National Hockey League
Current season, competition or edition:
2014–15 NHL season
November 26, 1917 (97 years),
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|No. of teams||30|
Canada (7 teams)
United States (23 teams)
|Headquarters||New York City, New York, United States|
|Most recent champion(s)||Los Angeles Kings (2nd title)|
|Most titles||Montreal Canadiens (25)[nb 1]|
Canada: Rogers Media (Sportsnet/TVA/CBC), NHL Network
United States: NBC Sports Group, NHL Network
The National Hockey League (NHL; French: Ligue nationale de hockey—LNH) is a professional ice hockey league composed of 30 member clubs: 23 in the United States and 7 in Canada. Headquartered in New York City, the NHL is widely considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.
The National Hockey League was organized on November 26, 1917, in National Hockey Association (NHA), which had been founded in 1909. It started with four teams (all based in Canada) and, through a series of expansions, contractions, and relocations, is now composed of thirty active franchises. The "nation" referred to by the league's name was Canada, although the league has now been binational since 1924 when its first team in the United States, the Boston Bruins, began play. After a labour-management dispute that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004–05 season, the league resumed play under a new collective agreement that included a salary cap. In 2009, the NHL enjoyed record highs in terms of sponsorships, attendance, and television audiences.
The league draws many highly skilled players from all over the world and currently has players from approximately 20 different countries. Canadians have historically constituted the majority of the players in the league, with a dramatically increasing percentage of American and European players in recent years.
- Early years 1.1
- Expansion into the United States and the Original Six 1.2
- Post-Original Six expansion 1.3
- Labour issues 1.4
- Player safety issues 1.5
Organizational structure 2
- Executives 2.1
- Realignment 3.1
- List of teams 3.2
- Defunct and relocated teams 3.3
- Game 4
- Hockey rink 5
- Rules 6
- Season structure 7
- Entry Draft 8
- Trophies and awards 9
- Current season leaders 10
- Origin of players 11
Television and radio 12
- Canada 12.1
- United States 12.2
- NHL Network 12.3
- Out-of-market sports packages 12.4
- International 12.5
- Popularity 13
- Charitable causes 14
- See also 15
- Footnotes 16
- References 17
- Further reading 18
- External links 19
|National Hockey League|
|Ice hockey portal|
The National Hockey League was established in 1917 as the successor to the National Hockey Association (NHA), officially called the National Hockey Association of Canada Limited. Founded by Ambrose O'Brien in 1909, the NHA began play one year later with seven teams in Ontario and Quebec, and was one of the first major leagues in professional ice hockey. But by the NHA's eighth season, a series of disputes with Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone led the other team owners, representing the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Quebec Bulldogs to meet at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal to talk about the league's future. Realizing the league constitution left them unable to force Livingstone out, the four teams voted instead to suspend the NHA, and on November 26, 1917, formed the National Hockey League. While a full member of the new league, the Bulldogs were unable to play, and the remaining owners created a new team in Toronto, the Arenas, to compete with the Canadiens, Wanderers and Senators. The first games were played three weeks later on December 19. Joe Malone scored five goals in a 7–4 victory for the Canadiens over the Senators on opening night; he finished the 1917–18 season with 44 goals in 20 games. The league nearly collapsed in January 1918 when the Montreal Arena burned down, causing the Wanderers to cease operations and forcing the Canadiens to hastily find a new arena. The NHL continued on as a three-team league until the Bulldogs returned in 1919.
Toronto won the first league title, then defeated the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Vancouver Millionaires to win the 1918 Stanley Cup The Canadiens won the league title in 1919; however their Stanley Cup Final against the Seattle Metropolitans was abandoned with the series tied after several players became ill as a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic that resulted in Montreal defenceman Joe Hall's death. Montreal defeated the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) in 1924 to win their first Stanley Cup as a member of the NHL. The Hamilton Tigers, who had relocated from Quebec in 1920, won the regular season title in 1924–25 but refused to play in the championship series unless they were given a C$200 bonus. The league refused and declared the Canadiens the league champion after they defeated the Toronto St. Patricks (formerly the Arenas) in the semi-final. Montreal was then defeated by the Victoria Cougars for the 1925 Stanley Cup. It was the last time a non-NHL team won the trophy, as the Stanley Cup became the de facto NHL championship in 1926 after the WCHL ceased operation.
Expansion into the United States and the Original Six
The National Hockey League embarked on rapid expansion in the 1920s, adding the Tex Rickard, owner of Madison Square Garden, was so impressed with the popularity of the Americans that he added the New York Rangers in 1926. The Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Cougars (later Red Wings) were also added after the league purchased the assets of the defunct WCHL. A group headed by Conn Smythe purchased the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927, immediately renamed them the Maple Leafs, and built Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.
The Great Depression and the onset of World War II took a toll on the league. The Pirates became the Philadelphia Quakers in 1930, then folded one year later. The Senators likewise became the St. Louis Eagles in 1934, also lasting only one year. The Canadiens were nearly sold and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936 before a trio of local owners purchased the team and kept them in Montreal. The Maroons did not survive, however, as they suspended operations in 1938. The Americans were suspended in 1942 due to a lack of players, and never revived. The league was reduced to six teams for the 1942–43 NHL season: the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. These six teams remained constant for 25 years, a period known as the Original Six.
