13 Most Accepting Fanbases in the NHL

Brad KurtzbergContributor INovember 21, 2012

13 Most Accepting Fanbases in the NHL

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    Hockey fans have a reputation as being the most fervent and passionate of all four of the major team sports in North America.

    But among all hockey fans, which bunch is the most supportive of their team? It's easy to sell out the arena when your team is winning Stanley Cups, but what about when your team misses the playoffs a few years in a row?

    Here is a list of the top 13 most accepting fan bases in the NHL. These are the fans that support their team, win or lose, and show up in big numbers, selling out buildings through thick and thin.

    Winnipeg Jets fans, sorry to say that, while you're dedicated, I didn't put you on the list because you've only been back in the NHL for one season. A few years later and with continued support, Winnipeg very likely will be a contender. Past performance indicates they will support their team.

    Feel free to mention any I may have missed, but please say why you feel that team belongs on the list.

    Enjoy.

13. San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks have been a big success in the Bay Area since entering the NHL in 1991.

    The team has qualified for the playoffs for the past eight seasons, but even before they were consistent winners, the Sharks drew well at the "Shark Tank," one of the finer new arenas in the league.

    Stars like Joe Thornton, Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau, Owen Nolan, Vincent Damphousse and Sandis Ozolinsh have shined in San Jose.

    The Sharks draw well, and their jerseys have often been among the league's best sellers.

12. Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators play in Canada's capital, and the region has passionate hockey fans who were thrilled to get their franchise back in 1992.

    The Sens returned to the playoffs last season after missing the postseason two of the previous three years. Despite their inconsistent on-ice performance, they still played to 98-percent capacity or above in each of the past five seasons.

11. Philadelphia Flyers

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    The love affair between the Flyers and the city of Philadelphia was cemented in 1974 and 1975 when the franchise won two straight Stanley Cups. They were the first NHL expansion team to win a title.

    The "Broad Street Bullies" were a blue-collar team, and the working-class fans of Philadelphia identified with the players who overcame long odds or worked harder than their opponents.

    Since then, the Flyers have had a lot of success on the ice, although they haven't won another championship despite reaching the Stanley Cup Final on six other occasions.

    The Flyers have been consistent winners, and that certainly helps their attendance. They have qualified for the playoffs every year since 1997-98.

    Still, the franchise is a part of the culture in Philadelphia, so much so that when the NFL's Eagles score a touchdown, a goal horn sounds at Lincoln Financial Field.

10. Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the most successful franchises—not just in the NHL but in all of sports—in recent years.

    Detroit has made the Stanley Cup playoffs for 21 consecutive years. The last time the Wings missed the playoffs was 1990.

    As an Original Six club, Detroit has a rich history that goes back to 1926-27. Players like Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom are among the star players to suit up for Detroit over the years.

    Despite the fact that the Detroit area's economy has been in horrible shape in recent years, the Red Wings still draw well at the Joe Louis Arena, and their fanbase remains passionate and loyal.

9. Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins are an Original Six franchise that has a long and storied history.

    The Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years in 2011. Despite all the time that elapsed between championships, the Bruins remained ingrained in the culture of New England.

    Attendance did fall off a bit when Boston missed the playoffs for two straight seasons in 2006 and 2007, mostly because the fanbase was upset with ownership's refusal to spend money on the club, but even then, the B's were playing to better than 85-percent capacity.

    The recent title only reinforced the team's place in the area's culture and created another generation of fans who know the sweet feeling of winning a Stanley Cup.

8. Buffalo Sabres

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    The Buffalo Sabres haven't won a Stanley Cup since they entered the NHL in 1970, but they have reached the Final in 1975 and 1999.

    The fans of Buffalo quickly warmed to the franchise from their earliest days with stars like Gilbert Perreault and fellow "French Connection" linemates Rick Martin and Rene Robert. Other Sabres standouts include Tom Barrasso, Pat LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny and Dominik Hasek.

    Despite the fact that the club has been inconsistent on the ice, the Sabres have drawn an average of 98-percent capacity or above since the last lockout ended in 2005.

