How Much Does Your NHL Team Really Matter?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistOctober 25, 2013

How Much Does Your NHL Team Really Matter?

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    Some NHL teams just matter more than others. Whether it is thanks to highly vocal and motivated fans, a long and rich history or simply because lately they win a lot of games, certain teams have a disproportionate impact on the hockey world.

    What we have done here is tried to rank which of those teams matter the most in an objective fashion. We looked at three different categories—team history, recent success and fan engagement—to arrive at those rankings, grading each on a scale of 1-10.

    The mark each club received in team history is based on championships won and decades of existence, with attention also paid to teams with a history in other markets (such as the Calgary Flames) and markets with a history of other teams (such as the Minnesota Wild).

    Recent success is based on each club's regular-season and playoff record over the last five years, with particular attention paid to the most recent seasons.

    Fan engagement was measured using a number of factors, including attendance, ticket prices, TV ratings and social media presence.

    Then the three individual metrics were combined to give an overall ranking to each team at this point in time, with ties broken based on the judgment of the writer.

    Read on to see our rankings of the most important teams in the NHL right now.

    This story makes use of information from ESPN.com, SportsBusiness Journal and fancostexperience.com.

30. Florida Panthers

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    History: 1/10

    The Florida Panthers organization is not entirely devoid of history, but by NHL standards it is decidedly lacking. The team's first season came in 1993-94; in the 20 years since the Panthers have qualified for the playoffs a grand total of four times and advanced beyond the first round exactly once.

    Without question, the most notable event in team history—one documented well in Leigh Montville's June 10, 1996 story for Sports Illustratedwas the lone time it advanced beyond the first round, going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. It was the same season the tradition of tossing toy rats on the ice began, after Scott Mellanby killed one in the locker room during the home opener and then scored two goals.

      

    Fan engagement: 1/10

    The official attendance at Panthers games is pretty close to the NHL average, but that comes nowhere close to telling the whole story. Ticket prices are low, with the team advertising tickets starting at $7 per game last season, which, as Eye on Hockey's Adam Gretz noted at the time, put the price for season tickets roughly on par with the price for a single game in Toronto.

    That isn't all. In 2011, the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson criticized the Panthers for losing a ratings battle with infomercials. At the time the team was averaging roughly 3,000 households watching per game; that figure is up to roughly 4,000 now.

    The Panthers' official Twitter account is also, as of this writing, the only NHL team's to fall under 90,000 followers.

     

    Recent track record: 2/10

    The situation on the ice has been at least as bad as the one off it. Florida has made the playoffs once in the past decade, losing in the first round to New Jersey. Even then, the team was outscored 227-203 in the regular season and only squeaked in thanks to an NHL-high 18 overtime/shootout losses.

     

    Total: 4/30

29. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    History: 1/10

    The Blue Jackets have no history worthy of the name. The team has only been playing hockey since 2000 and has never won a playoff game. The franchise records book is essentially a list of categories with the name "Rick Nash" stamped over and over again.

     

    Fan engagement: 2/10

    Blue Jackets fans have shown that when there is the slightest trace of hope, they will start supporting the team. They supported the team early on, and they supported it again during a brief renaissance under head coach Ken Hitchcock. With the loss of success, attendance has slumped; the team finished last in the NHL in percentage of its home building filled last season.

     

    Recent track record: 2/10

    Columbus had something of a resurgence last year, climbing to ninth in the Western Conference and posting a franchise-first positive goal differential. The hope is that under the management of new president John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, the team can put its failings behind it.

     

    Total: 5/30

28. Phoenix Coyotes

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    History: 1/10

    The Phoenix Coyotes don’t have much history to call their own. The club arrived in Arizona in the mid-1990s, hung around the playoff bubble for a few years before imploding and then was rebuilt by Don Maloney and Dave Tippett under exceptionally difficult circumstances into a competent if not overwhelming opponent.

    The Coyotes' predecessor, the first edition of the Winnipeg Jets, wasn’t much better. Although a strong WHA team, the Jets spent the 1980s mostly as the Edmonton Oilers’ first-round punching bag, after which they alternated missing the playoffs and losing in the first round to Vancouver.

     

    Fan engagement: 1/10

    The images of a half-empty Jobing.com arena have become so commonplace that these days they barely warrant mention around the league. Even with bargain basement ticket prices and a reasonable on-ice success, this team can’t fill the house reliably.

