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National Hockey League

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National Hockey League (NHL)
Current season or competition:
2010–11 NHL season
05 NHL Shield.svg
The NHL shield Logo
Formerly National Hockey Association
Sport Ice hockey
Founded 1917, Montreal, Canada
Commissioner Gary Bettman
No. of teams 30
Country(ies) Canada Canada (6 teams)
United States United States (24 teams)
Continent North America
Most recent champion(s) Chicago Blackhawks (4th title)
Most titles Montreal Canadiens (25 NHL titles, 24 Stanley Cups)
TV partner(s) Canada: CBC, NHL Network, RDS, RIS, TSN
US: NBC, NHL Network, Versus
Official website

The National Hockey League (NHL; French: Ligue nationale de hockey—LNH) is an unincorporated not-for-profit association which operates a major professional ice hockey league of 30 franchised member clubs, of which 6 are located in Canada and 24 in the United States. Headquartered in New York City, the NHL is widely considered to be the premiere professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues of 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 league was organized on November 22, 1917 in Montreal, Canada after the suspension of operations of its predecessor organization, the National Hockey Association (NHA), which had been founded in 1909. It started with four teams and, through a series of expansions, contractions, and relocations, the league is now composed of 30 active franchises. After a "lockout" that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004–05 season, the league resumed play under a new collective bargaining agreement that included a salary cap. In 2009, the NHL enjoyed record highs in terms of sponsorships, crowds and television audiences.

The NHL draws many highly skilled players from all over the world and currently has players from about 20 different countries. Although Canadians have historically constituted the majority of the players in the NHL, over the past four plus decades the percentages of American and European trained players have increased both because of the NHL's continued expansion from six to thirty clubs since 1967, and the increased availability of highly skilled European players, especially from former Eastern Bloc countries.


Early years

A series of disputes in the National Hockey Association (NHA) with Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone led the other owners, representing the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Quebec Bulldogs to meet at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal to talk about the NHA'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 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 Quebec returned in 1919.

Montreal Canadiens in 1942

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 in 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 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 operations.

Team picture of the 1932–33 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers autographed by club manager/coach Lester Patrick

The league embarked on rapid expansion in the 1920s, adding the Montreal Maroons and Boston Bruins in 1924. The Bruins were the first American team in the NHL, while the Maroons played in the newly completed Montreal Forum that the Canadiens made famous in later decades. The New York Americans began play in 1925 after purchasing the assets of the Hamilton Tigers, and were joined by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tex Rickard, owner of the 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. 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, but 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 NHL'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.


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 NHL 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, Oakland Seals and St. Louis Blues. Canadians 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. 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 NHL 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 NHL attempted to block the defections in court, though a countersuit by the WHA led to a Philadelphia judge ruling the NHL's reserve clause to be illegal, 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 Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques.

Wayne Gretzky played one season in the WHA before joining the NHL in 1979–80 with the Oilers. He 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 NHL's popularity in the United States, and provided the impetus for the 1990s expansion cycles that saw the addition of the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Labour issues

History of the NHL
Leafs v Red Wings 1942.jpg
National Hockey League
Founding (1917–1942)
Original Six (1942–1967)
Expansion era (1967–1992)
Modern era (1992–present)
Ice hockey portal

There have been three league-wide work stoppages in NHL history, all happening between 1992 and 2005.

The first was a strike by the National Hockey League Players Association in April 1992 which lasted for 10 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 was set for renegotiation in 1998 and extended to September 15, 2004.

With no new agreement in hand when the existing contract expired on September 15, 2004, league commissioner Gary Bettman announced a lockout of the players union and cessation of operations by the NHL head office. The lockout shut down the league for 310 days, the longest in sports history; the NHL was the first professional sports league to lose an entire season. The league vowed to install what it dubbed "cost certainty" for its teams, but the NHL 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. A new collective bargaining agreement was ratified in July 2005 with 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 NHL to resume as of the 2005–06 season.

On October 5, 2005, the first post-lockout NHL 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, was a 1.2% increase over the previous mark held in the 2001–02 season. Also, the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, 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 have returned to solid ground; but the League's TV audience has not because of ESPN's decision to drop the sport from its schedule. The NHL's current agreement with NBC gives the sport a share of revenue from each game's advertising sales, rather than the usual lump sum paid up front for game rights. The NHL is estimated to earn annual revenue of around $2.27 billion.


Original NHL logo, used before 2005. A version of the logo features it in the shape of a hockey puck.
Los Angeles Kings' Mike Weaver battling for the puck against Calgary Flames' Daymond Langkow, December 21, 2005.

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 unless there is a power play or the first stoppage is the result of a goal. In these cases, the timeout will occur at the first stoppage after the penalty expires or the next stoppage after the goal, respectively. A new rule was introduced for the 2007–08 season that if the first stoppage of play is an icing, the TV timeout does not occur. This is to prevent players from getting a break despite not being allowed to change. 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. Until the 2005–06 season, if no team was able to score in the five-minute overtime, the game ended in a tie.

