Established in 1917, the National Hockey League or NFL is a professional ice hockey league. It consists of 31 member clubs or teams, out of which 24 clubs are based in the United States, while the remaining 7 are based in Canada. The league’s headquarter is located in New York City.
NHL is not the first professional ice hockey league. NHL is the successor of the National Hockey Association (NHA), which was formed in 1909. It consisted of seven Quebec and Ontario based teams. Due to a dispute, majority of the teams voted to suspend the association and instead formed the present day NHL in 1917. However, it is pertinent to mention here that neither the NHA nor the NHL were ever the only professional ice hockey leagues competing for the coveted Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in both Canada and the United States.
The league expanded rapidly in the 1920s with the induction of two new teams – Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons. The Boston Bruins were the first American team in the league. The Detroit Red Wings (Detroit Cougars as it was then known), the Chicago Black Hawks, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the New York Americans were later added to the league.
The Great Depression and Professional Ice Hockey
First the Great Depression and then the World War II not only halted the expansion of NHL but also reduced the number of its member clubs. Some teams cease to exist and by the 1942-1943 season, the NHL consisted of only six teams. These teams would be later called the Original Six – the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Black Hawks and the Boston Bruins.
The First Expansion
In the 1960s, the league started to expand again and added the St. Louis Blues, the California Seals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Minnesota North Stars, and the Los Angeles Kings. However, since all of these teams were US based, therefore the league added the Vancouver Canucks and the Buffalo Sabres, to maintain a balance between the US and Canadian teams. There were a few more additions to the league and the NHL had expanded to 18 teams by 1974.
Gender Disparity and the NHL
Traditionally, ice hockey has been a male-dominated sport. Marguerite Norris became the first executive in the NHL when she served as the president of the Detroit Red Wings from 1952 to 1955. She is also the first woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup. However, it would take another 4 decades for another woman to make her mark in the league, this time as a player. Manon Rheaume, in 1992, became the first woman professional ice hockey player when she was hired as a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is also worth mentioning here that she was also the first woman to have played in any of the major professional North American sports leagues. More recently, Dawn Braid, was hired as the skating coach for the Arizona Coyotes. She is the first female coach in the league.
Season Structure & the Stanley Cup
The ice hockey season, much like other professional sports seasons, is divided into regular and postseason games. During the regular season, each team plays a total of 82 games, out of which 41 games are played at home. The team that wins a game is awarded two points. The losing team gets no point and one point is awarded to a team which loses in overtime or a shootout. At the end of the regular season, the team with most points becomes the division champion.
Teams that advance to the playoffs, play to win a best-of-seven series. The winning team advances to the next round. The last team standing is declared the Stanley Cup champion.
Montreal Canadiens with 24 Stanley Cups has won the most number of NHL championships, while Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks have each won the championship once.
NHL Greatest Players
Wayne Gretzky, Dominik Hasek, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Grant Fuhr, Brett Hull, Eric Lindros, Chris Chelios, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Mark Messier and others are some of the most prominent NHL players. It is worth mentioning here that some of these players were neither from Canada or the US, but from others parts of the world, making NHL a professional body with international representation.
The 2016-17 regular NHL season is underway. Get your online in time if you want to watch some exciting games.