How much can you trust official NHL attendance figures?
Consider this: the Detroit Red Wings reported 20,066 through the turnstiles for Wednesday’s game against Phoenix. Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News estimates actual attendance at about 13,000.
The Wings have an iron-clad excuse: They were up against the Tigers, who are closing in on a berth in the World Series. Once the ball team’s near-miraculous season is over, Detroit’s hockey team will resume its place as one of the top draws in the NHL.
But if Hockeytown can pad its numbers by about 30 percent, what kind of lies are they telling at other NHL arenas? How many real people showed up for Wednesday’s games in Florida (which reported 14,312 loyal customers), Atlanta (12,579) or Anaheim (12,394)?
Translated from NHL marketing-speak, "Attendance: 12,000" means "failed hockey market".
It's October, so for now they can lean on the old, "Just wait until we're not competing with baseball/football/NASCAR" excuse. The Panthers and Thrashers should be decent this year, and the Ducks are a Stanley Cup contender. So we'll see.
But you have to wonder how many folks eagerly await the next game in Phoenix. The Coyotes, who were trashed 9-2 in that poorly-attended Detroit game, are an early candidate for worst team in the NHL. If they moved to Moose Jaw tomorrow, would anyone in Arizona notice?
Postscript: To find the NHL's true dead zone, look no further than one of the league's venerable Original Six franchises: According to the Chicago Tribune, Thursday's announced attendance of 8,008 is the smallest Blackhawks' crowd in over 10 years, since the team moved to the United Center in 1995.