it's all we have.

If Canada doesn't have hockey, what do we have? What is our cultural export?

Don't start rhyming Canadian born artists and performers. None of these people live here. The good guys left as quickly as they could. The only star who remained is Margaret Atwood, who we should surround with a phalanx of Mounties. If anything happens to her, we have nothing.

People all over the world know America Jr. only here because they were wearing skates. Other than that, forget it.

With that in mind, we've taken the effort to brand hockey with our collective personality. It was a game of refined manners, played by mild-mannered country types who, once unleashed on the playing field, were honest to God and tried to kill each other.

Other sports claim to be cruel. Hockey was the only one in which participants routinely lost half their teeth.

You go through the scant representations of hockey in popular culture Slap shot at Gordie Howe Simpsons delivery to Coastal and they all share a storyline: Canadians are so nice, so why is hockey so horrible?

There is consensus that removing violence has improved the quality of the game. But it left it without an identity.

What is hockey to us now? The reviews suggest that it has become a purely local affair. If your team participates, great. If not, on to the next one.

People in Ottawa (or Toronto or Winnipeg or wherever) don't watch the NHL. They're looking at the senators. This is the difference between a league that is growing and a league that is declining.

In this country, hockey has become something we think about more than we enjoy. What does it say about us? Why don't we win with it? Is his culture toxic? It's a talking point, not a rallying point.

The disconnect between what hockey was (a prismatic expression of Canadianness) and what it is (a company struggling to engage its customer base) is most apparent during a Stanley Cup final.

No one has to like any of the teams involved, but when multiple Canadians can't even be bothered to tell a lie and say they have a passing interest, that's worse than bad news. That means the nostalgic hold the game had on our national imagination is about to be loosened.

After Canada, the NHL is the loser in this trend. Without Canada it's Major League Soccer.

So what does the league and all those it employs do? They keep playing the same dreary show with less and less interest. The same lame quotes. The same bored expressions. Not a single fighting word, let alone any fighting found.

Maybe they're waiting for a magic formula in the Toronto vs. Edmonton final? to come along and save them.

None of this is an existential issue. Hockey in Canada is never going away. Too much infrastructure has been built around it. But it can't matter anymore. That warning signal is now flashing.

If you can't convince Canadians to do a series with the best player in the world who is Canadian and plays in Canada, then I don't know what to suggest. Maybe they should start with a poll.

Sources

1/ https://Google.com/

2/ https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/article-stanley-cup-finals-tv-ratings/

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