- On ice success- Not necessarily numbers of Cups, but a combination of regular season AND playoff success over the past decade or so
- Fan support- Especially recently we have seen some teams enjoy great on ice success and play before half empty arenas. While we also see(especially in Canada) teams sell out despite poor records
- Ownership stability- This seems to be the key for most successful teams. Success starts from the top and trickles to all areas
- City Intangibles- Some places(and we've visited all but Dallas last year) are just better cities to live and some arenas are electric, while others are dead
- Competence of coaches/GM- Needless to say this is important for overall on-ice success
2) When we started compiling the list it hit us that on ice success is NOT the most/only important factor here. In fact the last 3 cup winners are NOT in our top 10! Go figure. Anyway without further verbiage, here is our list Broken into the 'Top 10' Middle Ten, and 'Bottom Ten' in alphabetical order
3) The Top 10:
- Buffalo- Not long ago this once bankrupt team would have placed in the 'Bottom 10.' However, once the team was purchased by Tom Golisano, it became rock solid financially. Darcy Regeir has been one of the better GM's in the league(his mistakes this spring not withstanding). The fan support has been impressive in the relatively impoverished western NY city.
- Calgary- Like all of the Canadian teams, the Flames enjoy strong fan support. With the excellent job GM/former coach Daryl Sutter has provided the team originally from Atlanta is one of the best 'small market' NHL teams with an impressive array of stars, and despite being relatively far north is an attractive city for players to come/live.
- Colorado- Formerly the Nordiques of Quebec City, the squad from Denver has been one of the best franchises in the NHL the past decade. Starting with good drafting back in Quebec, to nice trades. Most notably the Roy deal in 1996. Still one of the most difficult seats to come by, the team after an excellent off season is poised to return to the top echelon of the NHL.
- Dallas- Owner Tom Hicks has allowed his management team to assemble quality without too much meddling(Unlike his Texas Rangers mess). The team has a Cup in 1999. Has strong fan support even in the ice-unfriendly mid Texas environs.
- Detroit- Its not called "Hockey Town" for nothing. Despite much published non sell outs(which were unheard of until this year) the team remains a hot ticket, even in economically depressed Michigan. The Wings have taken home 3 Cups in the last decade. Many thought the team would suffer with the salary cap. So far they haven't, with top finishes in their conference the past 2 years.
- Minnesota- The Wild, despite being a relatively new NHL team(2000-01) are a huge success. In hockey crazy Minnesota the Wild are a very tough seat to find. The team has had mild/moderate on ice success, but their management team led by former Habs Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire have this team poised in the right direction
- New Jersey- Clearly one of the most successful organizations from top to bottom in the past 12+ years. A perennial Cup contender, with 3 Cups since 1995. Lou Lamarello is one of the top hockey executives of his generation. The negatives would be fan support. Despite the record, the team continues to struggle at the gate. Hopefully for them a new arena(In Newark of all places) helps that out.
Ottawa- Right on the cusp of getting into the top 10. A lot many near misses. Have been a power in the regular season only until this year. If it were not for their mediocre goaltending(that appears to not be changing) they would probably be a real Cup threat. Even with that, they are formidable team and appear to have rebounded from their near bankruptcy of a few years ago. A nice city, we'd recommend visiting.
Philadelphia- No Cups in the city of Brotherly Love since 1975, but plenty of near misses since. One of the best U.S markets. Last season, despite being one of the worst teams, they still drew extremely well. Their ownership is very motivated to put out a quality product. The team seems poised for a rebound with a revamped squad, with as always, questions about their goaltending. Still, the Flyers are one of the best NHL franchises
- San Jose- Another expansion success story. The big prize has so far alluded this team from California, but that might soon change. They have a bevy of young stars ready to step up. Fan support in Silicon valley has never been a problem in the Shark Tank!
4) The middle 10:
- Anaheim-Yes, amazingly enough the Cup champs didn't crack the top 10! If they continue their rise, they probably will be there next year this time, but for now there in the middle 10. If we did this ratings 2 years ago the Ducks might have been in the 'Bottom 10!' However, they have new, apparent solid ownership, and Burke is one of the better GM's out there, so the team is in good hands going forward.This year was NO fluke!
- Edmonton- The Oilers may have been in the 'Top 10' if we did this last year, but the last 12 months have been a year from hell with the Pronger/Smyth departures and RFA nonsense. Putting Lowe into a corner forcing him to make silly proclamations/RFA offers. Still they are a great draw in Edmonton, and despite press to the contrary it remains a great place to play. The Oilers will be back.
- Montreal- The Habs have been going through hard times(for them) No Cups in 14 years is uncharted territory for this storied franchise. Still, they are in good hands with Bob Gainey at the helm, and as always the fans always sell out the arena.
- Nashville- Another franchise that has taken a tumble out of a top 10 position. Mainly due to ownership instability. This has trickled down into a mandated sell off of talent. The jury is still out whether the team is doomed to move or can resolidify into a Cup contender. Right now, it can go either way
New York Rangers- Despite playoffless years and over spending the Rangers are one of the more valuable NHL franchises. Being in the top U.S market, playing in The World's Greatest Arena" certainly helps. Seems the new CBA, which forced them to spend more wisely, has actually helped them to become more competitive and look more long term with their moves.
