Are afternoon NHL games here to stay?

Typically, NHL games happen in the evening.

That’s usually around seven or eight in the evening and on most days except Friday and with the occasional Sunday.

Not all games take place at this time and last season had its fair share which took place sooner on weekdays and weekends.

What’s happening next season?

2NH4Y7M Ottawa Senators’ Alex DeBrincat plays against the Boston Bruins during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The game digest for next season’s regular season will be no different, but here’s some interesting numbers to consider.

The recently released NHL fixtures for October show that just over a quarter of the total games (28%) will take place before 7PM (EST / EDT). That’s 374 of the 1312 games.

This affects all teams, but some more than others.

Before raising alarm-bells, this is nothing new. It appears to be a normal practice for the NHL.

Likewise, North America (that’s the United States and Canada) runs along six time-zones which observes Alaska on the Pacific coast to Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast.

It does raise some important points about what is the best time of the day for fans to catch the action.

Would you be happy catching your favourite team play in the afternoon over an evening? How about 11AM (EST / EDT)? Will we see more of these afternoon fixtures in the future?

The numbers

According to the NHL schedule for 2023/24, just over half (21) are scheduled to have 10 or more games before 7PM (EST / EDT).

Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild, each have as many as 18 afternoon fixtures.

It’s the Montreal Canadiens which have the least at only five games.

The bracket of puck drop times vary from between 12:30PM and 6PM.

There is only one 11AM (EST / EDT) fixture between Ottawa Senators vs Minnesota Wild on November 18th.

National Holidays

Times aside, there’s also an interesting argument about the NHL placing games on national holidays.

A recent report by Oilers Daily discovered that the NHL schedule for the Edmonton Oilers, had two US national holidays on their digest.

The first being November 24th at 3PM (EST / EDT) against the Washington Capitals and February 19th 4PM (EST / EDT) against the Arizona Coyotes.

Increase viewers

2PHBRH6 NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman meets with Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe at Ottawa City Hall in Ottawa, on Monday, March 27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

While reporting on the timing of the games, Oilers Daily believed that this was part of the National Hockey League’s efforts to broaden knowledge and build the audience and fanbase about the NHL.

Since the arrival of Gary Bettman as NHL Commissioner in 1993, he’s been tweaking schedules in an effort to improve audience numbers.

They believe scheduling games earlier in the day and even on major holidays, would increase viewership.

Why could they be doing this?

2P6T5B5 Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill dives on the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Tuesday, March 7, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Sports Business Journal reported in February 2023 that NHL TV viewership ratings have been declining by 22% year on year.

The report states that this could be attributed to the increase in games being spread across the US networks.

For example, ESPN and TNT had seen their slate increase from 27 to 54, which in turn, led to a drop in average viewership.

Playoffs & Stanley Cup

2PG7AG5 Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk plays during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 20, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

A similar trend in viewership decline could be seen in the likes of the Playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals, according to Hockey media.

The Hockey News reported that it was partly to do with broadcasters (particularly ESPN) not pushing NHL games hard enough despite having the TV rights to show them.

But then again, could it also be to do with fan’s preferences towards the teams competing?

The recent Stanley Cup Finals games between Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers, managed to average around 2.6M viewers across the five games. That was collected from viewers on TNT, TBS and truTV.

That was 43% down on the previous season’s viewership figures.

The previous season where the Colorado Avalanche vs Tampa Bay Lightning played, captured an average audience of 4.6M on the likes of ESPN and ABC.


2JEECH5 Tampa, Florida, USA. 26th June, 2022. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) looks up at the score board after making a goal in the first period during game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, June 26, 2022 in Tampa. (Credit Image: © Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire)

The 2021/22 season was exciting.

Hockey News stated reported that fans were certainly divided about who they favoured to win. While the Bolts had a winning run of Stanley Cup wins, a lot of fans were getting behind the Avs to take them down.

This season 2022/23 however, while it featured two non-traditional teams, did not spark the fan’s excitement as much as the previous.

In fact, fans were spitting venom at the Vegas Golden Knights, they publication states.

Fans saw money rather than passion. They would reference the cost of their expansion fee ($500M) in their tirades against Vegas. In comparison, the Florida Panthers cost around $50M to set up.

Neither team had won a Stanley Cup before and while Panthers had existed for 30 years compared to only six in Vegas, they were the lovable and scrappy underdogs that a good number of fans wanted to win.

Posted on: 11 Jul 2023