The Edmonton Oilers vs. The Toronto Maple Leafs: A rivalry that is usually only important to Canadians. Tonight, however, it is much more than that. Or it should be, if it was a nationally televised game in the States.
Tonight marks the first matchup between 2015’s number 1 overall pick, Connor McDavid, and this year’s number 1, Auston Matthews. McDavid, billed as the next Sidney Crosby, is coming off a great rookie campaign that was unfortunately cut short due to injury. So far, his sophomore season is off to a similarly great start, as he’s tallied 12 points through 9 games.
Matthews decided to make history in his first NHL game and score 4 goals. He’s slowed down a bit since then but still has 10 points in 9 games, an impressive start to what should be a storied hockey career.
McDavid vs. Matthews is shaping up to be a rivalry for the ages. Think Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard. Or if you fancy a less dated reference, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. If you’re in Canada or you have NHL.TV, you’re in for a hell of a treat tonight. However, if you’re simply a casual hockey observer looking for a nationally televised game in the lower 48, you’re in for a hell of a disappointment.
The NHL can’t seem to get their nationally televised schedule right. You would think the number 1 overall draft picks of the last couple of years would get at least a few national games, but this isn’t the case. Toronto has one all year, on New Year’s Day and Edmonton got completely shafted. Last year’s records notwithstanding, you would think a game involving two number 1 overall picks would get top billing over a Tampa Bay/New York Islanders game that will happen two more times over the next two weeks.
You can point to scenarios like this one as to why the popularity of the NHL isn’t growing in the United States. Sure, the big name teams like the LA Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have loyal (re: fairweather) fanbases, but you don’t see very many Oilers or Maple Leafs jerseys on the backs of U.S. residents.
At this point, the first year of this McDavid/Matthews rivalry is lost to American viewers. Hopefully, the NHL and Mr. Bettman will rise to the occasion in 2017 and realize that games like these can bring in new fans and even elevate casual observers to die hard status.