Once again we turn to the New York Times’ “Slap Shot” for a bit of sensible debunking, in this case re: the NHL’s terrific ratings. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am pretty darn impressed a hockey game is up there with the Tour de France as the Outdoor Life Network’s VS’s highest-rated program ever, but can you imagine saying that in 1985, when the so-called “Big 4” sports had no real competition (from other sports, or anything)?

Anyway, the words of Jeff Z. Klein:

There has also been a lot of talk about how this year™s ratings are way up, like 275 percent up, over those of the 2006 and 2005 finals.

Well, there™s a reason for that. The U.S. ratings for the last two finals were so minuscule as to be practically nonexistent. It™d be virtually impossible not to manage an increase in viewership this year, which mathematically would happen if, say, you convinced each member of your immediate family to watch on separate TV sets.

The real test comes tonight with the ratings for NBC™s broadcast. Be on guard for stories tomorrow that say the ratings tonight were twice those of last year; remember, last year™s were historically tiny.

Click on the link to see Klein’s chart, which shows, for example, how the ’97 Red-Wings Flyers final drew a 4.0, while the ’04 Tampa-Calgary, ’06 Carolina-Edmonton and ’07 Ottawa-Anaheim mustered a 2.6, 2.3 and 1.3, respectively.

There are lots of other factors to consider, including the overall decline of sports ratings in general, and of course, the lockout, but Klein’s final question is still fair enough:

Can Wings-Pens draw an audience large enough to equal the modest levels of 8, 9 or 10 years ago?

The breakdown I would like to see on Friday is how much of the inevitable increased viewership lives outside of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Because the U.S. network would have had exactly zero viewers from one of the two team’s markets each of the last three finals, and something tells me Anaheim did not draw droves of loyalists/bandwagoneers in quite the way Detroit and Pittsburgh do (or Raleigh and Tampa for that matter).

And if the ratings elsewhere in the U.S. have gone up because of the Red Wings’ Yankees-like (both history and recent dominance) appeal and Sidney Crosby’s Q rating, is that a price that hockey really wants to pay (i.e., “let’s hope those small-market Canadian teams don’t get back to the final very often)?