The first NHL All-Star Game was held in 1934 to benefit Ace Bailey, whose career ended on a vicious hit by Eddie Shore. The second was held in 1937 in support of Howie Morenz's family when he died of a coronary embolism after breaking his leg during a game. His teammate Aurel Joliat said that Morenz "died of a broken heart" when he learned he would never play hockey again. Maurice "Rocket" Richard became the first player to score 50 goals, doing so in a 50 game season. Ten years later he was suspended for the 1955 Stanley Cup playoffs for punching a linesman, an incident that led to the Richard Riot. He returned to lead the Canadiens to five consecutive titles between 1956 and 1960, a record no team has matched. Willie O'Ree broke the league's colour barrier on January 18, 1958 when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins and became the first black player in league history.
Post-Original Six expansion
By the mid-1960s, the desire for a network television contract in the U.S., and concerns that the Western Hockey League was planning to declare itself a major league and challenge for the Stanley Cup, spurred the league to undertake its first expansion since the 1920s. The league doubled in size for the 1967–68 season, adding the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, California Seals and St. Louis Blues. Canadian fans were outraged that all six teams were placed in the United States, and the league responded by adding the Vancouver Canucks in 1970 along with the Buffalo Sabres, who are located on the U.S.-Canadian border. Two years later, the emergence of the newly founded World Hockey Association (WHA) led the league to add the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames to keep the rival league out of those markets. In 1974, the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts were added, bringing the league up to 18 teams.
The National Hockey League fought the WHA for players, losing 67 to the new league in its first season of 1972–73, including Bobby Hull, who signed a ten-year, $2.5 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets, the largest in hockey history at the time. The league attempted to block the defections in court, but a counter-suit by the WHA led to a Philadelphia judge ruling the NHL's reserve clause to be illegal, thus eliminating the elder league's monopoly over the players. Seven years of battling for players and markets financially damaged both leagues, leading to a 1979 merger agreement that saw the WHA cease operations while the NHL absorbed the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. The owners initially rejected this merger agreement by one vote, but a massive boycott of Molson Brewery products by fans in Canada caused the Montreal Canadiens, which was owned by Molson, to reverse its position, along with the Vancouver Canucks. In a second vote the plan was approved.
Wayne Gretzky played one season in the WHA for the Indianapolis Racers (eight games) and the Edmonton Oilers (72 games) before the Oilers joined the National Hockey League for the 1979–80 season. Gretzky went on to lead the Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988, and set single season records for goals (92 in 1981–82), assists (163 in 1985–86) and points (215 in 1985–86), as well as career records for goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857). He was traded to the Kings in 1988, a deal that dramatically improved the league's popularity in the United States, and provided the impetus for the 1990s expansion cycles that saw the addition of nine teams: the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, and in 2000 the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
There have been four league-wide work stoppages in league history, all happening since 1992.
The first was a strike by the National Hockey League Players' Association in April 1992 which lasted for ten days, but the strike was settled quickly and all affected games were rescheduled. A lockout at the start of the 1994–95 season forced the league to reduce the schedule from 84 games to just 48, with the teams playing only intra-conference games during the reduced season. The resulting collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was set for renegotiation in 1998 and extended to September 15, 2004.
With no new agreement in hand when the contract expired on September 15, 2004, league commissioner Gary Bettman announced a lockout of the players union and closed the league's head office. The league vowed to install what it dubbed "cost certainty" for its teams, but the Players' Association countered that the move was little more than a euphemism for a salary cap, which the union initially said it would not accept. The lockout shut down the league for 310 days, the longest in sports history. The NHL became the first professional sports league to lose an entire season. A new collective bargaining agreement was eventually ratified in July 2005, including a salary cap. The agreement had a term of six years with an option of extending the collective bargaining agreement for an additional year at the end of the term, allowing the league to resume as of the 2005–06 season.
On October 5, 2005, the first post-lockout season took to the ice with 15 games, and consequently all 30 teams. Of those 15 games, 11 were in front of sell-out crowds. The NHL received record attendance in the 2005–06 season: 20,854,169 fans, an average of 16,955 per game, a 1.2% increase over the previous mark held in the 2001–02 season. Also, the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Vancouver Canucks sold out all of their home games; all six Canadian teams played to 98% capacity or better at every home game. 24 of the 30 clubs finished even or ahead of their 2003–04 mark. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the highest increase at 33%, mainly because of 18-year-old first overall draft pick Sidney Crosby. After losing a season to a labour dispute in 2005, attendance figures for league teams returned to solid ground; the League's TV audience was slower to rebound because of American cable broadcaster ESPN's decision to drop the sport from its schedule. The league's post-lockout agreement with NBC gave the league a share of revenue from each game's advertising sales, rather than the usual lump sum paid up front for game rights. The league's annual revenues were estimated and approximately $2.27 billion.
At midnight September 16, 2012, the labour pact expired, and the league again locked out the players. The owners proposed reducing the players' share of hockey-related revenues from 57 percent to 47 percent. All games were cancelled up to January 14, 2013, as well as the 2013 NHL Winter Classic and the 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend. A tentative agreement was reached on January 6, 2013, on a ten-year deal. On January 12, the league and the Players' Association signed a memorandum of understanding on the new deal, allowing teams to begin their training camps on January 13, with a shortened 48-game season schedule that began on January 19.