- Pittsburgh- Appear poised to a return to glory after a very dark period where their very existence was in doubt. With a new arena set for 2010, and the best stable of young talent in the NHL, led by Superstar Sid Crosby, the Pens are but one piece away from a Cup, a good goalie.
St. Louis- Another team that would have been in our bottom 10 2 years ago. Since John(JD)Davidson took over and new stable owners have taken over the franchise appears ready to resume playoff viability. Though they are still a couple of seasons away from being a Cup contender. A traditionally well supported team in a good sports city
- Toronto- Amazingly, the Leafs are now into their 41 st Cup-less year. A stinging reminder their detractors love to bring up. Still, that can't erase the fact that this IS the premiere money making franchise in the NHL. Led by the 'Leaf Nation' no other team has the same kind of large, rabid following as do the Leafs. Unfortunately, they are merely a mediocre squad, and don't yet appear to be ready to take the next step up.
- Tampa Bay- A definite expansion success. Despite clamoring from up north that hockey shouldn't be in Florida, it has shown to be very viable in the Florida Bay area. They have a Cup in their resume, and excellent fan support that their cross state rivals would love to have.
- Vancouver- One of the most beautiful cities we visited last fall. Seems to be a great place to play. Great and loyal fan base. Nice arena, etc. However the team has yet to put it all together on the ice. They have one of the best goalies in Luongo so they will be playoff contenders, but don't possess enough depth to challenge the Western powers. Hopefully they will stop the seemingly annual uniform changes! LOL
- Atlanta- Yes, they made the playoff for their first time, but big problems remain. Fan interest even with the team emerging has been tepid at best. We have little faith in GM Don Waddel, and ownership is unsteady. If they fail to get back into the post season rumblings of a move(again) from Atlanta are possible. Its just NOT a good sports city.
- Boston- If ever there was an example of poor ownership hurting a team its here and of course Chicago. Jeremy Jacobs has been a tight wad hands on poor owner and has resulted in a 35+ year drought that has no appearance of ending. Seems this team has a new #1 goalie every year. Stupid trades(Thorton) haunt this one proud successful franchise. Its too bad, its a great sports city.
- Carolina- Yes, despite being only a year removed from a championship the 'Canes are NOT a great franchise. Mostly due to their location. Despite success on the ice, the team still struggles at the gate and are a mere blip on the local media's radar. Like Atlanta, we shudder at what will/would happen if they fell on hard times. They should have stayed in Hartford!
- Chicago- (See Boston) Its no wonder this team hasn't won since JFK was a president not an airport. Wirtz is even worse than Jacobs in his utter incompetence/neglect/ruination of an original six team. Despite recent moves, we don't see this changing any time soon.
- Columbus- Things may be changing, but until they do, we have to keep this team in the 'Bottom 10.' Ridding themselves of incompetent McClean was the biggest positive move in Ohio's biggest city. They now seem poised for improvement, which would be great for their loyal fans who turn out despite never even sniffing a playoff spot in their 7 years.
- Florida- The Panthers could only hope to mirror the success/support their cross state rivals garner. Despite early success(their 1996 trip to the Finals) this franchise has been anything but stable. The low point was the Keenan tenure, and they are still reeling from his awful moves. Most notably alienating then shipping off super star goalie Roberto Luongo for very little. When one looks at team that should relocate, this on the top of our list!
- LA- OK, we believe they may be turning a corner, but like the Columbus, we want to see before we elevate them above the 'Bottom 10'. They have a good stable of talented youngsters with Kopitar and Cammalleri. If they figure out Cloutier sucks and is not the answer in goal, they may become a playoff contender.
- NY Islanders-Sorry Isles fans, your team despite their unexpected playoff run last year remain at or near the bottom in our franchise ratings Why? No playoff series wins in going on 15 years for starters. Unstable ownership. Wang is rich but NOT stable! An inexperienced GM with questionable power to make moves, and a dearth of top prospects. Add to that they play in the 2nd worst arena we visited last year (Pitt far worse!) and many fans have understandably deserted them. This franchise has a lot of work to do to turn things around! We hope to see it happen in our life time!
- Phoenix- Carolina of the west, without the on-ice success. They moved from a good market(Winnipeg) for what was thought to be a more lucrative market and thus far it has been a royal bust! Whats worse, they don't appear to be moving in a positive direction. Gretzky needs to step back and away from the team. His presence has not helped, and probably hurt. The 'hockey in the desert' experiment is a failure Gary. Time to go back north!
- Washington- May be on the cusp of escaping the 'Bottom 10'. George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis have stuck to their 'rebuild' plan of the past 4 years, and amazingly, it appears to be working. This next season will be a water shed year as expectations are now high in DC. If they become playoff contenders, it remains to be seen if the fans respond/return. They once had great support. Time will tell as they say. The pressure is now on!