     

    Recent track record: 5/10

    The Tippett/Maloney Coyotes have actually been a reasonably good team on the ice. The club went to the Western Conference Final in 2011-12, has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and currently sits in a tie for third in the Pacific Division.

     

    Total: 7/30 

27. Nashville Predators

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    History: 1/10

    One of the NHL’s most recent expansion teams, 2013-14 marks Nashville’s 15th season in the league. David Legwand, the team’s first-ever draft pick, owns the record books despite modest offensive talent. There just isn’t much here yet.

     

    Fan engagement: 4/10

    This is an area the Predators have improved on over the years and doubtless an avenue the team hopes to continue growing. Television ratings are unexceptional but not quite bottom-of-the-barrel, and there has been some welcome growth there. The announced attendance is in the 99 percent of capacity range and healthier than it was a decade ago, while ticket prices are near the league average.

     

    Recent track record: 4/10

    The Predators are a budget team but make up for it in stability and competence; the expansion-era duo of David Poile and Barry Trotz have done a good job getting the most out of meager dollars. Nashville took a step back last season, missing the playoffs, but if not a contender has at least been competitive in recent years.

     

    Total: 9/30

26. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    History: 2/10

    Still a newcomer by NHL standards, the Lightning do have more than two decades behind them and something at least as important: a Stanley Cup championship. For such a young team, there is also a reasonably impressive list of top-flight talent in the record books, with names like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and now Steven Stamkos supplanting the early expansion stars.

     

    Fan engagement: 4/10

    It would be a surprise if the Lightning were as well-supported as teams in more traditional markets, but they do OK. Ticket prices are low, but the building is generally full or close to it.

     

    Recent track record: 3/10

    Things have not been pretty. The Lightning have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, and despite a lovely run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010-11, they've had far more go wrong than right. However, with steady ownership and Detroit-trained Steve Yzerman running the team, that may yet change.

     

    Total: 9/30

25. Carolina Hurricanes

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    History: 3/10

    The Hurricanes, like most of the teams near the bottom of this list, are a recent addition to the league. The franchise’s roots go back, however, to the 1970s as the New England Whalers of the rebel World Hockey Association, with Hall of Fame forward Ron Francis the bridge between the team’s days in Hartford and its new home in Carolina.

    The team also has a Stanley Cup win in 2006 and two other significant runs since moving to Carolina.

     

    Fan engagement: 3/10

    The Hurricanes generally find themselves in the bottom third of league attendance despite low ticket prices and have poor television ratings to match. Even so, the team has seen a substantial increase in support since its 2006 Cup win.

     

    Recent track record: 3/10

    Recent years have not been kind to the Hurricanes; while they have managed to avoid really bottoming out over the last four years, they have finished between ninth and 13th in the East. Two series wins during a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2008-09 help.

     

    Total: 9/30

24. Dallas Stars

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    History: 3/10

    The Stars are quite some distance from Original Six status, but they can trace their roots back to the original wave of NHL expansion in the late 1960s, when the league added the Minnesota North Stars as it doubled in size.

    Over both iterations, the team has been to the Stanley Cup Final on four different occasions, losing twice while in Minnesota and splitting wins and losses in Texas. Mike Modano remains the team’s most significant player, spending 20 years between the two teams and posting 1,359 points in a Stars jersey.

     

    Fan engagement: 3/10

    The story in Dallas is much the same as it is elsewhere in the southern United States. Ticket prices, attendance and TV ratings are all relatively low; at this time there simply isn’t the interest level in professional hockey in Texas as there is in more established markets.

     

    Recent track record: 3/10

    The fantastic Dallas teams run by Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock are a thing of the past; the team has missed the playoffs in five straight seasons. They have generally been competitive for a playoff berth (a point-per-game 2012-13 campaign was the worst in that stretch) but no more than that.

     

    Total: 9/30

23. Anaheim Ducks

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    History: 2/10

    Another child of the 1990s, the Ducks joined the NHL as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a Disney-owned franchise named after a series of films marketed primarily for children. There was also briefly a Mighty Ducks TV series with characters like “Nosedive Flashblade” and “Mallory McMallard.” Disney doubtless thought of this as synergy, but it wasn’t a surprise when the new owners renamed the team soon after buying it.

