NATIONAL PULSE – Hockey fans put faith in Oilers, Leafs to end drought
By ANGUS REID INSTITUTE
April 20, 2023 – The NHL playoffs are underway, though fans in Toronto may wonder if their team got the correct start date, after a 7-3 thumping at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in game one of their opening round matchup. (Editor’s Note: The Leafs responded with a 7-2 victory Thursday night to even the series at 1-1.)
As three of Canada’s teams – the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs – endeavour to end the nation’s three-decade championship drought, two-thirds of hockey fans (64%) will be cheering for any of the three to lift the Stanley Cup.
Indeed, a new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that just one-in-ten hockey fans (9%) say they will only cheer for their own favourite team to win Canada’s first Stanley Cup since 1993.
The aforementioned 64 per cent say they are fans of all of Canada’s teams and want them to succeed, while one-quarter say it depends which team. As one might imagine, Calgary Flames fans are less likely to support the Oilers than other options, and many Montreal Canadiens fans won’t be donning their white and blue to support the rival Leafs.
Asked who they feel is Canada’s best bet, regardless of fandom, one-quarter say Toronto – which finished with the league’s fourth best record – has the best chance, while close to the same number (23%) say Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers are the team to bring the Cup back to Canada. A meagre three per cent choose the Winnipeg Jets, though this jumps to 30 per cent among fans in Manitoba.
Attention paid to the NHL remains stable in Canada, as 36 per cent say they follow the league closely. That said, this proportion has dipped from 41 per cent in 2014 and 43 per cent in 2018.
Issues with the culture of hockey have put a strain on some fans’ willingness to engage with the sport in recent years, and another problem appears to be dismaying to some viewers – the playoff format.
These data suggest that fans agree with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby that the league should return to its old playoff matchups – which seed the teams in each conference one through eight – rather than the more division-based version that has been utilized since 2014.
Two-thirds of fans overall (67%) and three-quarters of those who follow the game most closely (76%) say that they prefer the old format. Overall, one-in-eight (12%) like the new version better, while one-in-five (21%) say it makes no difference to them.
More Key Findings:
- Interest in the playoffs is much higher in Alberta (40%), Manitoba (40%), and Ontario (38%), than provinces without a team to rally around, such as British Columbia (19%) and Quebec (21%).
- Three-in-ten (31%) of those who follow hockey say the players have never been better than they are now. Others say last decade was the peak for skill level (15%) or that the league’s high point was in the 1980s (11%).
- As for the game itself, the 1980s and 1990s are looked upon with a certain amount of reverence by fans. An equal number say from an entertainment standpoint the NHL was best in the ’80s (16%), ’90s (15%) or is currently better than ever before (16%).
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