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.

Shootouts do not occur during the playoffs. In the playoffs, 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 have reached six, and none have gone beyond six. There are no television timeouts during playoff overtime periods; the only break is to clean the loose ice at the first stoppage after the period is halfway finished.

Hockey rink

Diagram of an NHL hockey rink:
1. penalty boxes
2. team benches
3. scorekeepers' area.

National Hockey League games are played on a rectangular hockey rink with rounded corners surrounded by walls and plexiglass. It measures 25.91 by 60.92 metres (85 by 200 ft) in the NHL, while international standards call for a rink measuring 29–30 metres by 60–61 metres (95.14–98.43 ft by 196.85–200.13 ft). 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, which divide the ice into two attacking and one neutral zone. 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 only play the puck within that area or in front of the goal line; if the goaltender plays the puck behind the goal line and not in the trapezoidal area, a two minute minor penalty for delay of game is assessed by the referees.


While the National Hockey League follows the general rules of ice hockey, it differs slightly from those used in international games organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) such as the Olympics. Infractions of the rules can lead to either the stoppage of play in the case of offside and icing calls, or a penalty call for more serious infractions.

During the 2004–05 lockout, 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.

Another rule difference between the NHL and the IIHF rules concerns how icings are called. In the NHL, a linesman stops play due to icing if a defending player (other than the goaltender) touches the puck before an attacking player is able to, in contrast to the IIHF rules where play is stopped the moment the puck crosses the goal line. As a result of the rule changes following the 2004–05 lockout, when a team is guilty of icing the puck they are not allowed to make a line change before the following faceoff.

The NHL and IIHF differ also in penalty rules. The NHL, in addition to the minor and double minor penalties called in IIHF games, calls major penalties which are more dangerous infractions of the rules, such as fighting, and have a duration of five minutes. This is in contrast to the IIHF rule, in which players who fight are ejected from the game. Usually a penalized team cannot replace a player that is penalized on the ice and is thus shorthanded 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 the NHLPA created a stringent anti-doping policy in the new CBA of September 2005. The policy provides for a 20 game suspension for a first positive test, a 60 game suspension for a second positive test, and a lifetime suspension for a third positive test.


Maple Leafs
Blue Jackets
Red Wings

The National Hockey League originated in 1917 with six teams, and through a sequence of team expansions, reductions, and relocations currently consists of 30 teams, 24 of which are based in the United States and six 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); in the four major professional sports leagues the Montreal Canadiens are only surpassed in the number of championships by the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, who have four 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.

Of all the major leagues in North America, the NHL is the only league to field teams that play in two countries' capital cities, Ottawa, Ontario and Washington, D.C.

The current league organization divides the teams into two conferences. Each conference has three divisions, and each division has five teams. The current organization has roots in the 1998–99 season when a league realignment added two divisions to bring the total number of divisions to six; the current team alignment began with the 2000–2001 season when the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league as expansion teams.

The Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets are the only teams in the Western Conference that are located in the eastern time zone. This results in significantly increased travel time for both teams.

List of teams

  1. An asterisk (*) denotes a franchise move. See the respective team articles for more information.
  2. The Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets all joined the NHL in 1979 as part of the NHL–WHA merger.

Season structure

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 NHL. They also often compete against European clubs, such as clubs from the Russian KHL. During the regular season, clubs play each other in a predefined schedule. The Stanley Cup playoffs, which goes 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 exhibition schedule. That season the Los Angeles Kings faced off the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in London. The 2008–2009 season began with the Pittsburgh Penguins facing off against the Ottawa Senators in Stockholm, Sweden and the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Prague, Czech Republic. The 2009–2010 season began with the Florida Panthers facing off twice against the Chicago Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland and the St. Louis Blues taking on twice the Detroit Red Wings in Stockholm, Sweden. The 2010-2011 season began with a record 6 NHL teams playing in Europe. The Minnesota Wild faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes in Helsinki, Finland, the Columbus Blue Jackets played the San Jose Sharks in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Phoenix Coyotes took on the Boston Bruins in Prague, Czech Republic.

In the regular season, each team plays 82 games; 41 games at home and 41 on the road. Each team plays 24 games in its division (6 against each divisional opponent), and 40 games against non-divisional intra-conference opponents. That is, 4 games against each team in its conference, but not in its own division. Each team plays every team in the other conference at least once (one game each against 12 teams and two games against the remaining 3 teams). Prior to the 2008–2009 season, teams played 32 games within their division (8 games against each team in the division) and 10 inter-conference games (1 game against each team in two of the three divisions in the opposite conference). The two divisions from the opposite conference which each team plays against were rotated every year, much like interleague play in Major League Baseball. As with the current system, each team played 4 games against the other 10 teams in its conference, but not in its own division.

