NHL: Power Ranking the Likelihood of Each Team's Fanbase Returning Post-Lockout

Tom SchreierCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2012

NHL: Power Ranking the Likelihood of Each Team's Fanbase Returning Post-Lockout

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    No fan enjoys a lockout. The difference is in how they react.

    While there may be a few nut jobs out there poking Gary Bettman voodoo dolls (and, really, who can blame them?), the vast majority have probably moved on to either a different level of hockey (high school, junior, college, et cetera) or may just have started watching other sports more religiously.

    It is the indifferent fans that the league should be most concerned about. Everyone from Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin to Forbes’ Leigh Steinberg have wondered aloud how many people actually care that hockey is locked out.

    It’s a bold move, writing that people don’t care about hockey on a large platform, but there is some merit to what they have to say. While there are legions of diehard hockey fans out there, many of the people that fill the arena are casual fans that either want to support having a team in their city by splitting season tickets with a couple buddies at work or catch a couple games in the cheap seats every year.

    Like any sport, hockey needs its diehards, but it is the casual fan that allows it to be one of America’s Big Four (along with NFL, MLB and NBA) and become a fixture in many of the league’s 30 locales.

    The following is a look at whether an entire fanbase, not just the diehards, will return following a lockout based on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being “returning immediately” and one being “they’ll take their time.”

    The average attendance from the 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons, which bookended the locked out 2004-05 season, is based off of ESPN’s figures and has influenced many of my decisions in this slideshow.

Anaheim Ducks

1 of 30

    2003-04: 14,987 (87%)

    2005-06: 15,131 (88%)

    Likelihood of Return: 3

    Couple things going on here:

    First of all, Anaheim’s attendance actually rose after the lockout, but remember they had a stacked team that would win it all in 2007.

    Secondly, one nice thing about having a lot to do in SoCal is that the average Ducks fan probably wasn’t angry that the league locked out. It’s not like they’re the only show in town.

    Finally, there’s not a really huge fanbase to begin with. It’s not like they were selling out the Pond before the lockout anyway.

    The problem with these frequent lockouts is that the NHL has stymied growth in non-traditional markets like Anaheim. Instead of capitalizing on its large population, hockey has simply grown a couple loyal fans out there, but remains relatively ignored in the grand scheme of things.

Boston Bruins

2 of 30

    2003-04: 15,133 (86%)

    2005-06: 16,211 (92%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Here’s the crazy thing, Boston’s attendance wasn’t much better than Anaheim’s at the time of the 2004 lockout.

    At the time, the Bruins were the goat in town. The Patriots had just become a dynasty, the Red Sox just broke an 86-year-old curse and at least the Celtics could say they won a title (or three) in the '80s. 

    Things are different now. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup two years ago and easily could win it this year.

    If this team wasn’t so good, sports fans in Beantown may be a little more lukewarm to the idea of returning to hockey games—even with the city’s rich history in the sport.

    Fans will return if they think this team can win it all.

Buffalo Sabres

3 of 30

    2003-04: 15,290 (82%)

    2005-06: 16,886 (90%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Before the lockout, Buffalo may still have been hurting over the “No Goal” incident.

    After it, I think this town realized how much they miss the game.

    The city’s proximity to Canada, and the fact that the Sabres are the only game in town when the Bills are not playing, make this one of the biggest hockey hotbeds in America.

    A lot is expected of this team and because there should be a winner on the ice this season, the lockout isn’t going to affect Buffalo as much as it will in other cities.

Calgary Flames

4 of 30

    2003-04: 16,579 (85%)

    2005-06: 19,289 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Calgary is another case of a city that probably realized how much it missed hockey after it left. The attendance went from middling in the 80 percent range to full capacity.

    Despite seeing an inferior product on the ice year after year, people out there have stayed faithful to their team. Hockey is the only professional sport in town, and it’s hard to see people staying away from it once it comes back.

Carolina Hurricanes

5 of 30

    2003-04: 12,330 (68%)

    2005-06: 15,596 (85%)

    Likelihood of Return: 3

    Carolina is one of hockey’s weirder situations.

    The Hurricanes not only play in a non-traditional market, but they also play in one of the league’s smallest markets.

    Furthermore, their move from Hartford in 1997, which took the only professional sports team away from Connecticut, did not go over smoothly. The Whalers remain a beloved franchise, and the Canes had to play in Greensboro Coliseum, which was located far away from the Triangle area, meaning the franchise got off on the wrong foot right away.

    It should be noted that the Hurricanes had been to the finals in 2001-02, losing to the Red Wings, making it kind of strange that their attendance dipped so far in 2003-04. The team saw a spike in attendance, of course, when they won the Stanley Cup the year after the lockout.

    The Canes have struggled on the ice recently, meaning that attendance has once again decline.

    The arrival of Jordan Staal and re-signing of key players, including up-and-coming superstar Jeff Skinner, is good news, but the lockout may have overshadowed those transactions.

    With an improving team and a history of winning, fans will return in Raleigh. The question is when?

    It probably won’t be right away.