    Despite the name, the team’s short history is actually reasonably rich, and includes both a Cup win and a run to the Cup Final. The truly significant players in franchise history include people like Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Scott Niedermayer and more recently Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

     

    Fan engagement: 3/10

    Anaheim isn’t quite at the bottom of the barrel in terms of fan engagement, but it isn’t far from it either. Despite cheap ticket prices, the Ducks have consistently mediocre attendance, and their share of their TV market is the second-worst in the NHL, behind Florida.

     

    Recent track record: 4/10

    The Ducks have failed to translate their Stanley Cup win in 2007 into lasting success. In the six seasons since, Anaheim has a single playoff series win and has missed the postseason entirely on two occasions.

     

    Total: 9/30

22. Colorado Avalanche

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    History: 4/10

    The Avalanche moved to Colorado in 1995-96 with the core of a Stanley Cup championship team already in place; they would win the Cup twice in six years and win 19 playoff series over a 12-season stretch with mostly the same group in place. It’s a distinguished record for such a young team, but both the franchise and the market have a history that extends beyond the Avalanche.

    The Rockies played six forgettable seasons in Colorado in between starting life in Kansas City and ending up in New Jersey. They were notably worse than the original iteration of the Avalanche, the Quebec Nordiques—a team that traced its routes back to the WHA and had been a Cup contender in the early 1980s before falling on hard times.

     

    Fan engagement: 3/10

    Colorado’s ticket prices lag behind the league average by a considerable amount. The team has a history of winning, but even so, going by attendance figures it has difficulty filling the building. The team gets decent if still sub-average TV ratings.

     

    Recent track record: 2/10

    The Avs have been one of the worst teams in the league over the last five seasons, missing the playoffs four times and three of those times finding themselves right near the bottom of the NHL standings.

     

    Total: 9/30

21. Ottawa Senators

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    History: 2/10

    Another relatively recent expansion team, the Senators have done everything but win it all. The team was a true disaster for its first four seasons, before finally climbing into the playoffs in its fifth and staying there for 11 seasons that included a Presidents’ Trophy and a visit to the Stanley Cup Final.

    Ottawa the city had a key place in organized hockey’s early history, though, with the original Ottawa Hockey Club (later the Silver Seven and then the Senators after that) winning 11 Stanley Cups in the early 1900s.

     

    Fan engagement: 6/10

    The tickets in Ottawa are relatively cheap, but even so the team has seen attendance dip in recent years, perhaps in part because of the arena’s location in the suburb of Kanata. The TV numbers are pretty decent, though the size of the market keeps the total number of viewers lower in Ottawa than elsewhere.

     

    Recent track record: 4/10

    The last five or six seasons have been the weakest for the Senators since expansion. After years of strong play, the (likely to be brief) down cycle saw the team miss the playoffs twice, and last year’s first-round win over Montreal was the first playoff series the team has won since going to the Cup Final in 2007.

     

    Total: 12/30

20. Winnipeg Jets

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    History: 1/10

    The Jets as a franchise are the youngest team in the NHL; they have been in Winnipeg a mere two seasons. Even including all of the team’s history in Atlanta, the club has only been around since 1999 and over its entire history has not won a single playoff game.

    The market’s first team, the original Jets, was extremely successful in the WHA (winning the Avco World Trophy three times) but never did much of note over 17 years in the NHL.

     

    Fan engagement: 9/10

    It’s still the honeymoon period, but fans in Winnipeg are fervent about their team. The Jets charge good money for their tickets but have no trouble filling the building, the television ratings are solid and there is no lack of interest in the club. Virtually the only negative thing that can be said is that there are fewer fans of the Jets than there are of some other teams simply because the market isn’t as large as others.

     

    Recent track record: 3/10

    The Jets/Thrashers have made the playoffs once, getting swept by the Rangers in 2007. The best that can be said about the team’s track record is that the club has generally competed for a playoff spot until late in the year in recent seasons.

     

    Total: 13/30

19. Minnesota Wild

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    History: 2/10

    The Wild played their first season in 2000-01 as one of the NHL’s newest expansion teams. They started well and in their early seasons were primarily defined by Jacques Lemaire and his defence-first style—a style that put the expansion team in the Conference Final in just its third season. Still, the Wild have precious little history, with Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu the team’s most notable players.

    But while the Wild are still young, hockey has history in Minnesota. The North Stars played there from 1967 to 1993, giving the state more than a quarter-century of NHL-level hockey (and in some years, very good NHL-level hockey).

