Scheduling Quirk or CBC/NHL Conspiracy?

This is just interesting rather than being a big deal but I was looking through the leafs' schedule and noticed there are three Saturdays (Dec 13, 27 and Jan 17) throughout the season where they aren't playing. Now is it just me or will these be the first saturdays in the history of the nhl that the Leafs aren't playing?

That's an e-mail that I just received from a friend of mine and I was a little stunned because as I perused the schedule I had just assumed that I could pencil in "Watching Hockey - Drinking Beer" every Saturday at 7PM (or 10PM when the Leafs were forced out of the Eastern Time Zone) like I have every single season (beer came during the 2002-2003 season of course). There have always been at least one Saturday blackout (thanks All-Star Weekend) but what about historically?

Unfortunately, it's only a short history as NHL.com's schedule history only goes as far back as the 2003-2004 season (no 2004-2005 season either, weird) but here's what I found (if you can find information on other seasons please e-mail me or post it in the comments):

  • 2007-2008 saw the Leafs resting on January 26th for ASW
  • 2006-2007 ASW fell mid-week (nice job Gary) and so the Leafs played every Saturday night.
  • 2005-2006 Christmas Eve was on a Saturday so the Leafs didn't play nor did they for two Saturdays during the Olympic break
  • 2003-2004 HNiC lacked a Leafs game on February 7th because of ASW

What about this year? Well, the January 17th absence of hockey is league-wide as that is the All-Star Weekend but there are 12 games scheduled for the 13th of December and 11 will be played on the 27th so why no Leafs? A lot of ink has been spilled about how Hockey Night in Canada might be better served abandoning the team that has carried them financially for forty years in order to help build the senators and Canadiens' fanbases. While the Leafs traditionally outdraw everything on television and fill the CBC's coffers last year saw a dip in the team's ratings because they were terrible but the average audience still finished the season over 1 million viewers.

The night of the 13th will likely see the country split between the senators hosting the Lightning and the Canadiens hosting the Capitals. My guess would be that the senators are relegated to being shown only in their region with the Habs getting the Leafs treatment and being shown to the entire country. On the 27th the Habs will have the country to themselves as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. It will be interesting to compare the ratings for those three games with the Leafs' average Saturday night ratings. The NHL and CBC did a good job of cherry picking which games to highlight considering one feature Alex Ovechkin and the other Sidney Crosby.

My guess on the result? Because of the perfect storm of no Leafs plus NHL superstars playing IN Montreal (including a self-professed Habs fan that silly little Habbies thought might one day play for them) they'll outperform the average viewer ratings for the Leafs' telecasts but at the end of the day the Buds will show the CBC and the NHL who pays the bills with the highest average ratings.

But Tom Anselmi better see the writing on the wall and get the rest of MLSE to work on bulding a winning team because if they let this trend continue the underlying desperation of the club to maintain its fanbase will have to go beyond a contrived free pre-season game.

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