The most important skirmish of the Stanley Cup playoffs may be one taking place off the ice.
One week into the so-called second season, the National Hockey League is scrambling to put an end to violent attacks on star players as some fans protest what they see as a nasty turn in the game.
Even some sponsors are quietly expressing concern to the league about the possibility of their own image being tarnished. But even as many Canadians wring their hands over the playoffs’ pugilistic turn, sponsors are holding their tongues in public and watching the ratings.
In the United States, TV ratings for hockey are up 50 per cent for the NBC group of channels over this time last year. Viewership is strong in Canada, with some in the broadcasting industry suggesting the very controversy over the spike in cheap-shots and thuggery may be pushing the ratings higher.