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Friday, June 14, 2024

The NHL Season Could Wrap Up With the Biggest Market vs. the Best Player 

  • The Rangers, Panthers, Stars, and Oilers have reached the conference finals.
  • New York is looking to reach its first Stanley Cup Final in a decade.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL’s conference finals begin Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, as the Rangers host the Panthers to get things started in the East, before the Oilers visit the Stars on Thursday night to begin the action in the West. And after last year’s steep viewership drop in the Stanley Cup Final, the league office will undoubtedly be hoping for a juicy matchup to attract the biggest TV audience possible.

New York is a slight series underdog to Florida at most sportsbooks, but having the nation’s largest media market back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a decade would most certainly be the preferred scenario for NHL stakeholders. The 2023 Stanley Cup Final saw the Golden Knights defeat the Panthers in five games, with the series averaging 2.6 million viewers across TNT, TBS, and truTV. That number was down 43% from ’22, when the Avalanche beat the Lightning in six games on ABC.

Must-See TV?

The Stanley Cup Final returns to ABC this year, and if the Rangers were to make it out of the East, a championship series against either team from the West could end up drawing big-time numbers on the Disney-owned network. Dallas–Fort Worth is the fifth-largest media market in the U.S., and the Stars are seeking their first Stanley Cup this century (the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993). 

Playoff series featuring Canadian teams often don’t draw as well for U.S. TV ratings, since viewership from their home market isn’t measured by Nielsen. But the Oilers have the consensus top current player in the NHL, Connor McDavid (above, right), who would be playing in his first Stanley Cup Final since being drafted with the No. 1 pick in 2015. That would be a great test case to find out whether the league’s top talent can draw casual fans on the biggest stage.

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