Some of Canada's broadcast executives might secretly be wishing the NHL would lock its players out every year.
Television ratings for the truncated season's opening day hit blockbuster numbers, with two out of three of the CBC's broadcasts scoring record viewership.
The Saturday afternoon matchup between the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets grabbed 1,490,000 viewers (aged 2+) on average, up 36 per cent from the previous record of 1,094,000 (set on Feb. 11, 2011). Citing data from the TV ratings service BBM Canada, CBC said the figure represented a 156 per cent rise from the same weekend last year, when a mid-season game pulled in only 588,000.
Saturday night's eastern time zone prime-time broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada, featuring a matchup between the division rivals Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, pulled in an astonishing 3,317,000 viewers. That was up16 per cent from the previous record of 2,875,000 for a regular season Saturday night game (set April 7, 2007, when the Leafs knocked off the Canadiens to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot) and a 44 per cent rise from the same weekend in January, 2012. CBC also said that the game had a "reach" of 9.2 million viewers, which means 27 per cent of Canadians watched at least one minute.
Even the CBC's half-hour pre-game broadcast attracted 2,106,000 viewers.
The "Prime West" game between the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks, which featured a segment of CBC's popular Coach's Corner segment, pulled an average viewership of 1,471,000. That was up 48 per cent from last year's mid-January game, and close to last year's largest audience for a western prime-time game of 1,482,000. About 6.1 million viewers tuned in for at least one minute of the game.
The pent-up demand for professional hockey even spread south of the border, with NBC reporting a 2.0 rating for its pair of regional broadcasts, featuring a Los Angeles-Chicago matchup (which began with the L.A. Kings parading the Stanley Cup around the rink, and raising their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters) and a classic Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game. While that means only about two million viewers tuned in, NBC still said the number was a record for a regular-season game since January, 2002.
Editor's note: The number of viewers for the Saturday afternoon game between Ottawa and Winnipeg has been corrected in the online edition of this story.