Having a professional hockey team in Seattle finally gives the Vancouver Canucks a local, geographic rivalry. But the National Hockey League’s schedule is missing out on opportunities to build it.
When the 2022-23 NHL schedule was released, one thing stood out about the Canucks’ games against the Seattle Kraken: the two teams only play each other on weeknights this season.
It’s well known that the schedule is mostly computer generated, but other rivalry games like the Battle of Alberta, as well as those featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are almost always given Saturday night slots.
This begs the question – why aren’t Seattle and Vancouver given the same treatment this year?
Last season, the Kraken hosted the Canucks in their first ever home game. This game took place on a Saturday night and was nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada.
Sure, the fact that this was the first game at Climate Pledge Arena almost certainly contributed to the electric crowd atmosphere, but the hype around the new Pacific Northwest rivalry should have also warranted more primetime television games.
Let’s think of one of the league’s biggest revenue sources: ticket sales. For games between close geographical teams like Seattle and Vancouver, fans are more inclined to travel between the two cities to see their team on the road.
The drive isn’t necessarily short, though. A three-hour, one-way commute necessitates a weekend road trip because most fans aren’t going to or aren’t able to make the drive in the middle of the week, further emphasizing the importance of timing.
Just look at the Toronto Blue Jays’ travelling fan base.
The Blue Jays play the Seattle Mariners on the road every season and, when they do, it’s almost as if they bring all of Western Canada with them.
Major League Baseball seems to understand the financial implications of this series, because the Blue Jays are almost always scheduled to play in Seattle on a weekend in the summer, often in a four-game series.
With people less busy with school and work, the summer season – or better yet, on a weekend during the summer season is the perfect time to schedule these games.
In 2016, the Jays were scheduled to play in Seattle on a few weeknights in mid-September, and fans were not happy about it.
MLB learned from this scheduling error and the Toronto-Seattle baseball series has been held at some point in June, July or August every season since that.
Let’s go back to hockey.
Attendance at each of the Canucks vs. Kraken games has been high so far. The Kraken had a full house during each of the contests played in Seattle last year on October 23rd and January 1st – which were both Saturdays.
The Canucks’ attendance figures were around 97% for each of their home games against Seattle, which took place on Monday, February 21st and Tuesday, April 26st. These are good numbers, but there’s always room for improvement.
Seattle has yet to visit Vancouver on a Saturday night and, with the border opening up, it’s worth exploring the possibility of the Canucks selling out these rivalry games and welcoming visiting fans willing to travel to create a buzzing atmosphere.
Feature games that are broadcast to national television audiences help build the hype and attention of rivalries. The Battle of Alberta may only be happening three times this season, but the first two are on Saturday nights this October, while the third takes place during the winter holiday season.
The Maple Leafs play so many games on Saturdays that there are only four weekends during the regular season that Toronto won’t be featured on Hockey Night in Canada, and one of these is Christmas Eve when the whole league is off.
On top of that, most of Toronto’s Saturday night games are against rivals like the Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings.
Sure, the Leafs have a bigger fanbase and will command higher television ratings than most other teams, but the Canucks are on the West Coast, so their home games would be Hockey Night in Canada’s “late game,” and therefore won’t be competing for the same time slots as Toronto.
With only three games between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers this season, there’s lots of opportunities to showcase the young talent between the Canucks and the Kraken.
The Canucks play in Seattle on October 27th and January 25th, both of which are mid-week games. The Kraken visit Vancouver on December 22nd, which could boost ticket sales given that this game falls right before Christmas, but it is still a Thursday.
April 4th marks the final meeting of the season between the two teams. This could be an exciting game depending on the Canucks’ playoff hopes, but imagine the excitement if it were a Saturday night game instead of a Tuesday night.
Instead of scheduling the Cascadia games on Saturdays, the league has given the Canucks opponents like the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres to highlight their weekends.
It also doesn’t help that Seattle has put in the effort to make their team exciting. There’s no doubt that Matty Beniers is fun to watch, and the Kraken were gifted Shane Wright at fourth overall in this year’s draft.
One can argue that the NHL may be waiting until Seattle builds a more competitive team, but they have budding stars in Wright and Beniers now, making their games against Vancouver an exciting showcase of young talent that people will want to watch.
Maybe it’s not so much a “rivalry” just yet, but the Pacific Northwest matchup between Seattle and Vancouver is still great entertainment for all hockey fans, so hopefully the league will clue into this soon.
What are your thoughts on how the league features this rivalry? Let us know in the comments!