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[Article] Early NHL Attendance Numbers Signal Celebration for Some and Panic for Others

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Early NHL Attendance Numbers Signal Celebration for Some and Panic for Others


With the NHL season entering mid-November, some teams are seeing their attendance numbers on the rise while others are seeing trends that could be cause for alarm, writes Anthony Fava.


With the NHL season currently in its sixth week, hockey fever is truly back in full force, with fans around the league flooding arenas to see their favorite teams battle it out.


Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are putting up huge arena attendance numbers as always, but on the other end, a few teams are showing concerning downward trends in this statistic.


The most polarizing of these teams would have to be the Winnipeg Jets. The team is off to a decent 8-5-2 start, but you wouldn't know it by the number of people in Canada Life Centre. The team is only averaging 11,941 in attendance this season, compared to 14,045 last season, according to hockeydb.com. And back before COVID-19 in the 2018-19 season, the team was averaging right around the building's 15,325-seat capacity.


The team even set a low of 11,136 in attendance during its 4-2 win over the Blues on Oct. 24 – the lowest single-game attendance without COVID-19 restrictions the club has had since relocating back to Winnipeg in 2011.


The Sabres have also seen a decline in their attendance numbers, only averaging 15,398 in the KeyBank Center, which seats 19,200. Likewise, the San Jose Sharks averaged 17,266 in 2018-19 but are now averaging only 13,143 this season.


The Sharks' and Sabres' attendance woes make sense. Both teams haven't had any very recent success, and their records thus far have put them both at the tail end of their respective divisions. 


The Jets are a little different. They haven't replicated their playoff success from 2018, when they lost to Vegas in the conference final, but they have reached the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. As mentioned earlier as well, their season record thus far is nothing to scoff at, and they extended two of their franchise faces in Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck when it looked like they would leave. 


It will be interesting to see how this trend continues for them depending on how their season progresses. Jets president and alternate governor Mark Chipman said late in October to TSN's Darren Dreger he's confident the club will do just fine despite not continuing the decade-long sellout streak it used to have because they've exceeded expectations before as a smaller market.


On the flip side of this narrative, a couple of teams have seen an upward trend in their attendance this season. The New Jersey Devils saw a sudden resurgence last season as they made it to the conference semifinal after not making the playoffs since 2018, and it is reflected in their attendance averages. 


In 2018-19, the Devils averaged 14,834. Last season, they were at 15,207, which has now gone up to 16,244 this season. In an arena that holds less than 300 more, those are solid numbers.


Possibly the craziest trend, though, can be seen through the Bedard-studded Blackhawks. The team saw a ton of success in the 2010s, winning three Stanley Cups, and in the 2017-18 season, the team's average attendance was 21,654. The next five seasons would see the Blackhawks fall from the top, reflected through their average of a diminished 17,167 fans per home game.


Enter Connor Bedard. It's hard for one single player to turn a franchise around, and while Chicago has yet to see a ton of on-ice success this season, their young star brought the hype train, and the Blackhawks faithful are loving it. 


The average attendance at the United Center this season is back up at 19,073, and with Bedard lighting it up sitting at 13 points in 13 games, that number should be steady. Add any substantial victories to the fold, and that number could go even higher.

If the Devils can continue to succeed, and Bedard just plays like the first overall pick for Chicago, their attendance numbers will only continue to climb. For the less fortunate teams like the Jets, Sabres and Sharks, though, they may need to figure things out before their small problem becomes a major one.


By Anthony Fava 


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I don't think the drama surrounding the Winnipeg roster combined with some disappointing end-of-season results have helped sell the product in Winnipeg. Could be folks have begun to lose hope. 


If the Sabres start winning their attendance will likely turn, Buffalo is a franchise a lot of folks see as capable of putting an end to their missing playoff streak but they have to actually go out and do it. 

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