Player safety issues
Player safety has become a major issue within the previous five years and concussions as a result of hit to the head have been the biggest cause. With recent studies showing how concussions have affected retired players and how it as decreased the quality of their lives following retiring, concussions have become a very important topic of debate when it comes to player safety issues. This had significant effects on the league as elite players were being taken out of the game, such as Sidney Crosby being sidelined for approximately 10 and a half months, which adversely affected the league's marketability. As a result, in December 2009, Brendan Shanahan was hired to replace Colin Campbell and given the role of Senior Vice-President of Player Safety. Shanahan began to hand out suspensions on high profile perpetrators responsible for dangerous hits, such as Raffi Torres receiving 25 games for his hit on Marian Hossa.
To aid with removing high speed collisions on icing, which had led to several potential career ending injuries such as Hurricanes' Defencemen Joni Pitkanen, the league mandated hybrid no-touch icing for the 2013–14 NHL season.
On November 25, 2013, ten former players, Gary Leeman, Rick Vaive, Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richie Dunn, Warren Holmes, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart and Morris Titanic sued the league for negligence on protecting players from concussions. The suit came three months after the NFL agreed to pay former players US$765 million due to a player safety lawsuit.
The Board of Governors is the ruling and governing body of the league. In this context, each team is a member of the league, and each member appoints a Governor (usually the owner of the club), and two alternates to the Board. The current chairman of the Board is Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs. The Board of Governors exists to establish the policies of the league, and to uphold its constitution. Some of the responsibilities of the Board of Governors include:
- review and approve any rule changes to the game
- hiring and firing of the commissioner
- review and approve the purchase, sale, or relocation of any member club.
- review and approve the salary caps for member clubs.
- review and approve any changes to the structure of the game schedule
The Board of Governors meets twice per year, in June and December, with the exact date and place to be fixed by the Commissioner.
- Deputy Commissioner & Chief Legal Officer: Bill Daly
- Executive VP & CFO: Craig Harnett
- Chief Operating Officer: John Collins
- Executive VP & Director of Hockey Operations: Colin Campbell
- NHL Enterprises: Ed Horne
- Senior Vice-President of Player Safety: Stephane Quintal
The National Hockey League originated in 1917 with four Canadian teams, which after a tumultuous first quarter century, found stability in the Original Six era spanning 1942–1967 with four franchises in the United States joining two Canadian clubs. Through a sequence of team expansions, reductions, and relocations the NHL currently consists of 30 teams, 23 of which are based in the United States and seven in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful franchise with 24 Stanley Cup championships (23 as an NHL team, 1 as an NHA team). Of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, the Montreal Canadiens are only surpassed in the number of championships by the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, who have three more. The next most successful franchise is the Toronto Maple Leafs with 13 Stanley Cup championships, but they have not won one since 1967. The Detroit Red Wings, with 11 Stanley Cup championships, are the most successful American franchise. The longest streak of winning the Stanley Cup in consecutive years is five, held by the Montreal Canadiens from 1955–56 to 1959–60; the New York Islanders (1980–1983) and the Montreal Canadiens (1976–1979) have four-year championship streaks. The 1977 edition of the Montreal Canadiens, the second of four straight Stanley Cup champions, was named by ESPN as the second greatest sports team of all-time.
The current 30-team NHL organization divides the teams into two conferences: the 1998–99 season when a league realignment added two divisions to bring the total number of divisions to six; the former team alignment began with the 2000–01 season when the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league as expansion teams.
Sixteen of the league's thirty teams (the entire Eastern Conference) are located in the Atlanta in 2011).
The relocation of the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise to become the current Winnipeg Jets in 2011 prompted the league to discuss realignment. On December 5, 2011, the Board of Governors approved a conference realignment plan that would eliminate the current six-division setup and move into a four-conference structure. Under the plan, which was designed to better accommodate the effects of time zone differences, each team would have played 36 or 38 intra-conference games, depending on whether it is in a seven- or eight-team conference, and two games (home and road) against each non-conference team. On January 6, 2012, the league announced that the NHL Player's Association had rejected the proposed realignment, citing concerns about fairness, travel and the inability to see a draft schedule before approving, and that as a result, it would not implement the realignment until at least 2013–14.
Upon NHLPA rejection of the previous realignment, a new joint NHL-NHLPA plan was proposed in February 2013 as a modification of the previous plan with both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings moving to the East and the Winnipeg Jets moving to the West. This revised plan also adjusted the previously proposed four-conference system to a four-division, two-conference system, with the Eastern Conference consisting of two eight-team divisions, and the Western Conference consisting of two seven-team divisions. A new playoff format was also introduced to accommodate the new proposal, with the top three teams in each division making the playoffs along with two wild-cards in each conference (for a total of 16 playoff teams). The NHLPA officially gave its consent to the NHL's proposed realignment plan on March 7, and then the NHL's Board of Governors approved the realignment and the new playoff format on March 14, to be implemented prior to the 2013–2014 season. The league then announced the names of the divisions on July 19: the two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference are the Atlantic Division and the Metropolitan Division, and the two seven-team divisions in the Western Conference are the Central Division and the Pacific Division.