     

    Fan engagement: 8/10

    Fans have embraced the return of the Wild. The team has had exceptional attendance and routinely sells out, although as Michael Russo of the Star Tribune notes, at times Minnesota has resorted to tricks like giving employees free tickets to reach the magic 100 percent attendance mark.

    Even without the tactics, fans have been enthusiastic about the team, and its TV numbers are strong.

     

    Recent track record: 3/10

    The Wild seem like they may be close to turning a corner, with an abundance of highly talented prospects and some big-name free-agent additions. It’s a good thing too: The team has missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and was barely a speed bump for the Chicago Blackhawks in a first-round loss last season.

     

    Total: 13/30

18. Buffalo Sabres

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    History: 3/10

    The Sabres joined the NHL in 1970, replacing a long line of successful minor league teams named the Buffalo Bisons. Buffalo produced some strong teams in the majors too, but never one strong enough to win the Stanley Cup. The pivotal moment in Sabres history remains their overtime loss to Dallas in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1999.

     

    Fan engagement: 6/10

    The Sabres get strong television ratings, but unfortunately for the team the news at the gate isn’t quite as good. Buffalo generally averages in the high 90 percent range in announced attendance, which is respectable but below average (in 2012-13 the team’s announced attendance was 18th in the league at 99.5 percent of capacity), and ticket prices are reasonable.

     

    Recent track record: 4/10

    Buffalo had two deep playoff runs after the 2004-05 NHL lockout and even after that either made the playoffs or just missed them for several years. There has been a recent downturn in the club’s fortunes, however, and the early results in 2013-14 suggest the worst is yet to come.   

     

    Total: 13/30

17. New York Islanders

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    History: 7/10

    Whatever their faults of late, the Islanders can claim a rich history that included four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s right at the heart of a stretch of 14 consecutive playoff appearances. Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies and Billy Smith powered one of the NHL’s ever-so-rare dynasties, one that finally fell at the hands of the emerging Edmonton Oilers.

    Whatever damage was done by 20-odd years of unstable ownership and incompetent oversight—and boy was that damage extensive—the Islanders can claim a heritage many teams would be envious of.

     

    Fan engagement: 4/10

    In the present, however, fans have turned away, and it’s difficult to blame them. The TV numbers are awful, and attendance has lagged badly. Ticket prices hover around the league average, and there is hope that with the move to a more modern arena coming soon, things will rebound.

     

    Recent track record: 2/10

    Last season, the Islanders were ousted in the first round of the playoffs in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was the team’s most successful season in a decade.  

     

    Total: 13/30

16. San Jose Sharks

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    History: 1/10

    The Sharks have a relatively direct link back to the California Golden Seals and the first wave of NHL expansion, but the official history of the franchise dates back only to the early 1990s. Patrick Marleau is the club’s all-time leader in games played (it isn’t close) and scoring (Joe Thornton has pulled to within 200 points in half the games played).

     

    Fan engagement: 7/10

    The Sharks are rarely mentioned in a listing of the NHL’s failures in non-traditional markets, and there is a good reason for that. The team has had great success in carving out a niche for itself on television and at the gate.

     

    Recent track record: 7/10

    It is certainly possible that one of the reasons the Sharks have been so successful at the gate is because they have been awfully good on the ice. First under Dean Lombardi and then later under Doug Wilson, San Jose has been competently run or better, and while the club has yet to win a Stanley Cup, it has made two deep playoff runs in the last four seasons.

     

    Total: 15/30

15. St. Louis Blues

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    History: 4/10

    St. Louis got its NHL franchise during the league’s original expansion in 1967, giving the team seniority on much of its competition but also sadly making it the oldest existing team never to have won the Stanley Cup.

    There were high points. Under a young Scotty Bowman, the St. Louis went to the Stanley Cup Final in each of its first three seasons (where it was duly swept by a far superior Eastern team). The team made the playoffs in nine of its first 10 seasons, missed twice and then strung together a quarter-century without missing the playoffs.

     

    Fan engagement: 6/10

    The Blues fall down in average attendance, but other than that there are definitely good signs about the team’s fan base. Ticket prices come in around the NHL average, and the team’s local television ratings made them one of the five most-watched teams in the United States.  

     

    Recent track record: 5/10

    The Blues have been resurgent over the last few seasons, starting the playoffs with home ice advantage in each of the last two campaigns. They have yet to translate regular-season success into a deep playoff run, however.

