- On ice success- Not necessarily numbers of Cups, but a combination of regular season AND playoff success over the recent past
- 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 are just better cities to live and some arenas are electric, while others are dead.
- Competence of Management (coaches/GM/ownership)- Needless to say this is important for overall on-ice success
2) We also want to make it clear that placement on this list is fluid. That is many teams shifted positions from last year's placement. We will try to mention where we had teams last time we did this list in 2007. 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:
- Calgary- The Flames remain in our top 10. 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 Despite being relatively far north it seems to be an attractive city for players to come/live.
- Chicago- From the out-house to the Pent-house. What a difference a year makes! The death of William Wirtz was the difference maker. Once he croaked, the dark cloud overlying this original 6 franchise was lifted. The team is now chock full of young stars in the making, and seems poised to reemerge from their self imposed dark age. We believe the fans will also return.
- Dallas- Owner Tom Hicks has resisted being to much of a hands on owner and all the mess that results (see Wang). He surprisingly replaced Armstrong last winter with Brett Hull, but so far the move seems to have worked. They continue to have good regular seasons and arguably were the 2nd best team in the West last year. The team continues to have strong fan support even in the ice-unfriendly mid Texas environs.
- Detroit- Where else would "Hockey Town" be but in the Top 10. 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 4 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 3 years. There is no reason not to have them as favourites to repeat.
- Edmonton- The 'Oil' are back into the top 10 after falling into the middle stanza last season with the many Lowe-gaffes. It appears the franchise is on very stable financial footing with the purchase of the team by billionaire drug dealer Daryl Katz who has pledged to not interfere with the running of the team. The team of Lowe and now Tambellini appear to have assembled the roster to compete for the division. Better days seem to be ahead in the north land
- Minnesota- The Wild remain in our top 10, and despite being a recent expansion team (2000-01) are big success. In hockey crazy Minnesota, the Wild are a very tough ticket. 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 in decent stead though we don't see them yet as a true contender
- Montreal- The Habs are back in our top 10. They have been going through hard times (for them) No Cups in 15 years is a record for this storied franchise. Still, they are in good financial shape, and in capable hands with Bob Gainey at the helm, and as always the fans always sell out the arena. We can see the Canadiens back in the thick of things again this season
- Philadelphia- Big on ice turn around last season. No Cups in the city of Brotherly Love since 1975, but plenty of near misses since. One of the best U.S markets, supporting 2 pro teams(AHL Phantoms play near by). Their ownership is very motivated to put out a quality product, and therefore the Flyers seem to never go through long rebuilds that other teams seem to have to endure.
- Pittsburgh- Return to the Top 10. With now stable ownership, a new arena on the way to go along with a fine stable of young players led by Crosby and Malkin the Penguins are another fine example of how fast a franchise can turn things around. The team is poised to sell out every home game this season. Something unheard of 4 years ago in the dilapidated Igloo. Nice job Super-Mario!
- San Jose- Another expansion success story. The big prize has so far alluded this team from California, as they have seemed to underachieve the past couple of seasons but that could soon change. Solid ownership and a competant GM in Dog Wilson form a sound foundation. Fan support in Silicon valley has never been a problem in the Shark Tank!
4) Middle 10:
- Anaheim- Yes, amazingly enough the 2007 Cup champs still were unable to crack the top 10! If they continue their top level of play, and their GM signs an extension they could be there next year, but for now there in the middle 10. If we did this ratings 3 years ago the Ducks might have been in the 'Bottom 10!' However, they have new, apparent solid ownership, but its uncertain if burke will still be here long!
- Buffalo- Our 'slinky' on the list, lots of ups and downs. Went from a bottom feeder 3 years ago close to bankruptcy, to the top 10 last season, only to fall now into the middle ground based upon ownership instability(Golisano appears to want to sell) and Regier doesn't appear to be able to retain the Sabre's star players. We can see the Sabres missing the playoffs. Will fans stay/be loyal through this?
- Colorado- Formerly the Nordiques of Quebec City, the squad from Denver had been one of the best franchises in the NHL the previous 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 had an apparent awful off-season so they seem poised to be a bubble if not even a lower echelon team this year. It remains to be seen how old/new coach Tony Granato does during his second tour in the Mile High city
- New Jersey: We were initially tempted to drop the Jersey franchise into the bottom 10, but felt their continued playoff appearances would seem to make the premature. We did drop them from the top 10. 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 still considered one of the top hockey executives of his generation. Although since the new CBA started it seems Lou has lost a bit of his luster. The negatives continue to be fan support. Despite the record, the team continues to struggle at the gate. Despite the new arena (In Newark of all places), and in the playoffs, the team was 23rd in attendance this past year with a relative anemic 15,500/game, or 88% full. We wonder what fan support would be if the team suffered through a couple of non-playoff years?
- NY Rangers: May be on the verge of going into the top 10, but not quite yet. 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. Actually they have a good stable of young players who will get regular ice time. Despite the Bettman threats, http://newfaux.blogspot.com/2008/08/hold-msgnhl-at-war-with-rangers.html the team has stable ownership and Sather appears to have adjusted to the new cap. Their coach, Tom Renney seeems to be the right man for this team.