List of teams
Defunct and relocated teams
Nineteen NHL teams have either folded or relocated. The first team to disband was the Montreal Wanderers in 1918, following the destruction of their arena by fire just four games into the season. The blaze destroyed all the team's equipment, and as a consequence the players were dispersed among the three remaining teams. The first team to relocate was the Quebec Athletic Club, who relocated to Hamilton, Ontario in 1920 to become the Hamilton Tigers. NHL president Frank Calder stripped the franchise from owner Mike Quinn and sold it to a Hamilton-based company. Three franchises succumbed to the economic pressures of the Great Depression: the Philadelphia Quakers, St. Louis Eagles, and Montreal Maroons. The Brooklyn Americans were the last team to fold in the NHL. In the early 1940s, the franchise was struggling financially, and was suspended prior to the 1942–43 season due to a lack of players during World War II. The franchise formally ceased operations in 1946, and their demise began a period in the league's history known as the "Original Six".
The 1967 NHL expansion added six teams, but one of those teams, the California Golden Seals, moved to Cleveland, becoming the Cleveland Barons, before merging with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978 when both clubs were on the verge of folding. Kansas City relocated to Denver after only 2 years, becoming the Colorado Rockies, who subsequently moved to New Jersey (Devils) in 1982. With six more expansion teams in the 1970s, and the 1979 NHL–WHA merger, the league had 21 teams at the end of the decade. Three of the four teams from the merger have since relocated to other cities: the Quebec Nordiques, the original Winnipeg Jets, and the Hartford Whalers. The Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver becoming the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix becoming the Coyotes in 1996, and the Hartford Whalers moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. The Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary in 1980.
During the 2011 playoffs, the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was acquired by True North Sports and Entertainment, who moved the team to Winnipeg for 2011–12, giving the team the revived name Winnipeg Jets.
Each National Hockey League regulation game is played between two teams and is 60 minutes long. The game is composed of three 20-minute periods with an intermission of either 15½ or 17 minutes (if nationally televised) between periods. Television timeouts are taken at the first stoppage of play after 6, 10, and 14 minutes of elapsed time of each of the three regulation periods, unless a power play is in session at the time or the first stoppage is the result of a goal scored. In these cases, the timeout will occur at the first stoppage after the penalty expires or the next stoppage after the goal, respectively. A rule that was introduced in the 2007–08 season was that if the first stoppage of play after said time periods is an icing call, the TV timeout will not occur. This rule was added shortly after the league instituted a rule that disallows the team who ices the puck to substitute their players on the ice at the time of the icing. The rule was added so that a TV timeout would not compromise the inability to be substituted. At the end of the 60-minute regulation time, the team with the most goals wins the game. If a game is tied after regulation time, overtime ensues. During the regular season, overtime is a five-minute, four-player on four-player sudden-death period, in which the first team to score a goal wins the game.
Beginning in the 2005–06 season, if the game is still tied at the end of overtime, the game enters a shootout. Three players for each team in turn take a penalty shot. The team with the most goals during the three-round shootout wins the game. If the game is still tied after the three shootout rounds, the shootout continues but becomes sudden-death. Whichever team ultimately wins the shootout is awarded a goal in the game score and thus awarded two points in the standings. The losing team in overtime or shootout is awarded only one. Shootout goals and saves are not tracked in hockey statistics; shootout statistics are tracked separately.
There are no shootouts during the Playoffs. Instead, multiple sudden-death, 20-minute five-on-five periods are played until one team scores. While in theory a game could continue indefinitely, only four games have reached five overtime periods, two of those have reached six, and none have gone beyond six. There are no television time-outs during playoff overtime periods; the only break is to clean the loose ice at the first stoppage after the period is halfway finished.
National Hockey League games are played on a rectangular hockey rink with rounded corners surrounded by walls and Plexiglas. It measures 200 feet (60.96 m) by 85 feet (25.91 m) in the NHL, approximately the same length but much narrower than International Ice Hockey Federation standards. The centre line divides the ice in half, and is used to judge icing violations. There are two blue lines that divide the rink roughly into thirds, delineating one neutral and two attacking zones. Near the end of both ends of the rink, there is a thin red goal line spanning the width of the ice, which is used to judge goals and icing calls.
Starting in the 2005–2006 season, after testing in the American Hockey League, a trapezoidal area behind each goal net has been introduced. The goaltender can play the puck only within the trapezoid or in front of the goal line; if the goaltender plays the puck behind the goal line and outside the trapezoidal area, a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game is assessed by the referees. The rule is unofficially nicknamed the "Martin Brodeur rule".
Since the 2013–2014 season, the league trimmed the goal frames by 4 inches (10 cm) on each side and reduced the size of the goalies' leg pads.
The National Hockey League's rules are one of the two standard sets of rules in the world. The rules themselves have evolved directly from the Montreal in 1875, updated by subsequent leagues up to 1917, when the NHL adopted the existing NHA set of rules. The NHL's rules are the basis for rules governing most ice hockey leagues in North America. Infractions of the rules, such as offside and icing, lead to a stoppage of play and subsequent face-offs, while more serious infractions leading to penalties to the offending teams. The league also determines the specifications for playing equipment used in its games.
