NHL scores big in U.S. TV ratings

CRAIG ELLINGSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Dusting off that Winnipeg Jets jersey yet? Fishing your old Quebec Nordiques pennant out of mothballs?

Hold it! Faster than you can say Kansas City Scouts, NHL TV ratings in the U.S. seem to have skyrocketed.

The league announced this week TV viewership in 19 of 24 U.S. markets were even or above last year's numbers through the first couple of weeks of the season. In seemingly sudden hotbeds of puck on the tube, Anaheim, Florida and New Jersey reported triple-digit increases in local ratings in this time period, while one-third of U.S. teams enjoyed a jump of 50% or more. And the Versus network, which holds NHL rights in the States, has seen ratings rise 33%.

Now that high-definition TVs are practically the same price as their cathode ray tube predecessors were before the wide-screens started grabbing more and more space on Best Buy store shelves, I suppose more and more Americans are being seduced by the crisp, clear action of our good ol' hockey game. Now, they can see the puck without the help of a super-imposed day-glo comet.

I'm expecting next to hear they've found Amelia Earhart's plane in the Bermuda Triangle and they've trapped Sasquatch outside GM Place.

Not really sure what to make of all this TV news except that it likely has the NHL thinking maybe they shouldn't be booking moving vans in Phoenix and Atlanta just yet. There's money -- big money -- to be made in advertising, don'tcha know.

After all, the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals look like they just might give the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins a run in the East this season, and is that the Los Angeles Kings making hay out west along with the Chicago Blackhawks and the, ahem, Phoenix Coyotes? Looks like at least three major U.S. markets can dare to dream of a legitimate Stanley Cup chase this year, not to mention places where hockey was a lot further down the sports totem pole (I'm thinking D.C., and who knows, maybe L.A. and Phoenix fans might come out to support a winner).

12

Who's leading the NFL in passing this season, you ask? It ain't Tom Brady, who's finally starting to look super-human again, especially after that aerial show vs. the Tennessee Titans a few weeks back. Nope, Peyton Manning surprisingly has failed to rise to the cream of the passing-yard crop through seven games of 2009. You might even be surprised to hear Ben Roethlisberger, he of the balanced-attack Pittsburgh Steelers, is 12 yards shy of the league lead. Folks, it's Houston Texans gunslinger Matt Schaub who is on top of the QB heap at this point. He's thrown for 2,074 passing yards, which puts him on pace for a 4,740-yard season. That'd be the seventh-best total in NFL history should he keep it up. He's tossed 16 touchdowns already -- one more than his 15 of 2008 -- plus he's scored a passer rating of 104.4 and a 65.5% completion percentage. And to think he was taken 56th overall in my office fantasy pool.

Snap count

10: It's been 10 seasons since the last time an NHL club went 12 straight games without a regulation win to start the year. This year, the Minnesota Wild have three extra-time wins in 12 games. The Calgary Flames went 19 games minus a regulation win (5-12-2) to kick off the 1999-2000 campaign. 33.2: The average number of shots per game the NHL's top team, the Colorado Avalanche, are giving up. 14: That's how many sacks the Dallas Cowboys have in their past 14 quarters of play, after going sackless in their first 21/2 games.

CRAIG.ELLINGSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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