During hockey season, I have a Pavlovian response to Saturday nights. Around 7pm I instinctively seek a comfy seat and a television so I can watch my Toronto Maple Leafs on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. It's an important tradition in my house.
This past Saturday night, as the clock approached 7, I felt those familiar tingles. It was time for hockey featuring the blue and white, only there was no Leaf game to be found. Instead it was the Habs vs. Sens and the Leafs had the night off.
In his column today, Chris Zelkovich explains why a Saturday night without the Leafs is a ratings disaster for the CBC.
While stories hit the news from time to time telling us that interest in the Toronto Maple Leafs is dropping faster than, well, the Leafs' playoff chances, the fact is the Blue-and-White still drive ratings no matter how bad they are.
Further proof came Saturday night in one of those rare instances when the Leafs are not the main attraction on Hockey Night In Canada. In fact, this Saturday they weren't even playing. Instead, the nation got the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators -- an all-Canadian matchup featuring one team with deep roots across the country.
It was a pretty good game, too.
The result? The lowest Game 1 rating on CBC this season. It drew 300,000 fewer viewers than the previously ratings dog and drew only 130,000 more than a Detroit-Toronto pre-season game.
It was almost beaten out by the Pittsburgh-Vancouver late game and finished behind three NFL playoff games. Actually, it was four because the 1,040,000 who watched Sunday's Jets-Chargers game included only those who tuned in to TSN. The game was on CBS, too.
Here's an idea for the NHL schedule makers. Let's ensure the Leafs play each and every Saturday night. It's good for me, it's good for the CBC and it just makes good sense.
Besides, it's the way it should be. You don't mess with the natural order of things.