Hockey Finding Success in Strange Places
By Patrick Hoffman
As someone who was born in the 80's (1983) and became a hockey fanatic in the early 90's, it was always hard for me to imagine the sport being played in warmer climates.
I worried about things like ice conditions, if fans would show up to games, and if ta team could survive in that kind of market. I never thought that places like Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, California or Las Vegas could have NHL teams.
Boy was I wrong. Four of the five states mentioned above all had teams in the postseason this year, where the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights not only made the playoffs, but were also the fifth best team in the entire league this season.
So, why are these unsuspecting hockey markets having success? For starters, consistency winning games and getting to the postseason is a major factor.
For example, the Nashville Predators make the postseason year in and year out and even made it to the Cup Final last season and were the best team in league this season. The Preds success on the ice has helped hockey grow immensely not only throughout Nashville, but throughout other southern states in the U.S. as well.
The San Jose Sharks are very much like the Predators in terms of success. The Sharks are a perennial postseason contender and while they have yet to win hockey’s Holy Grail, they have certainly come close, such as when they were beaten in the Cup Final in 2016 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While the Arizona Coyotes have certainly gone through a lot of tough times whether it was with ownership or arena problems, the team is starting to be in good position to have success on the ice again. They have a lot of solid prospects in their system and their coming off a season in which they finished the year strong.
Currently, Florida's Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Eastern Conference Finals, something they have been to in three of the last four season (2015, 2016, and now). This team won a Cup in 2004 and with Steve Yzerman at the helm and Jon Cooper behind the bench, this franchise is in good position to have success over the next number of years.
The Florida Panthers are also in a good position to have success. They made the playoffs in 2016 and came very close both this season and last year to making them again.
The Los Angeles Kings are the team that really started it all when it comes to hockey succeeding in strange places. It started for the Kings when the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings back in 1988.
As soon as Gretzky arrived to the Sun Belt, California started to look at hockey in a much different way. It was not just a casual game anymore and rather, it was one that was taken up to not only have fun in, but to have success in as well.
The Kings won the Cup both in 2012 and 2014 and have pretty much been a contenders every season since then.
These leaves us with the Golden Knights. As an expansion team, they have succeeded and surpassed everyone in hockey's expectations this season.
They are currently in the midst of their Western Conference Finals matchup with the Winnipeg Jets and are just eight wins away from winning hockey's Holy Grail. They have been a great story this season and unfortunately for other potential expansion clubs, have set the bar quite high.
With the way hockey is portrayed these days, the game could use all the bandwagon or non-traditional fans it can to help continue to grow the game of hockey in strange places.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.