     

    Total: 15/30

14. New Jersey Devils

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    History: 6/10

    The Devils have a history before 1987, one that included time in Kansas and Colorado and five disappointing seasons as also-rans in New Jersey. But everything the team has ever done that really mattered was done under the watch of general manager Lou Lamoriello, with most of it also featuring Martin Brodeur in net.

    Under Lamoriello’s watch, the Devils went from Mickey Mouse club to one of the league’s best teams. Three Stanley Cup wins, two losses in the Cup Final and two more losses in the Conference Final (both in seven games) is quite a decent track record for any team and any general manager.

     

    Fan engagement: 4/10

    The Devils have attendance woes, indifferent TV numbers and average-ish ticket prices.

     

    Recent track record: 5/10

    New Jersey has missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons, marking the first time that has happened under Lamoriello. It hasn’t all been bad, though; three of the last five seasons saw the team top 100 points, including a run to the Cup Final in 2012.

     

    Total: 15/30

13. Washington Capitals

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    History: 3/10

    The Capitals have been around since 1974-75, and the team had the misfortune to post the worst mark of any NHL team, ever, that season, going 8-67-5. Bill Mikkelson went minus-82 in 59 games for that team; 12 different players finished minus-40 or worse.

    The high point, depending on perspective, either came when the Alexander Ovechkin-led Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10 for the first time in league history or when Ron Wilson guided an underdog team to a Stanley Cup Final berth in 1998.

     

    Fan engagement: 8/10

    The team’s attendance could be a little better, but given that Washington has some of the highest ticket prices in the league (at $280.70 last season, it costs more to see an average premium game in Washington than it does anywhere outside New York) and solid television numbers, that’s a minor concern.  

     

    Recent track record: 6/10

    Washington has been a playoff team for six straight seasons, winning a total of three rounds; to date the franchise has been unable to convert strong regular-season performances into deep playoff runs.

     

    Total: 17/30

12. Calgary Flames

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    History: 4/10

    If it wasn’t for Edmonton, things might have been very different. The Flames had a strong team in the 1980s, strong enough to challenge the dynasty-edition Oilers on any given night, but often wound up playing second fiddle to the other team from Alberta.

    Even so, the team that started life as the woeful Atlanta Flames had success in their own right, winning a Stanley Cup over Montreal in 1989 after falling in the Final to the Canadiens in 1986.

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    It’s NHL hockey in Canada. Little more needs to be said. Flames fans pay high prices for tickets and still fill the building, and when they aren’t at the game, they’re watching from home.

     

    Recent track record: 3/10

    When bad things happen in Calgary, they happen in bunches. There was a seven-year stretch starting in the mid-1990s when the Flames missed the playoffs, and the current drought extends over the last four seasons.

     

    Total: 17/30

11. Edmonton Oilers

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    History: 7/10

    With five Stanley Cup wins in seven seasons and a roster of all-time talent—starting with Wayne Gretzky but including Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr—that compares well with any cluster in history, the Oilers have a past they can be proud of.

    Perhaps most important of all, the best player in NHL history played his best seasons in Edmonton.

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    Given the team’s recent struggles, the level of fan support remains ridiculously high. People live and breathe Oilers hockey, the games are well attended even as prices stay high and the television ratings show no sign of dropping off anytime soon.

     

    Recent track record: 1/10

    The Oilers have been the worst team in hockey over the last five seasons, and especially so over the last four. It’s been seven long seasons since Edmonton saw playoff hockey live.

     

    Total: 18/30

10. Vancouver Canucks

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    History: 3/10

    The Canucks have been around since the 1970s, but the team has been defined less by what it did than what it didn’t do. Vancouver lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1994 to the New York Rangers by the space of a single goal; that was the closest the Canucks have yet gotten to winning it all.

    Two other Cup Final losses—a recent one in 2011 and a sweep at the hands of the dynasty Islanders in 1982—are the other key moments in team history. 

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    Success in recent years hasn’t hurt, but fans in Vancouver are as rabid as anywhere in the league. The team sees sold-out buildings (almost regardless of cost) and much-watched television broadcasts.  

     

    Recent track record: 7/10

    Vancouver has made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, taken the Presidents’ Trophy twice and won five playoff series along the way. A pair of recent first-round exits provides some cause for concern, but even so there is no doubt Vancouver is one of the league’s powerhouses.