The league has regularly modified its rules to counter perceived imperfections in the game. The penalty shot was adopted from the Pacific Coast Hockey Association to ensure players were not being blocked from opportunities to score. For the 2005–06 season, the league changed some of the rules regarding being offside. First, the league removed the "offside pass" or "two-line pass" rule, which required a stoppage in play if a pass originating from inside a team's defending zone was completed on the offensive side of the centre line, unless the puck crossed the line before the player. Furthermore, the league reinstated the "tag-up offside" which allows an attacking player a chance to get back onside by returning to the neutral zone. The changes to the offside rule were among several rule changes intended to increase overall scoring, which had been in decline since the expansion years of the mid-nineties and the increased prevalence of the neutral zone trap. Since 2005, when a team is guilty of icing the puck they are not allowed to make a line change or skater substitution of any sort before the following face-off (except to replace an injured player or re-install a pulled goaltender). Since 2013, the league has used hybrid icing, where a linesman stops play due to icing if a defending player (other than the goaltender) crosses the imaginary line that connects the two face-off dots in their defensive zone before an attacking player is able to. This was done to counter a trend of player injury in races to the puck.
The league's rules differ from the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), as used in tournaments such as the Olympics, which were themselves derived from the Canadian amateur ice hockey rules of the early 20th century. In the NHL, fighting leads to major penalties while IIHF rules, and most amateur rules, call for the ejection of fighting players. Usually a penalized team cannot replace a player that is penalized on the ice and is thus short-handed for the duration of the penalty, but if the penalties are coincidental, for example when two players fight, both teams remain at full strength. Also, unlike minor penalties, major penalties must be served to their full completion, regardless of number of goals scored during the power play. The NHL and IIHF differ also in playing rules, such as icing, the areas of play for goaltenders, helmet rules, officiating rules, timeouts and play reviews.
The league also imposes a conduct policy on its players. Players are banned from gambling and criminal activities have led to the suspension of players. The league and the Players' Association agreed to a stringent anti-doping policy in the 2005 bargaining agreement. The policy provides for a twenty-game suspension for a first positive test, a sixty-game suspension for a second positive test, and a lifetime suspension for a third positive test.
The National Hockey League season is divided into an exhibition season (September), a regular season (from the first week in October through early to mid April) and a postseason (the Stanley Cup playoffs). During the exhibition season, teams may play other teams from the league. They also often compete against European clubs, such as clubs from the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). During the regular season, clubs play each other in a predefined schedule. The Stanley Cup playoffs, which go from April to the beginning of June, is an elimination tournament where two teams play against each other to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. The final remaining team is crowned the Stanley Cup champion. Beginning in 2007, the NHL regular season has begun in Europe while teams not involved complete their pre-season exhibition schedule.
In the regular season, each team plays 82 games: 41 games each of home and road. Eastern teams play 30 games in its own geographic division— four or five against each one of their seven other divisional opponents—and 24 games against the eight remaining non-divisional intra-conference opponents—three games against every team in the other division of its conference. Western teams play 28 or 29 games in its own geographic division-four or five against each one of their six other divisional opponents-and 21 or 22 games against the seven remaining non-divisional intra-conference opponents-three games against every team in the other division of its conference, with one cross-division intra-conference match-up occurring in four games (one team from each division plays only 28 intra-division games in a given season, and rotates every season). All teams play every team in the other conference twice-home and road. For three seasons between 2005 and 2008, teams played 32 games within their division—eight games against each team in the division—and 10 inter-conference games—one game against each team in two of the three divisions in the opposite conference. The two divisions faced from the opposite conference were rotated every year, much like interleague play in Major League Baseball. As with the former system, each team played four games against each one of the other ten teams in its conference outside of its division.
The league's regular season standings are based on a point system instead of winning percentages. Points are awarded for each game, where two points are awarded for a win, one point for losing in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation. At the end of the regular season, the team that finishes with the most points in each division is crowned the division champion. The league's overall leader is awarded the Presidents' Trophy.
Since 2014 the top three teams in each division plus the two wild-card teams in the conference with the next highest number of points, for a total of eight teams in each conference, qualify for the playoffs. The division winner with the best record in the conference plays the lowest-seeded wild-card team and the other division winner plays the highest-seeded wild-card (wild-card teams may cross over to another division within the conference), and the next two teams with the next best records in each division are seeded 2nd and 3rd. The Stanley Cup playoffs is an elimination tournament, where the teams are grouped in pairs to play best-of-seven series, the winners moving on to the next round. The first round of the playoffs, or division semi-finals, consists of the first seed playing the fourth seed, and the second playing the third. In the second round, or division finals, the two remaining teams in the division play each other. In the third round, the conference finals, the two division champions play each other, with the conference champions proceeding to the Stanley Cup Final.
In all rounds the higher-ranked team is awarded home-ice advantage. Four of the seven games are played at this team's home venue—the first and second, and, when necessary, the fifth and seventh games—with the other games played at the lower-ranked team's home venue. In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the most points (or in case of a tie, most wins) during the regular season is given home-ice advantage, regardless of where each team ranks in their own conference.
