NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
The National Hockey League (French: Ligue nationale de hockey—LNH), often abbreviated to the NHL, is an unincorporated not-for-profit association which operates a major professional ice hockey league of 30 franchised member clubs, of which six are located in Canada and 24 in the United States. 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 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 in 1917 in Montreal, Quebec, 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.
HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
A series of disputes in the National Hockey Association (NHA) between 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 1942Toronto 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 PatrickThe 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 between 1983 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.
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.