The National Hockey League was established in 1917 as the successor to the National Hockey Association (NHA). Founded 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 about the league's future. Realizing the NHA 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. Frank Calder was chosen as its first president, serving until his death in 1943.
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 on December 19, 1917. The Montreal Arena burned down in January 1918, causing the Wanderers to cease operations, and the NHL continued on as a three-team league until the Bulldogs returned in 1919.
The NHL replaced the NHA as one of the leagues that competed for the Stanley Cup, which was an interleague competition back then. Toronto won the first NHL title, and then defeated the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) for the 1918 Stanley Cup. The Canadiens won the league title in 1919; however their Stanley Cup Final against the PCHA's Seattle Metropolitans was abandoned as a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic. Montreal in 1924 won their first Stanley Cup as a member of the NHL. The Hamilton Tigers, 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 of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) 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.
The National Hockey 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 league. The New York Americans began play in 1925 after purchasing the assets of the Hamilton Tigers, and were joined by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The New York Rangers were added 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 purchased the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927 and immediately renamed them the Maple Leafs.
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.
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 Maroons did not survive, 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 league reached an agreement with the Stanley Cup trustees in 1947 to take full control of the trophy, allowing the NHL to reject challenges from other leagues that wished to play for the Cup.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard became the first player to score 50 goals, doing so in a 50-game season. Richard later led 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.
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 Canada–US 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 now Winnipeg Jets, and in 2000 the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets. On July 21, 2015, the NHL confirmed that it had received applications from prospective ownership groups in Quebec City and Las Vegas for possible expansion teams, and on June 22, 2016, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the addition of a 31st franchise, based in Las Vegas and later named the Vegas Golden Knights, into the NHL for the 2017–18 season.
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, as 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 all 30 teams. The NHL received record attendance in the 2005–06 season: an average of 16,955 per game. After losing a season to a labour dispute in 2005, the League's TV audience was slower to rebound because of American cable broadcaster ESPN's decision to drop the sport. 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 at 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 has become a major issue within the past five years and concussions, which result from a hard hit to the head, have been the biggest cause. With recent studies showing how concussions can affect retired players and how it has decreased their quality of life after retirement, 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.
From 1952 to 1955, Marguerite Norris served as president of the Detroit Red Wings, the first woman NHL executive and the first woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup. In 1992 Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play a game in any of the major professional North American sports leagues, as a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning in an NHL pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues, stopping seven of nine shots. In 2016 Dawn Braid was hired as the Arizona Coyotes’ skating coach, making her the first female full-time coach in the NHL.
The Board of Governors is the ruling and governing body of the National Hockey 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 the months of June and December, with the exact date and place to be fixed by the Commissioner.
The chief executive of the league is Commissioner Gary Bettman. Some of the principal decision makers who serve under the authority of the commissioner include: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 NHL consists of 30 teams, 23 of which are based in the United States and seven in Canada. The NHL divides the 30 teams into two conferences: the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Each conference is split into two divisions: the Eastern Conference contains 16 teams (eight per division), while the Western Conference has 14 teams (seven per division). The current alignment has existed since the 2013–14 season.
The number of NHL teams has held constant at 30 teams since the 2000–01 season when the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league as expansion teams. That expansion capped a period in the 1990s of rapid expansion and relocation when the NHL added 9 teams to grow from 21 to 30 teams, and relocated four teams mostly from smaller northern cities (e.g., Hartford, Quebec) to larger warmer metropolitan areas (e.g., Dallas, Phoenix). The league has not contracted any teams since the Cleveland Barons folded in 1978. The league will expand for the first time in 17 years to 31 teams in 2017 with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights.
According to Forbes, in 2015, five of the "Original Six" teams are the top five most valuable clubs: the New York Rangers at approximately $1.2 billion, the Montreal Canadiens at $1.18 billion, the Toronto Maple Leafs at $1.15 billion, the Chicago Blackhawks at $925 million, and the Boston Bruins at $750 million. At least eight NHL clubs, however, operate at a loss. The NHL is also susceptible to the Canadian–U.S. exchange rate: revenue from tickets, local and national advertising in Canada, and local and national Canadian media rights are collected in Canadian dollars, but all players' salaries are paid in US dollars regardless of whether a team is located in Canada or the U.S.Notes
Each National Hockey League regulation game is 60 minutes long. The game is composed of three 20-minute periods with an intermission between periods. At the end of 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, three-on-three sudden-death period, in which whoever scores a goal first will win the game.