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. Among major professional sports leagues, the NHL is the only one to award a team points for losing in overtime.

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. The three division champions along with the five other teams in each conference with the next highest number of points, for a total of 8 teams in each conference, qualify for the playoffs. The division winners are seeded one through three (even if a non-division winner has a higher point total), and the next five teams with the best records in the conference are seeded four through eight. The Stanley Cup playoffs is an elimination tournament, where two teams battle to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. The first round of the playoffs, or conference quarterfinals, consists of the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, third playing the sixth, and the fourth playing the fifth. In the second round, or conference semifinals, the NHL re-seeds the teams, with the top remaining conference seed playing against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining conference teams pairing off. In the third round, the conference finals, the two remaining teams in each conference play each other, with the conference champions proceeding to the Stanley Cup Finals.

In each round the higher-ranked team is said to be the team with the 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 Finals, the team with the most points during the regular season is given home-ice advantage, regardless of where each team ranks in their own conference.

Trophies and awards

Total Stanley Cup championships
Defunct teams not included.
Team Titles
Montreal Canadiens 24*
Toronto Maple Leafs 13
Detroit Red Wings 11
Boston Bruins 5
Edmonton Oilers 5
Chicago Blackhawks 4
New York Islanders 4
New York Rangers 4
New Jersey Devils 3
Pittsburgh Penguins 3
Colorado Avalanche 2
Philadelphia Flyers 2
Anaheim Ducks 1
Calgary Flames 1
Carolina Hurricanes 1
Dallas Stars 1
Tampa Bay Lightning 1
* One championship was before the formation of the NHL.
Stanley Cup, on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame, is awarded to the league champion.

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. For the 2008–09 season these statistics-based trophies were awarded to Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, and, dually, Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez of the Boston Bruins respectively.

The other player trophies are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association or the team general managers. 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.

The Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto

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. In the past, however, if a player was deemed significant enough, the pending period would be waived; only ten individuals have been honoured in this manner. In 1999, Wayne Gretzky became the last player to have the three-year restriction waived, and after Gretzky's induction, the Hall of Fame declared that he would be the last to have the waiting period omitted.

Notable active players

The top five point scorers in the 2009–10 season were Henrik Sedin (112), Sidney Crosby (109), Alexander Ovechkin (109), Nicklas Backstrom (101), and Steven Stamkos (95). The top goal scorers were Sidney Crosby (51), Steven Stamkos (51), Alexander Ovechkin (50), Patrick Marleau (44), and Marian Gaborik (42). The top four scoring defencemen were Mike Green, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, and Dan Boyle. The top goaltenders (by wins) were Martin Brodeur (45), Evgeni Nabokov (44), Ilya Bryzgalov (42), Ryan Miller (41), and Roberto Luongo (40).

Origin of players

Wayne Gretzky in a New York Rangers uniform in 1997.

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 former Soviet Bloc players 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: Ilya Kovalchuk, Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Nicklas Lidström, Miikka Kiprusoff, Teemu Selänne, 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 in to 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. In the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympic years, the league voluntarily suspended its all star game and expanded the traditional all star break to allow NHL players an opportunity to represent their respective countries. The 2010 Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver, an NHL city. Currently, as of late 2010 there is no agreement in place between the NHL and the IOC for the 2014 games in Russia. The Currently 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.

Country Players
( 02–03)
 % Players
( 03–04)
 % Players
( 05–06)
 % Players
( 06–07)
 % Players
( 07–08)
 % Players
( 08–09)
 % Players
( 09–10)
Austria 1 0.1 3 0.3 3 0.3 2 0.2 2 0.2 3 0.3 3 0.3
Bahamas 1 0.1 1 0.1
Belarus 2 0.2 2 0.2 3 0.3 2 0.2 3 0.3 3 0.3 3 0.3
Brazil 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Brunei 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Canada 488 49.8 548 54.3 517 53.8 495 52.7 489 52.0 509 52.3 520 54.1
Croatia 1 0.1
Czech Republic 73 7.4 74 7.3 65 6.8 65 6.9 59 6.3 57 5.9 48 5.0
Denmark 1 0.1 2 0.2 6 0.6 6 0.6
England 2 0.2 2 0.2 1 0.1
Finland 38 3.9 38 3.8 39 4.1 42 4.5 40 4.3 42 4.3 38 4.0
France 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Germany 6 0.6 6 0.6 8 0.8 8 0.8 9 1.0 9 0.9 10 1.0
Indonesia 1 0.1 1 0.1
Italy 1 0.1 1 0.1
Japan 1 0.1 1 0.1
Kazakhstan 2 0.2 3 0.3 6 0.6 4 0.4 3 0.3 2 0.2 3 0.3
Latvia 5 0.5 4 0.4 3 0.3 4 0.4 3 0.3 5 0.5 5 0.5
Lithuania 2 0.2 2 0.2 2 0.2 2 0.2 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Northern Ireland 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Norway 1 0.1 2 0.2 1 0.1 2 0.2 2 0.2 1 0.1 1 0.1
Poland 2 0.2 2 0.2 3 0.3 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Russia 57 5.8 57 5.6 40 4.2 35 3.7 30 3.2 32 3.3 32 3.3
Slovakia 35 3.6 37 3.7 31 3.2 25 2.7 23 2.4 18 1.8 18 1.9
Slovenia 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
South Africa 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
South Korea 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1 1 0.1
Sweden 58 5.9 52 5.1 45 4.7 49 5.2 52 5.5 53 5.4 51 5.3
Switzerland 2 0.2 3 0.3 4 0.4 5 0.5 6 0.6 5 0.5 3 0.3
Ukraine 8 0.8 8 0.8 8 0.8 9 1.0 5 0.5 4 0.4 2 0.2
United States 140 14.3 160 15.8 177 18.4 182 19.3 203 21.6 216 22.2 207 21.5
Total 980 100.0 1010 100.0 961 100.0 942 100.0 941 100.0 974 100.0 962 100.0

