Exploring the Sporting World: The NHL
Baseball and the New York Yankees have my heart. They always will. But, maybe it's time for something new.
The National Hockey League (or NHL) has officially been around since 1917, starting as a league to take the place of the failed National Hockey Association (NHA; 1907-1918) as a yearly competitor for the Stanley Cup. During the late 1890's and through the first couple of decades in the 1910's there was no one league that would compete for the crowning achievement in North American hockey. This mostly changed in 1915 when the Stanley Cup became the trophy for the winner of a series of the champions from the NHA and PCHA (Pacific Coast Hockey Association). While the NHA would fold and the NHL would emerge in its spot for the Stanley Cup in 1918, the PCHA merged with the WCHL (Western Canada Hockey League) in 1925 as the WHL (Western Hockey League), but disbanded in 1926. In a simplified history of the sport, this essentially left the NHL as the only competing professional league in hockey in the world (at the time European hockey was in its infancy, while North American hockey had been going for 30+ years). By virtue of good luck, no team from outside the NHL has competed for a Stanley Cup since 1926, and no team will ever, after the 1947 agreement between the NHL and the Stanley Cup trustees that allowed the NHL to take full control of the Stanley Cup.
It's around this time (in 1942) that the "original 6" era of the NHL began. This was a 25 year period where no expansion or dissolvement of franchises occurred in the league between its 6 members. Those teams are the: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chichago BlackHawks, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Detroit Red Wings. This stability really helped the NHL create a stronghold as the premier hockey league in North America, however that isn't to say there wasn't competiton.
In 1967, the NHL expanded with 6 more teams (all in the USA: Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadephia, Pittsburgh, California, and St. Louis) as an effort to stifle competition coming from a new WHL (Western Hockey League) and to make sure that they were the league that the large share of television rights. In 1970, as a response to not expanding further into Canada, the league added two more teams in Vancouver and Buffalo. Then, in 1972 as a way to get ahead of another competing hockey league, the WHA (World Hockey Association), the NHL added another team to New York City (Long Island) and Atlanta. And then they expanded again adding two more teams in 1974 in Washington and Kansas City. (Remember the Kansas City team for later). However, this period of rapid expansion did leave the NHL vulnerable and allowed the WHA to come in and fight for players. It would be a heavily contested period of 7 years until 1979 when the WHA and NHL merged together as the NHL would absorb 4 more teams (Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hartford, and Quebec).
Since the 1979 merger, the NHL has continued expansion with 9 more teams being added from then to 2000, making it a 30 team league. Then, more recently, the NHL expanded twice more while adding the Las Vegas Golden Knights for 2017 and the Seattle Kraken in 2021.
With the many teams across the United States and Canada to pick and root for, the question really is "What Team Should I Pick?". As a fan looking to get into the sport, and as a fan based in the NYC metropolitan area, I have plenty of options of teams to pick from. The New York Rangers have the history and pedigree from the sports "original 6" era. The New York Islanders came into the league and dominated. However, one team quickly and easily became the team for me.
As a bit of a side-tangent, I'm never going to be a fan of the NBA. I like basketball (enough) and enjoy watching the March Madness tournament, but I hold one thing largely responsible for my desire to never get into the NBA: they moved the Nets to Brooklyn.
With one professional team left in my home state, who reps my home state of New Jersey, it was a clear and obvious choice to make. I'm not from New York City or Long Island. I have no reason to root for those teams. I'm a proud New Jerseyian and in my efforts to get into hockey the NHL, I am going to become a proud New Jersey Devils fan.