     

    Total: 20/30

9. Los Angeles Kings

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    History: 5/10

    One of the NHL’s original expansion projects, for a long time it looked like Los Angeles was going to have to be content with a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993 and 500-odd games from Wayne Gretzky. Then the team won its first Cup in 2012.

    There is certainly more to the team than some games of Gretzky and a Cup win. The “Triple Crown” line, Luc Robitaille and Rob Blake would all be compelling parts of any team’s lore.

     

    Fan engagement: 7/10

    The Kings typically announce full buildings, but only at average ticket prices, and the hockey team isn’t setting any kind of viewership records in Los Angeles. The Cup win brought an increase in attention, but there is work yet to do for the Kings to really be in the league’s upper echelon in this department.

     

    Recent track record: 8/10

    The Kings are one of the most successful teams in the last five years, with a Conference Final appearance last season and of course the Cup win the year before that. Oddly, the team’s regular-season totals never seem to reflect its playoff achievements.

     

    Total: 20/30

8. Philadelphia Flyers

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    History: 6/10

    The Flyers defined a style of play for the NHL. Teams had played physically before, but the “Broad Street Bullies” embraced fighting and intimidation in a way that continues to resonate with the franchise to this day.

    As a general rule, it has worked well for Philadelphia. The Flyers won two Stanley Cups and over the years have almost been a perpetually challenging playoff opponent, 14 times going to the third round or deeper in the postseason.

     

    Fan engagement: 9/10

    The Flyers have continually strong attendance numbers, even with high ticket prices, and their television numbers are exceptionally good. Philadelphia is well represented by major league teams, but even so the Flyers have carved out a distinguished place in the market.

      

    Recent track record: 6/10

    On the one hand, Philadelphia has made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. On the other hand, it missed the playoffs last season and has started slowly this year, so the team’s fortunes may be shifting.

     

    Total: 21/30

7. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    History: 9/10

    With one exception, no team in the NHL has history the way Toronto has history. The Maple Leafs are the second-most successful NHL team in terms of total number of Stanley Cups, a team with roots going back to World War I and for much of history the team of English-speaking Canada. 

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    There is a reason arguments are constantly made for a second Toronto-area hockey team: The Maple Leafs have the largest fanbase in the game today. They are the top draw on Canadian television, while ticket prices are almost unbelievably high, and if there is a media obsession with the team, it is only because there is interest enough to warrant it.

      

    Recent track record: 3/10

    The Leafs are nearly a perfect team, except for their recent on-ice history. A seven-year playoff drought was finally snapped in 2012-13, when Toronto fell to a very good Boston club in a tight first-round series.

     

    Total: 22/30

6. New York Rangers

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    History: 8/10

    After nearly immediate success in New York—the team won three Stanley Cups in its first 14 years of existence—the Rangers had a long, long run of ineptitude. Between 1942 and the mid-1960s New York missed the playoffs 18 times and was eliminated in the first round of the postseason in five of six appearances. That sounds bad, but given that this was the Original Six era, it was even worse.    

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    The Rangers never lack for support, which along with a deep-pocketed owner gives them the means to continually spend right to the cap (and which, before the institution of the cap, allowed them to drive prices up around the league by buying free agents).

      

    Recent track record: 5/10

    Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Rangers have been resurgent. In 2012 the team went as far as the Conference Final, losing in six games to New Jersey. They have made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and won three playoff series in that span.

     

    Total: 23/30

5. Detroit Red Wings

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    History: 9/10

    Broadly speaking, the Red Wings’ rich history can be divided into three eras. The team’s first 40 years were largely successful, featuring seven championships and 11 losses in the Stanley Cup Final. Over the next 20 years, the club would win one playoff round total and miss the postseason 16 times. Finally, the modern era arrived, one which currently includes an NHL-best 22 consecutive playoff appearances, four championships and virtually continual contention.

     

    Fan engagement: 9/10

    While Detroit has a deep and loyal fanbase, in recent years prices have been decidedly reasonable, and attendance has dipped a little bit. Doubtless, a good portion of those problems is related to economic factors.

      

    Recent track record: 7/10

    Five or six years ago, the Red Wings’ track record of success was second to no other team. But since losing in the Final in 2009, Detroit hasn’t been able to put together another deep playoff run, always falling in the first or second round. The team is constantly in the mix but is not the power that it once was.