    The Sabres fans are passionate and knowledgeable and eagerly await their first championship.

7. Vancouver Canucks

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    The Vancouver Canucks have been very successful on the ice and at the gate in recent years.

    The Canucks have won back-to-back President's Trophies as the team with the league's best record and seem set to make another run at contention when this season finally gets under way.

    Perhaps the only reason the team is not higher on this list is the horrible riots that took place in Vancouver after the team lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

    Vancouver has always done a good job of supporting the Canucks since they entered the league in 1970. While they have reached the Stanley Cup Final three times, the Canucks have never taken home a championship.

6. Edmonton Oilers

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    The Edmonton Oilers have accumulated a lot of lottery picks recently. For six straight seasons, they have not made the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Rexall Place continues to be filled with fans.

    Despite the long playoff drought, the Oilers have played to 41 sellout crowds of 16,839 each time they have taken to the ice at home over the past six seasons.

    The Oilers are the only former WHA team that remains in its original location. They joined the NHL in 1979 and had a great dynasty in the 1980s, winning four titles in five years between 1984 and 1988 before winning yet another Stanley Cup in 1990.

    The fanbase in Edmonton has been remarkably patient while the Oilers have rebuilt through the draft. Now, they are expecting results, but win or lose, hockey fans in Edmonton always support their Oilers.

5. Minnesota Wild

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    The Minnesota Wild entered the NHL with an amazing streak of 409 consecutive sellouts. It started when the team entered the league in the fall of 2000 and didn't end until a preseason game in September of 2010.

    The Wild managed to keep this streak alive despite the fact that they have only qualified for the postseason three times in their 11 seasons in the league.

    The State of Minnesota has a rich hockey tradition that goes well beyond the NHL. High school and college hockey are popular throughout the state.

    The Wild made a huge splash in the free-agent market this summer by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. With those free-agent acquisitions, the expectations of Minnesota hockey fans have risen again. Expect more sellouts at the Xcel Energy Center this season.

4. New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers have been a fixture on Broadway since 1926.

    The Rangers had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season and reached the Conference Final, but even when they are losing, Madison Square Garden is sold out.

    High ticket prices have resulted in a "corporate crowd" at the Garden in recent years, but the team's loyal followers still come out and are very vocal in support of their team.

    A playoff game at Madison Square Garden is a unique and intense experience, and the fans drown out the national anthem and continue cheering throughout the game.

3. Calgary Flames

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    The Calgary Flames have a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase despite not having made the playoffs the past three seasons and not having won a playoff round since they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

    When the Flames made their last title run, the city of Calgary was famous for its "Red Mile," a large group of fans all clad in red jerseys lining the road to the Saddledome.

    Despite their lack of success on the ice, the Flames have sold out every game over the past three seasons and beyond. They have been ingrained in the culture of the city since moving from Atlanta back in 1980.

    Calgary won their only Stanley Cup in 1989.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs play in what many consider the hockey capital of the world. Hey, the Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Toronto, as is most of Canada's national media. There is little doubt that the Toronto metropolitan area could support more than one NHL club.

    The Leafs franchise has been in the league since 1917, and they have a long and storied history despite the fact that they haven't won the Stanley Cup in 45 years.

    In fact, Toronto hasn't qualified for the playoffs for seven straight seasons, but they still play to a sold out house every night at the Air Canada Centre and have great ratings on their own network and on CBC.

    Despite a lack of success on the ice, the Maple Leafs remain one of the most successful NHL franchises off the ice.

1. Montreal Canadiens

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    No team has won more Stanley Cup titles than the Montreal Canadiens, the most storied franchise in NHL history.

    Players like Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Guy Lafleur, Howie Morenz, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden and Henri Richard have all had Hall of Fame careers in Montreal.

    Despite the franchise's rich history, they have not won a title since 1993. Last season, they finished dead last in the Eastern Conference, yet they continue to sell out the league's largest arena, the Bell Centre, which has a capacity of 21,273. 

    Canadiens fans are also considered among the most knowledgeable in hockey, and they support their team through good times and bad.