When the NHL announced a new divisional alignment last year, it promised more rivalry matchups in the playoffs. However, if the playoffs began tonight, the CBC’s marquee matchup would feature the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. Hardly a matchup with any historical rivalry implications. And its likely these two will play in the first round considering the Habs are 15 points behind Boston for second, while the Lightning sit a fairly comfortable 7 points ahead of the four teams fighting for the wild card positions. Outside of the Canadiens, the CBC would have no Canadian team to hang its hopes on in the playoffs. The Jets, 9 points out in the Western Conference, and Senators, 8 points out in the East, have fallen out of contention due to a dismal month following the Olympic break. Ottawa has only won 3 of their 13 games since the Olympics, while Winnipeg has only won 4 of their 13. The Canucks are 6 points out and don’t look likely to challenge Phoenix, Minnesota and Dallas for wildcard spots. For their part the Maple Leafs are in free fall, going 3-7 in their last ten games. And like Winnipeg, Toronto has only won 4 games post-Olympic break.
This free fall of almost every Canadian team is terrible news for the CBC and TSN in the last year of their NHL contract. This is the last year TSN will broadcast NHL playoff games for at least 12 seasons, while for the CBC it is the last year they can collect ad revenue off of playoff broadcasts. Both could really use a few high rated series, but that looks unlikely. If things stay as they are now, the CBC will have to rely on only the Canadiens, where viewers will be split with French broadcaster RDS. TSN needs not one, but two, more Canadian teams to climb in the playoffs in order to broadcast a series featuring a Canadian team in the first round. Again, at this point that seems very unlikely. As a result, the cost of buying ads on both channels this spring will be cheaper than they were a year ago.
The only good news for the CBC is if the playoffs started today Detroit would face Boston, in what would surely be their second choice series. An Original Six series between two teams popular in Canada would at least provide satisfying ratings in the absence of Canadian teams. That would likely leave TSN to offer Columbus-Pittsburgh and Philadelphia-NY Rangers as their primary playoff series. In the west Colorado-Chicago and Los Angeles-Anaheim would probably offer the best ratings, but both series would likely struggle to crack a million viewers per game on CBC. Vancouver and Toronto would really add a boost to ratings, bringing in more than double the viewers of series between two American teams. At this point CBC and TSN executives can only hope they turn it around in the last ten games of the season.