The annual NHL Entry Draft consists of a seven-round off-season draft held in late June. Amateur players from junior, collegiate, or European leagues are eligible to enter the Entry Draft. The selection order is determined by a combination of the standings at the end of the regular season, playoff results, and a draft lottery. The 14 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs are entered in a weighted lottery to determine the initial draft picks in the first round, with the 30th-place team having the best chance of winning the lottery. Once the lottery determines the initial draft picks, the order for the remaining non-playoff teams is determined by the standings at the end of the regular season. For those teams that did qualify for the playoffs, the draft order is then determined by the order in which they were eliminated, with the Stanley Cup winner getting the 30th and last pick, and the runner-up is given the 29th pick.
Trophies and awards
|Toronto Maple Leafs||13|
|Detroit Red Wings||11|
|New York Islanders||4|
|New York Rangers||4|
|New Jersey Devils||3|
|Los Angeles Kings||2|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1|
* Including one championship before the formation of the NHL.
The National Hockey League presents a number of trophies each year. The most prestigious team award is the Stanley Cup, which is awarded to the league champion at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The team that has the most points in the regular season is awarded the Presidents' Trophy. There are also numerous trophies that are awarded to players based on their statistics during the regular season; they include, among others, the Art Ross Trophy for the league scoring champion (goals and assists), the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy for the goal-scoring leader, and the William M. Jennings Trophy for the goalkeeper(s) for the team with the fewest goals against them.
The other player trophies are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association or the team general managers. These individual awards are presented at a formal ceremony held in late June after the playoffs have concluded. The most prestigious individual award is the Hart Memorial Trophy which is awarded annually to the Most Valuable Player; the voting is conducted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to judge the player who is the most valuable to his team during the regular season. The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually to the person deemed the best goalkeeper as voted on by the general managers of the teams in the NHL. The James Norris Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League's top defenceman, the Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the top rookie, and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player deemed to combine the highest degree of skill and sportsmanship; all three of these awards are voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
In addition to the regular season awards, the Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the most valuable player during the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs. Furthermore, the top coach in the league wins the Jack Adams Award as selected by a poll of the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association. The National Hockey League publishes the names of the top three vote getters for all awards, and then names the award winner during the NHL Awards Ceremony.
One interesting aspect for the trophies in the NHL is that the same trophy is reused every year for each of its awards. The Stanley Cup, much like its CFL counterpart, is unique in this aspect, as opposed to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Larry O'Brien Trophy, and Commissioner's Trophy, which have new ones made every year for that year's champion. Despite only one trophy being used, the names of the teams winning and the players are engraved every year on the Stanley Cup. The same can also be said for the other trophies reissued every year.
Players, coaches, officials, and team builders who have had notable careers are eligible to be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Players cannot enter until three years have passed since their last professional game, the shortest such time period of any major sport. One unique consequence has been Hall of Fame members (specifically, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, and Mario Lemieux) coming out of retirement to play once more. If a player was deemed significant enough, the three-year wait would be waived; only ten individuals have been honoured in this manner. In 1999, Wayne Gretzky joined the Hall and became the last player to have the three-year restriction waived. After his induction, the Hall of Fame announced that Gretzky would be the last to have the waiting period waived.
Current season leaders
The top five point scorers in the 2013–14 season were Sidney Crosby (104), Ryan Getzlaf (87), Claude Giroux (86), Tyler Seguin (84), and Corey Perry (82). The top goal scorers were Alex Ovechkin (51), Perry (43), Joe Pavelski (41), Max Pacioretty (39), and Seguin (37). The top five scoring defencemen were Erik Karlsson (74), Duncan Keith (61), Shea Weber (56), Dustin Byfuglien (56), and Victor Hedman (55). The top goaltenders (by wins) were Semyon Varlamov (41), Antti Niemi (39), Marc-Andre Fleury (39), Ben Bishop (37) and Tuukka Rask (36).
Origin of players
In addition to Canadian and American born and trained players, who have historically composed a large majority of NHL rosters, the NHL also draws players from an expanding pool of other nations where organized and professional hockey is played. A steady stream of European players began entering the league in the 1970s, continuing into the 1980s. Most of the first wave of Europeans came from Sweden and Finland, with a small number of defectors from the Soviet Bloc. Since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, political/ideological restrictions on the movement of hockey players from this region have disappeared, leading to a large influx of players mostly from Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia into the NHL. Swedes, Finns, and other Western Europeans, who were always free to move to North America, came to the league in greater numbers than before. Many of the league's top players today come from these European countries, including: Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Teemu Selanne, Zdeno Chara, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Ovechkin. European players were drafted and signed by NHL teams in an effort to bring in more "skilled offensive players", although recently there has been a decline in European players as more American players enter the league. The addition of European players changed the style of play in the NHL and European style hockey has been integrated into the NHL game. Conversely Canadian coaches and the Canadian style of play have been embraced by many European countries. Because of the continued success of Canadian teams in world tournaments many other countries are trying to model their development programs after Hockey Canada's.
Since 1998, the league has voluntarily suspended its all star game and expanded the traditional all star break during Winter Olympic years to allow NHL players an opportunity to represent their respective countries. The 2010 Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver, an NHL city. Conversely, the IIHF World Championships are held at the same time as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Thus, NHL players generally only join their respective country's team in the World Championships if their respective NHL team has been eliminated from Stanley Cup contention.
