Hockey’s back! After a long hiatus, the ice is set, the lines are painted, and 24 teams of NHL players and staff are ensconced in two bubble cities, Edmonton and Toronto.
The NHL’s setup—mirroring the NWSL and NBA in selecting a city in which players remain for the duration of play—has gotten a lot of attention. It also raised concerns about allowing such an international group to come into Canada at a time when the country is still focused on the pandemic. According to the results of an Angus Reid Institute poll conducted July 23-24, a plurality of Canadians (42%) say they are not sure whether the approach the NHL has taken in setting up the playoffs in Edmonton and Toronto is the right or wrong move, but more say it was the right move (35%) than the wrong move (22%).
The playoffs (technically, the play-ins) begin on August 1, and for the first week, hockey will be on television nearly all day, every day. Will Canadians tune in to watch?
In the past, Canadian interest in the NHL playoffs has suffered from a lack of Canadian teams in them. In 2016, no Canadian team made it to the playoffs, and fans either tuned out or cheered for an American team (and many chose Chicago).
Though there will be no fans in attendance at any of the games, there will be plenty of fans cheering from home, as Canadians seem likely to tune in as they would have in past years. About a third of Canadians (37%) say they are either diehard NHL fans (11%) or fans (26%), and a similar proportion (34%) say they follow the NHL playoffs very (13%) or fairly (21%) closely. Among these fans who follow the playoffs closely, most (72%) are either very excited (27%) or pretty excited (45%) for the return of hockey. And unlike 2016, six out of seven Canadian teams are represented in the postseason this year. If a Canadian team makes a deep run for the Stanley Cup, the millions of Canadians staying at home might just tune in.