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. Two games have reached six overtime periods, but none have gone beyond six. 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.
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. The rule is unofficially nicknamed the "Martin Brodeur rule".
Since the 2013–14 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 professional ice hockey rules in the world. The rules themselves have evolved directly from the first organized indoor ice hockey game in 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 professional and major junior 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 a regular season (from early October through early to mid April) and a postseason (the Stanley Cup playoffs).
During the regular season, clubs play each other in a predefined schedule. In the regular season, each team plays 82 games: 41 games each of home and road. Eastern teams play 30 games in their own geographic division—four or five against each 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 their own geographic division-four or five against each 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. All teams play every team in the other conference twice-home and road.
The league's regular season standings are based on a point system. 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, and the league's overall leader is awarded the Presidents' Trophy.
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. Eight teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs: the top three teams in each division plus the two conference teams with the next highest number of points. The Stanley Cup playoffs are an elimination tournament where the teams are grouped in pairs to play best-of-seven series and the winners moving on to the next round. The two conference champions proceed to the Stanley Cup Final. In all rounds, the higher-ranked team is awarded home-ice advantage, with four of the seven games played at this team's home venue. In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the most points during the regular season has home-ice advantage.
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 15 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 last 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 total regular season points for non-division winners that are eliminated in the first two rounds of the playoffs, then any division winners that failed to reach the Conference Finals. Conference finalists receive the 28th and 29th picks depending on total points, with the Stanley Cup runner-up given the 30th pick and the Stanley Cup champions the 31st pick.
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.
The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful franchise in the league. Since the formation of the league in 1917, they have 25 NHL championships (three between 1917 and 1925 when the Stanley Cup was still contested in an interleague competition, twenty-two since 1926 after the Stanley Cup became the NHL's championship trophy). They also lead all teams with 24 Stanley Cup championships (one as an NHA team, twenty-three as an NHL team). Of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, the Montreal Canadiens are surpassed in the number of championships only by the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, who have three more. 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 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. Montreal, however, has not won a Stanley Cup since 1993.
The next most successful NHL franchise is the Toronto Maple Leafs with 13 Stanley Cup championships, most recently in 1967. The Detroit Red Wings, with 11 Stanley Cup championships, are the most successful American franchise.
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.
There are 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 goaltender(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 goaltender 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.
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.
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. 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 in recent years have come from these European countries including Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaromír Jágr, Patrik Elias, Zdeno Chara, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Lidstrom 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.
As of the 2015–16 season, the NHL has players from 19 different countries, with 49.0% coming from Canada and 24.6% from the United States, players from a further 17 countries make up 26.4% of NHL rosters. The following table shows the six countries make up the vast majority of NHL players. 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.
The NHL lists its several official corporate partners into three categories: North American Partners, USA Partners, and Canada Partners. Discover Card is the league's official credit card in the US, while competitor Visa is an official sponsor in Canada. Likewise, Tim Hortons is the league's official coffee and doughnuts chain in Canada, while Dunkin' Donuts is the NHL's sponsor in the US.
Among its North American corporate sponsors, Kraft Heinz sponsors Kraft Hockeyville, an annual competition in which communities compete to demonstrate their commitment to the sport of ice hockey. The winning community gets a cash prize dedicated to upgrading their local home arena, as well as the opportunity to host an NHL pre-season game. Two contests are held, one for communities across Canada and a separate competition for communities in the US.
At least two of the North American corporate sponsors have ties to NHL franchise owners: the Molson family, founders of Molson Brewery, has owned the Montreal Canadiens for years, while SAP was co-founded by Hasso Plattner, the current majority owner of the San Jose Sharks.
Many of these same corporate partners become the title sponsors for the league's All-Star and outdoor games.