The NHL has players from 18 different countries, with the majority (52.0 percent during the 2007–08 NHL season) coming from Canada. The following table shows the origins of every player (skaters and goaltenders) who played an NHL regular season game in the given year. The table follows the Hockey Hall of Fame convention of classifying players by the currently existing countries in which their birthplaces are located, without regard to their citizenship or where they were trained.
Television and radio
Broadcasting rights in Canada have historically included the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC), a long-standing Canadian tradition dating to 1952, and even prior to that on radio since the 1920s. Other previous Canadian broadcasters have included CTV, Global, TSN, Sportsnet; and French-language broadcasts on SRC, RDS and TVA Sports.
The current national television and digital rightsholder is Rogers Communications, under a 12-year deal valued at C$5.2 billion which began in the 2014–15 season, and replaced both CBC and Bell Media as the national broadcast and cable television rightsholders respectively. National English-language coverage of the NHL is carried primarily by Rogers' Sportsnet group of specialty channels; Sportsnet holds an exclusive window for games played on Wednesday nights. Hockey Night in Canada was maintained and expanded under the deal, airing up to seven games nationally on Saturday nights throughout the regular season across CBC, the Sportsnet networks, Rogers-owned television network City, and FX Canada. While CBC maintains Rogers-produced NHL coverage during the regular season and playoffs through a time-brokerage agreement with the company, Rogers assumes editorial control and the ownership of any advertising revenue from the telecasts. City also airs a Sunday night game of the week, Rogers Hometown Hockey, which features a pre-game show originating from various Canadian communities. Sportsnet's networks also air occasional games involving all-U.S. matchups.
Under a sub-licensing agreement with Rogers, Quebecor Media holds national French-language rights to the NHL, with the majority of coverage airing on its specialty channel TVA Sports, and playoff coverage on TVA. TVA Sports' flagship broadcasts on Saturday nights focus primarily on the Montreal Canadiens.
Games that are not broadcast as part of the national rights deal are broadcast regionally by Sportsnet's regional networks, TSN, and RDS; Sportsnet holds regional rights to the Montreal Canadiens (English only), Toronto Maple Leafs (split with TSN), Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks, while TSN holds rights to the Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, and Toronto Maple Leafs (split with Sportsnet). RDS holds regional French-language rights to the Canadiens and Senators. Regional games are subject to blackout for viewers outside of each team's designated market.
Historically, the NHL has never fared well on American television in comparison to the other American professional leagues. The league's American broadcast partners have been in flux for decades, ranging from such networks as CBS, SportsChannel America, the USA Network, Fox, ABC, and ESPN.
National U.S. television rights are currently held by NBCUniversal; its current 10-year, US$2 billion contract, which began in the 2011-12 season, extended and unified rights deals that were first established in the 2005-06 season, when Comcast acquired cable rights to the league for Outdoor Life Network (later known as Versus), and NBC Sports acquired broadcast television rights to the league under a revenue-sharing agreement. In January 2011, Comcast acquired NBC's parent company NBC Universal, and later negotiated a new 10-year deal with the NHL, worth nearly US$2 billion. Comcast also announced the re-branding of Versus as the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). Under this contract, NBCSN usually airs at least two regular season games per week, while NBC airs afternoon games on selected weekends. NBCUniversal holds exclusive rights to Wednesday night games, all games televised by the NBC network, and every game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning in the second round. Coverage of the playoffs and the Finals is split between the two networks, with other games shown on CNBC and NHL Network.
As in Canada, games not broadcast nationally are aired regionally within a team's home market, and are subject to blackout outside of them. These broadcasters include regional sports network chains such as Comcast SportsNet, Fox Sports Networks, MSG Network, and Root Sports. Certain national telecasts on NBCSN, such as certain regular season games and first round playoff games, are non-exclusive, and may also air in tandem with telecasts of the game by local broadcasters. However, national telecasts of these games are blacked out in the participating teams' markets to protect the local broadcaster.
XM Satellite Radio is the official satellite radio broadcaster of the NHL, as of July 1, 2007. Between September 2005 and June 2007, the NHL's broadcasting rights were shared with both XM and Sirius Satellite Radio and were broadcast on just Sirius before the NHL lockout. XM used to broadcast more than 80% of NHL games, including all the playoffs and finals. Starting with the 2007–08 season, XM broadcasts every game.
The league co-owns the NHL Network, a television specialty channel devoted to the NHL. There are two versions, one for Canadian viewers and a separate one for those in the United States. The NHL Network is a joint venture with other media companies. CTV Specialty Television and Insight Sports are both minority owners of the Canadian version, while NBCUniversal is a minority owner of the American version.
The NHL Network's signature show is NHL Tonight (formerly NHL on the Fly), which covers NHL news, highlights, interviews, and analysis. The NHL Network also airs live games, with the Canadian version primarily focusing on those featuring Canadian teams and the American version focusing on American teams. These are usually simulcasts of one of the team's regional broadcaster. The American NHL Network may also simulcast a CBC game televised nationally in Canada, and the Canadian NHL network may also simulcast an NBC game televised nationally in the U.S.
