Judging Markets Based on Their Hockey History

Whenever the proposition of the NHL relocating a team or expanding comes up, people will point to cities like Portland or Quebec City as expansion spots.  Why these cities? Both Portland and Quebec have successful hockey histories. Portland has the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, who are regularly at the top of WHL attendance. Quebec City has a long history mainly focused on, the former NHL and World Hockey Association team, the Quebec Nordiques. A lot of people will claim that a market with a strong hockey history is almost guaranteed to have success. 

Today, we’re going to look to see if there is a link between a market’s hockey history and how their NHL team performed. Now we’re strictly looking for a link, not cause and effect. There are various factors that determine whether an NHL team succeeds or fails.


  • Teams will be separated into three groups; successful hockey history, unsuccessful hockey history, and none or little hockey history. Let me also be clear that successful is more about a team being able to survive and thrive, not just top teams only.
  • We are looking at teams who came in the NHL as late as 1990
  • We’re also only judging minor, junior, NHL, and college teams that existed within around twenty years of their NHL franchise.
  • Final point is to remember most of the teams here were not born to succeed right away, but to grow the sport.

Successful Hockey History

  • Ottawa Senators
  • Anaheim Ducks
  • Dallas Stars
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Minnesota Wild
  • Winnipeg Jets
  • Vegas Golden Knights

Yeah, there might be a few surprises here. Let’s go by them team by team.

Ottawa Senators

The Senators hockey history is saved by the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League. They began in 1967 and have been going strong since. Ottawa’s only other two teams are World Hockey Association teams, that never had a chance. The Senators are a match. There are not too many professional or high junior teams to judge off, the success of the 67s and success of the Senators is the link we’re testing.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks will forever be connected to the Los Angeles Kings. The teams are that close. There is no other recent hockey history in the area, but the one team was revolutionary to the hockey world. The Kings proved hockey could work in California and out west. The Kings are a huge part of the Ducks existence. The Ducks are also considered a strong franchise.

Dallas Stars

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This is the most interesting one to me. Going into this, I didn’t think Dallas really had any hockey history, but I was quite wrong. Dallas has a minor league hockey culture with various Central Hockey League teams. The rivalry between the Dallas Blackhawks and Fort Worth Texans sounds legendary. The games were reportedly sold out and featured line brawls every time. It is the kind of rivalry, NHL fans have not seen since the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Of the new teams to enter the NHL since the 90s the Stars are the most valuable, according to Forbes, and have the second highest attendance.

Columbus Blue Jackets

There have been so many teams in the Columbus area.  You see some hockey success with the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League and the Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League. The Cleveland Barons existed for 30 years, that is extremely rare in minor league hockey. The problem with the market though is it became over saturated very quickly in the 1970s. Eight teams all trying to survive in the same area. You had an NHL team, two World Hockey Associations teams, and plenty of minor league teams, plus college hockey with Ohio State University. When we look at the Blue Jackets, they don’t face this problem at all, but they have no been prosperous. They should receive a nice bump in team value and I expect revenues to increase after their amazing season this year, but I can’t label the Blue Jackets a success.

Minnesota Wild

Minnesota is hockey capital of the United States. High school hockey, college hockey, minor league, and NHL hockey, have all received amazing support in the past and present. The Wild rival the Dallas Stars for the most successful of the teams on our list and I would give them the edge.  If you believe that a successful hockey history results in a successful NHL franchise, then the Wild are the poster boy for your argument.

Minnesota Wild 2016-17 preseason schedule
Oct 10, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) celebrates his win with teammates after the game against the St Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center. The Minnesota Wild beat the St Louis Blues 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg is a unique place. They’re one of the smallest markets in the NHL  today and they were in the past. It can and does work though, the death of the original Jets was more related to the struggling Canadian dollar. The former Jets did very as well, as did the Manitoba Moose. The hockey history of Winnipeg is why True North Sports and Entertainment purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and moved them to the small market. It has also seemed to work out quite well for True North Sports.

Vegas Golden Knights

Judging Vegas is something you can’t do now or even in a few years. I think it is worth noting that Vegas has a decent hockey history. The Las Vegas Thunder and Las Vegas Wranglers did pretty well in the Sin City. The Wranglers’ average attendance would rank ninth in the ECHL for the 2016-17 season. Both of their demises were also related to the unavailability of rinks, not attendance or money woes.

There is an obvious trend here. Teams with successful hockey history have resulted in flourishing NHL teams. I also believe the outlier in this is debatable. The Blue Jackets both also boast one of the lowest average point percentages in the NHL. Losing teams will produce bad attendance numbers, for even the strongest fanbases. In the end, the link is defiantly there, moving into an area with a good hockey history should be a good indicator that an NHL team will have blossom. Now let us see if the claim works the other way though.

Unsuccessful Previous Hockey History

  • San Jose Sharks
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Phoenix Coyotes
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Nashville Predators
  • Atlanta Thrashers

San Jose Sharks

Sharks goal celebration (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The San Jose Sharks are the oldest team on the list. The bay area had one failed NHL team and a failed minor league team. The Sharks are the second most valuable of all teams listed. The Sharks success is the first example that maybe the link does not matter. The NHL was right to take a second chance in the Bay area.

Colorado Avalanche

I was tempted to say Colorado had a successful hockey history due to their college teams, but too many failed professional teams forced me to say no. The Colorado Rockies barely stayed afloat and quickly relocated to New Jersey. The World Hockey Association team failed to last even a season. The Avalanche have seemed to get past whatever was keeping other professional teams in Colorado down.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix area had five failed teams, all named the Phoenix Roadrunners. Phoenix has been by no means a well performing NHL franchise. They’re one of the least valuable franchises in the NHL and their future has never looked good.

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina had a few decent minor league teams. The big problem was though when the Hurricanes arrived, it killed the existing minor league teams. One by taking their rink or by taking over their market. The arrival of the Hurricanes actually angered the current hockey fans in Carolina as they saw their teams be dispatched like nothing. This actually shows the danger of moving into a market where teams do actually occupy the space already.

Aleksi Saarela
Jan 26, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes and the Chicago Blackhawks game action at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville Predators

Minor league hockey couldn’t survive there, but the NHL is doing okay.  I don’t want to call the Predators a success or failure. They are by no means a success and lean closer to failure. After the 2016-17 season, we should see the Predators continue to rise. The franchise sold out every one of its home game this season and its value is on the rise as well as revenue.

Atlanta Thrashers

A lot the NHL teams in this articles were second chances. Atlanta was one of those second chances, they’re also the only ones on the list to no longer exist. RIP to Atlanta,  maybe the third time will be the charm.

Little or None Previous Hockey History

  • Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Florida Panthers

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa area had one minor league team, the Suncoast Suns. They failed, but on the Power Play podcast, some Suncoast Suns players do believe they set the groundwork for Tampa. In short, Tampa has done great without a hockey history.

Florida Panthers

You could link the Lightning to the Panthers like the Ducks with the Kings, but the teams are very far apart. The teams are about 255 miles apart well the Ducks and Kings are only 26 miles apart. The Panthers have zero recent hockey history and are rivaling the Hurricanes for worst team, financially wise,  in the NHL.

Erik Gudbranson Ryan Malone
(Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

The link is there. A successful hockey history does appear to show that the market is more than suitable for an NHL franchise. What it doesn’t show is that having no or an unsuccessful hockey history means that the market is bad. The Sharks, Avalanche, and Lightning have moderate success, but on the flip side, the failures are the lowest in the NHL. Moving into areas with a rich hockey history is the safe bet, but it is not a guarantee nor will it necessary produce the most successful teams.

* data used in the development of this post