Broadcasting rights in Canada have historically included the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC), a Canadian tradition dating to 1952, and even prior to that on radio since the 1920s.
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, as the national broadcast and cable television rightsholders. National English-language coverage of the NHL is carried primarily by Rogers' Sportsnet group of specialty channels; Sportsnet holds national windows on Wednesday and Sunday 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. CBC maintains Rogers-produced NHL coverage during the regular season and playoffs. Sportsnet's networks also air occasional games involving all-U.S. matchups.
Quebecor Media holds national French-language rights to the NHL, with all coverage airing on its specialty channel TVA Sports.
Games that are not broadcast as part of the national rights deal are broadcast by Sportsnet's regional feeds, TSN's regional feeds, and RDS. 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 NBC Sports; 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 replace ESPN, and NBC acquired broadcast television rights under a revenue-sharing agreement to replace ABC. NBC Sports Network and the company negotiated a new, 10-year, unified rights deal worth nearly US$2 billion. 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, USA Network, 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. Certain national telecasts on NBCSN 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.
The league co-owns the NHL Network, a television specialty channel devoted to the NHL. Its signature show is NHL Tonight. The NHL Network also airs live games, but primarily simulcasts of one of the team's regional broadcasters. The U.S. version simulcasts selected regular season games nationally that are not aired by NBC Sports, as well as be used as an overflow channel during the playoffs.
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.tv (branded as Rogers NHL GameCentre Live in Canada), which allows the streaming of out-of-market games over the internet and is coordinated by MLB Advanced Media as of February 2016. In the United States, NHL.tv does not carry national games or in-market games.
Outside of Canada and the United States, NHL games are broadcast across Europe, in the Middle East, in Australia, and in the Americas across Mexico, Central America, Dominican Republic, Caribbean, South America and Brazil, among others.
NHL.tv is also available for people outside Canada and the United States to watch games online.
The National Hockey League has occasionally participated in international club competitions. Most of these competitions were arranged by the NHL or NHLPA. The first international club competition was held in 1976, with eight NHL teams playing against the Soviet Championship League's HC CSKA Moscow, and Krylya Sovetov Moscow. Between 1976 and 1991, the NHL, and the Soviet Championship League would hold a number of exhibition games between the two leagues known as the Super Series. No NHL club had played a Russian club from the end of the Super Series in 1991 to 2008, when the New York Rangers faced Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the 2008 Victoria Cup.
In addition to the Russian clubs, NHL clubs had participated in a number of international club competitions with various European leagues. In the 2000s the NHL had organized four NHL Challenge series between NHL, and European clubs. From 2007 to 2011, the NHL organized exhibition games prior to the beginning of the season, known as the NHL Premier, between NHL clubs and teams from a number of European leagues. The 2011 NHL Premiere was the last NHL-organized club competition involving European teams. NHL clubs have also participated in IIHF-organized club tournaments. The most recent IIHF-organized event including a NHL club was the 2009 Victoria Cup, between the Swiss National League A's ZSC Lions, and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Since 1998, during the quadrennial Winter Olympic years, the NHL has suspended its all-star game and expanded the traditional all-star break to allow NHL players to represent their countries in the Olympic ice hockey tournament. Conversely, the annual Ice Hockey World Championships are held every May 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, or did not make the playoffs.
As well as participating in the above international club competitions, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association organizes the World Cup of Hockey. Unlike the Ice Hockey World Championships and the Olympic tournament, both run by the International Ice Hockey Federation, the World Cup of Hockey is played under NHL-rules and not those of the IIHF. The tournament takes place prior to the NHL pre-season. The event is planned to be a quadrennial event beginning in 2016.
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.
The NHL holds 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. Further it noted that season-ticket sales were more prominent in the NHL than the other three because of the financial ability of the NHL fan to purchase them. According to Reuters in 2010, the largest demographic of NHL fans was highly sought after group males aged 18–34. The NHL estimates that half of its fan base roots for teams in outside markets. Beginning in 2008, 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 an annual 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 ten-year broadcast deal, 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 television contract 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. 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.