Out-of-market sports packages
The NHL operates two subscription-based services allowing access to live, out-of-market games; NHL Centre Ice in Canada and NHL Center Ice in the United States offer access to out-of-market feeds of games through a cable or satellite television provider.
The league also offers NHL GameCenter Live (branded as Rogers NHL GameCentre Live in Canada), which allows the streaming of out-of-market games over the internet, either through the NHL website, smartphones and tablets, digital media players, smart TVs, and video game consoles. In-market and nationally televised games are not available through either of these services.
Per its exclusive national television and digital rights contract, Rogers Communications took over Canadian distribution and marketing of both the out-of-market TV and the internet services in Canada as of the 2014–15 season. A number of changes were made to the internet service, which was re-branded as Rogers NHL GameCentre Live; it now offers access to nationally-televised games, along with in-market streaming of regional games for teams that Sportsnet holds broadcast rights to; as of the 2014–15 season, these include almost all NHL teams in Canada, aside from the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets, whose broadcast rights are held by TSN. As part of the transition, Rogers also issued a free trial of the service, lasting through the start of 2015, to all Rogers cable and mobile internet subscribers. The service offers "GamePlus", a component featuring alternate camera angles, such as net cams, point-of-view cams, and sky cams. The sky cam are currently only available for Air Canada Centre games, but the remaining Canadian arenas will be equipped for it in the future. GamePlus will only be available to GameCentre Live subscribers who are subscribed to Rogers' cable, internet, or wireless services.
Outside of Canada and the United States, NHL games are broadcast across Europe (excluding the UK and Scandinavia) and the Middle East on ESPN America, which takes feeds from NBC, Rogers, and teams' regional broadcasts. In the UK Premier Sports has the rights to the NHL and show 15 games per week. Fox Sports in Australia, on Viasat Sport in Norway, Finland, and Denmark on Viasat Hockey in Sweden, in the Czech Republic on NovaSport or FandaTV and in Portugal on SportTV. In the Americas, NHL games are broadcast across Mexico, Central America and Dominican Republic on SKY México. Stanley Cup games can also be viewed in New Zealand on Sky Sport. In Brazil, the games are broadcast on ESPN International.
The aforementioned NHL Gamecenter Live on NHL.com is also available for people outside Canada and the United States to watch games online, but blackout restrictions apply for example in the UK where they are not allowed to show live games that are being shown on Premier Sports.
The NHL is considered one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, along with Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association. The league is very prominent in Canada, where hockey is the most popular of these four major sports as alongside CFL. Overall, hockey has the smallest total fan base of the four leagues, the smallest revenue from television, and the least sponsorship.
While the NHL does not hold one of the largest fan bases in North America, it does hold one of the most affluent fan bases. Studies by the Sports Marketing Group conducted from 1998 to 2004 show that the NHL's fan base is much more affluent than that of the PGA Tour. A study done by the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2004, found that NHL fans in America were the most educated and affluent of the four major leagues. They were also found to be substantially more computer literate than the other fans. Further it noted that season-ticket sales were more prominent in the NHL than the other three because of the ability of the NHL fan to purchase them, something more out of reach for fans of the other leagues. According to Reuters in 2010, the largest demographic of NHL fans was highly sought after group males aged 18–34, who were also shown to be more "tech savvy" than most fans.
The NHL estimates that fully half of its fan base roots for teams in outside markets. Beginning in 2008, under the direction of Chief Operating Officer John Collins, the NHL began a shift toward using digital technology to market to fans to capitalize on this.
The debut of the Winter Classic, an outdoor regular season NHL game held on New Year's Day 2008, was a major success for the league. The game has since become a permanent staple of the NHL schedule. This, along with the transition to a national "Game of the Week" and an annual "Hockey Day in America" regional coverage, all televised on NBC, has helped increase the NHL's regular season television viewership in the United States. These improvements led NBC and the cable channel Versus to sign a shared ten-year broadcast deal (as their parent companies were merging), paying US$200 million per year for both American cable and broadcast rights; the deal will lead to further increases in television coverage on the NBC channels.
This has boosted viewership metrics for the NHL. The 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs saw the largest audience in the history of the sport "after a regular season that saw record-breaking business success, propelled in large part by the NHL's strategy of engaging fans through big events and robust digital offerings." This success has resulted in a 66 percent rise in NHL advertising and sponsorship revenue. Collins said "It was a great Stanley Cup run, really across every possible metric .... Our fans are consuming more hockey." Merchandise sales were up 22 percent and the number of unique visitors on the NHL.com website were up 17 percent during the playoffs after rising 29 percent in the regular season.
The NHL advocates for a number of causes throughout the season. During the days leading up to Remembrance Day (November 11, known as Veterans Day in the United States), in respect of the day, coaches and other NHL officials wear red poppy lapel pins. Hockey Fights Cancer is a joint initiative founded in December 1998 by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association to raise money and awareness for hockey's most important fight. It is supported by NHL Member Clubs, NHL Alumni, the NHL Officials' Association, Professional Hockey Trainers and Equipment Managers, corporate marketing partners, broadcast partners and fans.
- List of American and Canadian cities by number of major professional sports franchises
- List of NHL records (individual)
- List of NHL records (team)
- List of professional sports teams in the United States and Canada
- List of TV markets and major sports teams
- Major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada
- NHL outdoor games
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