However, I don't want my bias to influence you if you're looking to get into the sport. There are many teams to pick from, however, if you're so interested. By no means am I an expert of any of this, but here is a full list of the 32 teams in the NHL as ranked by their number of Stanley Cup wins (in parenthesis total wins - most recent win - number of appearances):
Montreal Canadiens (24 - 1993 - 35)
Toronto Maple Leafs (13- 1967 - 21)
Detroit Red Wings (11 - 2008 - 24)
Boston Bruins (6 - 2011 - 20)
Chicago BlackHawks (6 - 2015 - 13)
Edmonton Oilers (5 - 1990 - 7)
Pittsburgh Penguins (5 - 2017 - 6)
New York Rangers (4 - 1994 - 11)
New York Islanders (4 - 1983 - 5)
New Jersey Devils (4 - 2003 - 5)
Tampa Bay Lightning (3 - 2021 - 5)
Colorado Avalanche (3 - 2022 - 3)
Philadelphia Flyers (2 - 1975 - 8)
Los Angeles Kings (2 - 2014 - 3)
Dallas Stars (1 - 1999 - 5)
St. Louis Blues (1 - 2019 - 4)
Calgary Flames (1 - 1989 - 3)
Carolina Hurricanes (1 - 2006 - 2)
Anaheim Ducks (1 - 2007 - 2)
Washington Capitals (1 - 2018 - 2)
Vancouver Canucks (3 appearances - 1982/1994/2011)
Buffalo Sabres (2 appearances - 1975/1999)
Florida Panthers (1 appearance - 1996)
Ottawa Senators (1 appearance - 2007)
San Jose Sharks (1 appearance - 2016)
Nashville Predators (1 appearance - 2017)
Vegas Golden Knights (1 appearance - 2018)
Columbus Blue Jackets (0 appearances)
Minnesota Wild (0 appearances)
Seattle Kraken (0 appearances)
Winnipeg Jets (0 appearances)
Arizona Coyotes (0 appearances)
As you can tell, there are plenty of teams that play in the NHL all across the United States and Canada. This also means that there are plenty of venues and options to watch professional hockey and to choose a favorite team.
The NHL also hosts a number of games outside of these stadiums each year as part of their "Global Series" (with games often being played in Europe) as well as their "Winter Classic" and "Stadium Series" series of games that occur outdoors and at a variety of fields. Namely, a lot of baseball stadiums do get picked for those games.
The 2022-2023 NHL season will run for 82 games over a season that began on October 7th and will end some time in June.
I'm going to argue on a pure objective standpoint that the NHL the perfect sport to watch in conjunction with being a baseball fan. As the one sport is starting to ease into the bulk of its season (the MLB in the middle of summer; the NHL in November) the other sport is just about wrapping up it's playoffs and race to the World Series/Stanley Cup Finals.
With teams mostly based around areas where there are baseball teams and fans, a season that stretches over most of fall, winter, and spring, and a tendency to play a game a year in an MLB stadium, it seems to good to be true that the NHL pairs with the MLB.
As a personal thing, my oldest brother is also starting to get into hockey. He's taken me to a couple of Hershey Bears games since moving out there, and it's been a really fun atmosphere to be at. Because of his Hershey Bears fandom, he's become a Washington Capitals fan. I can't blame him for that. And, he's been actively trying to get me into the sport. And, as the youngest brother I couldn't dare root for his team either, so let's go Devils!
Just last night I went to my 3rd ever NHL game. The first game I ever went to was when I was 13 as part of my friends Bar Mitzvah. That was 11 years ago, when I didn't have an interest in hockey, and I probably spent the large part of the game just running around the suite. I'm sure I had a blast (I do remember ice skating ahead of the game on the practice ice that the Devils use, and that was really fun.) and I wanted to send a thank you to the Pear family for bringing a bunch of middle school boys to a game.
My 2nd ever NHL game was from last season when, as part of a "guys trip" with my oldest brother and cousin, we went to Citizen's Bank Park to watch the Phillies and check another MLB stadium off the list. We also found out that the Flyers were playing right afterwards, so we took the walk over (I walked into a pole on the way), bought standing-room-only tickets, and then sat down on some really comfy seats in what was definitely a reserved section. That was fun.
And last night, I went to the New Jersey Devils game. I took my girlfriend to the game and made sure to run into a die-hard Devils fan friend of mine from college in between the 2nd and 3rd period so that I could get a rundown on what aspects of the sport I was still missing from connecting the dots fully. It also helps that the Devils had a spectacular win last night, going ahead 1-0 early in the 1st period, falling behind 2-1 with two quick goals allowed in the 2nd period, and then scoring a tying goal with a few minutes left (with an empty net!) in the 3rd period to bring on overtime. And then, the same player- Dougie Hamilton- who scored the tying goal brought a win to "The Rock" (Prudential Center) with an overtime slapshot goal to win it. It was awesome and there is no better way to begin rooting for a team.