Written by Keesje Kort @keesje_ingamer
If the Leafs fall short in making the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year (6th if you count the lockout), they can look at their performance on Hockey Night in Canada as a key contributing factor. Toronto will play on CBC national broadcast games a total of 24 times this season. To date they are a terrible 5-10-4, outscored 37-53 and have been shut out 4 times. By comparison in all other games the Leafs are 24-18-6; a pace that would have them safely in a playoff position. So why the tale of two teams? Do the Leaf players have such disdain for the Hot Stove Lounge, and Elliott Friedman or Glenn Healy’s proximity to their bench, that it’s causing such a drastic shift in performance? Or are there other factors at play here?
Let’s face it, when you play in the world’s largest hockey market there is never a shortage of exposure or opportunities for friends and families to watch your games. The same can’t be said for most of the elite level talent playing south of the border. Granted cable packages like the NHL Game Center or Center Ice have certainly afforded those willing to shell out $24.95 per month the vehicle in which to watch their favorite players, but it still does not have the same reach as the 2 million or so people that tune in to watch Hockey Night in Canada every week. With the exception of a shoot-out win over Boston back in the December, the Leafs have failed to beat a US-based team on Saturday night!!
What is even more astonishing is that in the majority of these games, their opponents were on the tail end of back-to-back games. Nobody wants to be embarrassed on national television and, consequently, the Leafs do not get the benefit of tired legs or less enthusiastic opponents. No offense to less traditional hockey markets, but I have to assume it is much easier to get pumped up for a HNIC national broadcast game against Toronto than a Saturday night battle with the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
This is not to suggest that NHL players do not play hard every single game. For the most part they do. However, most look for any type of motivational edge when dealing with the physical and mental impacts caused by the grind of the regular season. A packed arena, 2 million+ watching on television and an opponent from the largest hockey market in the world certainly provides the motivational edge to conquer tired legs. This isn’t to say the Leafs aren’t going to make the playoffs, but if they don’t their Hockey Night in Canada record will be a main factor why.