     

    Total: 25/30

4. Montreal Canadiens

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    History: 10/10

    The Montreal Canadiens are the most iconic team in NHL history; they are also the league’s most successful club. With 23 Stanley Cups and a history that goes back a century, the Canadiens are the common threat that connects Lalonde, Morenz, Richard, Beliveau, Cournoyer, Dryden, Mahovlich, Lafleur, Robinson, Savard and Roy.

    No other hockey team can compete in terms of either depth or quality of that history. Unlike teams like the Oilers or Islanders, there is no single Montreal dynasty club; it’s necessary to specify which Montreal dynasty one is talking about.

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    Les Habitants have never had to worry about a lack of support. The team is inextricably tied to the city, and the Canadiens are Montreal’s primary obsession.

      

    Recent track record: 5/10

    After some lean years, the Canadiens appear to once again be on the upswing. The team has made the playoffs four of the last five seasons and went to the Conference Final in 2010. Most recently, an extremely successful 2012-13 regular season ended in playoff disappointment as the Habs lost to Ottawa in the first round.

     

    Total: 25/30

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    History: 7/10

    The Penguins go back to the NHL’s first major expansion in 1967, though the city of Pittsburgh had previously hosted the short-lived (and unsuccessful) Pirates NHL franchise. The team’s first 15 years or so were entirely unremarkable, but since then things have changed significantly.

    In the years since, the Penguins have won three Stanley Cups and been led by exceptional talents: from Mario Lemieux to Jaromir Jagr to Ron Francis to the modern-day duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. With the exception of a dreadful five-year stretch right in the middle of it all, the last quarter-century has been extremely good to Pittsburgh’s hockey club.

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    The Penguins have captivated the Pittsburgh market. Last season, the team had the highest local TV ratings of any in the United States; in fact, according to Sporting News, the mark the Penguins set puts them ahead of any American sports team since the 2007 Red Sox. Some of it is doubtless bandwagon support, but even so that’s awfully impressive.

     

    Recent track record: 9/10

    The Penguins are a contending team every year. They won it all in 2009 and last year went to the Conference Final, and if they ever figure out their playoff goaltending, they look like a good bet to win another Cup sometime in the near future.

     

    Total: 26/30

2. Boston Bruins

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    History: 8/10

    The Boston Bruins have won the Stanley Cup six times in their nearly 90-year history, and they have lost in the Final on 13 other occasions. It is a team that has had some fantastic players over the years—Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, John Bucyk—but the one that stands out above all the rest is Bobby Orr, certainly the greatest player ever to play his position and in the conversation for best player of all time, period.

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    Boston doesn’t have to worry about things like whether or not the fans will show up. The fans are a given for the Bruins: they show up for the games, and they watch the team on television. It is a well-supported club.

      

    Recent track record: 9/10

    There is a good argument to be made that the Bruins are the preeminent power in the NHL’s Eastern Conference right now. Just once in the last five years have they failed to advance past the first round, and twice they have gone to the Stanley Cup Final, winning once and falling to the Blackhawks last season.

     

    Total: 27/30

1. Chicago Blackhawks

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    History: 8/10

    Perhaps the best way to quickly summarize Chicago’s long history is this: Since the franchise’s inception in 1926, the team has never been as successful as it is right now.

    In the span between the Blackhawks’ second Stanley Cup win in 1938 and the win in 2010, more than 70 years passed with only a single championship, the only one greats like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita would celebrate in Chicago. The team has had great players over the years, but the last few years are as good as it’s ever been at the team level.

     

    Fan engagement: 10/10

    Chicago went through a period of fan unrest, but that had less to do with a loss of love for hockey than it did the inexplicably self-destructive policies of late owner Bill Wirtz. The team refused to locally televise home games on the grounds that it was unfair to fans, and it charged high ticket prices despite putting a second-rate product on the ice for most of a decade.

    It got so bad that the AHL’s (highly successful) Chicago Wolves were capable of bringing more fans in at times than the NHL Blackhawks.

    But all that is forgotten now. With the passing of the franchise to Rocky Wirtz, a return to more fan-friendly policies and success on the ice, the Blackhawks have restored their place in one of the United States’ foremost hockey markets.

     

    Recent track record: 10/10

    The Blackhawks are both the defending Stanley Cup and Presidents’ Trophy champions after an extremely successful campaign during the 2012-13 season. It was the third time in five years that Chicago embarked on a lengthy playoff run; the team had previously won the Cup in 2010 and gone to the Conference Final in 2009.

     

    Total: 28/30