Television and radio


In Canada, National Hockey League games are aired nationally by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and The Sports Network (TSN). Regional games are broadcast by a number of networks including Rogers Sportsnet (RSN). French language games are broadcast by the Réseau des sports (RDS) and Réseau Info-Sports (RIS), but no longer on Radio-Canada (the French-language counterpart of the CBC), a change which has caused controversy in French Canada. The program Hockey Night in Canada, usually aired on Saturday nights on CBC, is a long-standing Canadian tradition dating to 1952, and even prior to that on radio since the 1920s.

United States

In the United States NHL games are aired nationally by Versus (previously the "Outdoor Life Network" and "OLN"), and by NBC. NBC replaced the previous over-the-air network, ABC, and has a revenue-sharing agreement with the NHL. Versus replaced ESPN as the cable network; Comcast, which owns Versus, offered a two-year $120 million agreement, while ESPN offered a revenue sharing agreement.

Versus had about 20 million fewer subscribers than ESPN when the NHL started on Versus, but Comcast switched Versus from a digital tier to basic cable to make NHL games available to more cable subscribers as well as re-branded the network as a sports network. For Versus the NHL coverage was a good addition as Versus' ratings grew by about 275% when it showed an NHL game. Versus has since used its acquisition of NHL rights to approach other leagues for broadcast rights to their sports, the notable success being college football. Owing to a dispute over fees and tier placement, Versus was dropped by the direct broadcast satellite service DirecTV when its contract to carry the service expired on September 1, 2009, cutting access to the exclusive broadcasts of NHL games on Versus to about 14 million DirecTV subscribers in the United States that previously received them.

The 2007 Stanley Cup Finals were the lowest rated in the United States in history. As a whole, the television ratings on NBC were down 20% from the 2006 series, with Game 3's coverage on NBC garnering a mere 1.1 rating (approximately 1,205,600 households), making it the lowest rated prime-time broadcast in the network's history. However, coverage in Canada on CBC pulled in 2,608,000, 2,378,000, and 2,553,000 (for Games 1, 2, and 3 respectively), slightly higher than their numbers for the first three games in 2006. Comparatively, in 1994, when the New York Rangers were involved, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals posted a rating of 6.9.

Although 2007 saw low Stanley Cup Finals ratings, game six of the 2008 series between Detroit and Pittsburgh drew the highest Stanley Cup ratings for NBC, since the acquired the broadcast rights in 2004, with a 4.4 as the high overnight rating.

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 play-offs and finals. Starting with the 2007–08 season, XM broadcasts every game.


Outside of Canada and the United States, NHL games are broadcast across Europe on ESPN America which takes feeds from Versus, FSN, TSN and CBC (including Hockey Night in Canada), and MSG. Games can also be seen in the UK on ESPN, on Fox Sports in Australia, on SKY Sport in Italy, on Viasat Sport in Russia, Norway, Finland, and Denmark on Viasat Hockey in Sweden and in Portugal on SportTV. In the Americas, NHL games are broadcast across Mexico, Central America and Dominican Republic on SKY Latin America. Stanley Cup games can also be viewed in New Zealand on Sky Network Television or ESPN. On Brazil, the games will be broadcasted on ESPN International.


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. Hockey has the smallest total fan base of the four leagues, the smallest revenue from television, and the least sponsorship. However the league is very prominent in Canada, where hockey is the most popular of these four major sports as well as the CFL.

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.

This has boosted viewership metrics for the NHL. The 2010 Stanley Cup play-offs 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 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), 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.

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