- Ottawa: Last season they were right on the cusp of getting into the top 10, but we had to drop them down this time around. Had been a power in the regular season until this past year, but we see a continued weakening. If it were not for their mediocre goaltending (that appears to not be changing) they would have be a threat before this next season, but we don't see them as a threat any longer. We're not big fans of their GM, Murray. Ownership wise they appear to have rebounded from their near bankruptcy of a few years ago. Fans fill their building to above capacity (107 % attendance) A nice city, we'd recommend visiting.
- St. Louis: Another team that was on our cusp of a bottom ten placement. They 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 appeared ready to resume playoff viability. However we have not seen a big turn around just yet. Though they are still a couple of seasons away from being a Cup contender. A traditionally well supported team in a good sports city, they improved last season, but 83% attendance needs to be improved upon, else a bottom 10 is in their future.
- Tampa Bay: A team in disarray both on and off the ice a mere 5 months ago. Since then a new ownership group committed to winning. A new GM, and a new coach to go along with a bevy of new faces to the roster has the Florida Bay area buzzing with anticipation. Jury still out how successful this team will be, but Tampa Bay is overall a definite expansion success. Despite clamoring from up north that hockey shouldn't be in Florida, it has shown to be very viable here. They have a Cup in their resume, and excellent fan support, even with last years abysmal record they had 95% attendance! Numbers that their cross state rivals would love to have.
- Vancouver: One of the most beautiful NHL cities we visited. 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
- Washington: The denizens of the Nation's capital jump into the middle 10 with their exponential growth both at the gate and in the standings. Returning to the post season after 4 years on the outside. they continue to have stable ownership, and the job GM, McPhee has done the past 2-3 years assembling this team can't be denied. They also have the reigning Adams winning coach in Boudreau, not to also mention the Ross, Richard, Pearson, and Hart winner in Alex the Gr-8. It appears better times are in store for DC.
5) The Bottom 10: These many times are some of the toughest teams to rate as we dislike having to place 10 teams in this section. Clearly some teams deserve to be here, while others are on the edge of the middle.
- Atlanta: A team that has earned this position. Fan interest even when the team seemed to be emerging has been tepid at best. We have little faith in GM Don Waddel, and ownership is unsteady. They are likely to struggle both at the gate and on the ice this season. 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. 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, and a fun place to visit!
- Carolina: One of those teams we alluded to earlier that was on the cusp of the middle 10. They are no where near Atlanta, but aren't quite an elite franchise either. Despite success on the ice, (Cup win in 2006) the team still struggles at the gate and are a mere blip on the local media's radar. They went from an average of 17,400/game after their Cup to 16,600 or 88% full last season We shudder at what will/would happen if they fell on hard times for a few seasons. Their ownership is steady , but Rutherford was rumored to be looking for work elsewhere and the tenure of coach Laviolette after 2 seasons without a playoff appearance is tenuous at best.
- Columbus: Things may be changing, but until they do, we have to keep this team in the 'Bottom 10.' They may be poised for improvement, but in the tough West where many of the best teams reside it will be tough for them to dent the deficit necessary to make their first ever playoff appearence. Its too bad, but attendance, which was solid at first has fallen off significantly the past couple of years with the team playing before a mere 82% capacity.
Florida: The icon for failed southern franchises. They haven't made the post season in 8 years! 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. At 80% capacity is the least supported team in the NHL. Can you blame them? 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 Columbus, we want to see before we elevate them above the 'Bottom 10'. They have a good stable of talented youngsters with Kopitar and Frolov/Johnson. If they figure out that you need a good goalie to make the playoffs, they may become a playoff contender. Stable ownership and the jury is still out on Lombardi. Also new coach.
- Nashville- Another franchise that has taken another tumble. They were a top 10 2 years ago. Ownership instability, despite the recent agreement continues. Its not known if they are commited to keeping the franchise in Music City. The loss of Radulov will hurt their on ice product as well. We DO have increased regard for Barry Trotz and the job he did getting them into the playoffs last year. Attendance, despite an aggressive campaign decreased to its lowest point in several years. 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
- NY Islanders: Sorry Isles fans, your team despite going to the post season 4 of the past 6 years remain at or near the bottom in our franchise ratings Why? No playoff series wins in going on 16 years for starters. Unstable ownership. Wang is rich but NOT stable! An inexperienced GM/coach with questionable power to make moves, and a dearth of top prospects. Add to that they play in the 2nd worst arena we visited (Pitt far worse, but they have a new one under construction!) 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! They do, unlike last year at this time, seem to be moving in a positive direction on the ice with several good young players, and a good goalie. We also have improved regard for Gretzky's coaching ability. However, thus far the 'hockey in the desert' experiment is a failure Gary. Time to go back north?!
- Toronto- Ironic/sad that the NHL's most profitable franchise is also its most dysfunctional. As usual it starts at the top. The team is owned by a teachers union so there is doubt on who actually is in charge. As a result, and because so much money is made regardless of how the team performs, there is little motivation for winning. The current GM, Fletcher we're told is temporary. As FR discussed last month the Burke rumors persist. Wit a new coach and the (probable) loss of their captain/best player in Sundin, a bottom 7 finish is in the cards in TO