Chicago Blackhawks

6 of 30

    2003-04: 13,253 (67%)

    2005-06: 13,318 (68%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    The lockout happened in the midst of the Bill Wirtz era when Blackhawks games were not played on television in Chicago and the club was clearly the least popular team in the Windy City.

    A Stanley Cup victory in 2010 (and the fact that the team is now on television) has revitalized the Hawks. New ownership has turned Chicago into a perennial contender, and the team is clearly a fixture in the city.

    Because the Blackhawks are ready to win now, fans should return to the United Center as soon as hockey resumes play.

Colorado Avalanche

7 of 30

    2003-04: 18,007 (100%)

    2005-06: 18,007 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 3

    The situation in Colorado is exactly the opposite of what was happening in Chicago.

    Denver will always be a Broncos town, but the Avalanche were a hot ticket at the time. They had won a championship their first year in the Mile High City after arriving from Quebec in 1995 and won another in 2001.

    At the time, they were selling out all of their games.

    A dry spell following the second championship drove fans away, however, and this lockout’s Avalanche are in a very different state than that lockout’s Avalanche (it’s sad that we use lockouts as milestones in the NHL, isn’t it?).

    There’s a lot of reason to be excited about the young roster Colorado has, but with the Broncos running all over the AFC it’s hard to think that anyone’s really going to care about hockey right now.

    Like the situation in Carolina, fans will return to hockey in Denver. It’s just a question of when.

Columbus Blue Jackets

8 of 30

    2003-04: 17,369 (96%)

    2005-06: 16,796 (93%)

    Likelihood of Return: 1

    You have to remember that at the time of the 2005 lockout, the Blue Jackets were still a novelty and drawing fans.

    Right now it looks like all but a few hardy souls are sticking it out with this cesspool of a team.

    Last time around, you could blame the lockout for a dip in attendance. If attendance drops this time, however, it’s incompetent management of the team, not the league, that’s culpable.

Dallas Stars

9 of 30

    2003-04: 18,355 (99%)

    2005-06: 17,828 (96%)

    Likelihood of Return: 2

    Dallas was a force at the turn of the century, and Stars games were a place to be in the early 2000s. The Cowboys were still the main attraction in town, but it’s possible that hockey was the No. 2 sport at the time.

    Now the Rangers and Mavericks have been revitalized, and poor management has driven the once-proud Stars into the ground.

    Hockey attendance in Dallas hasn’t been great recently, and it’s hard to think that it will improve after the lockout.

Detroit Red Wings

10 of 30

    2003-04: 20,066 (100%)

    2005-06: 20,064 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    People in Detroit love their hockey.

    Although the city has fallen on hard times, the passion for hockey trumps the league’s recent fiascos in Motown.

Edmonton Oilers

11 of 30

    2003-04: 17,677 (100%)

    2005-06: 16,832 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    The Oilers actually were over capacity at Rexall Place before the 2005 lockout. After, they simply sold out the game.

    Edmonton has some of the most loyal fans in the game, meaning that the only thing that could possibly empty the place out would be, well, another locked out season…

Florida Panthers

12 of 30

    2003-04: 15,936 (82%)

    2005-06: 16,014 (83%)

    Likelihood of Return: 2

    Despite being in the middle of a large playoff rut and generally playing poor hockey, attendance rose slightly after the 2005 lockout.

    The intimate fanbase should eventually return because of Florida’s performance last year and the hope success in the future, but the location of the arena in suburban Sunrise (45 minutes from Miami) and the success of the Heat will make the team a tough sell after yet another lockout.

    Like in Anaheim, the continual lockouts are preventing any chance hockey has to grasp the attention of the average sports fan in South Florida.

Los Angeles Kings

13 of 30

    2003-04: 17,889 (99%)

    2005-06: 17,839 (99%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Here’s the thing about LA, the city is so damn big that it can fill an arena for the Kings—even if the average person out there could care less about hockey.

    Winning the Stanley Cup last season is the biggest thing to happen to the team since Wayne Gretzky arrived (and, really, MC Ren donned a Kings cap), but the team’s chance to be the city’s darling has been squandered with the lockout.

    While the NHL is at the negotiating table, the Lakers have a nice little attention-grabbing drama going, the Clippers have become a juggernaut, the Angels have a budding underpaid stars and a lot of expensive free agents and Dodgers have become the Yankees.

    That and, well, there’s a lot of other things going on in LA too.

    But let’s give credit where credit is due. The Kings fill an arena, and while the team’s ability to garner more fanship has been hurt by the lockout, my guess is that arena will be full as soon as the season starts up again.

Minnesota Wild

14 of 30

    2003-04: 18,530 (100%)

    2005-06: 18,575 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Without the acquisition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, that number would be a three or a four.

    With them, however, has come a revitalization of professional hockey in Minnesota.

    Although the Wild sold out every game in their first few seasons, patience was running thin with team management, and the Xcel Energy Center crowd was starting to thin out.

    While the impact of the Fourth of July have fizzled a little bit without action on the ice, people in the Land of 10,000 Lakes haven’t forgot about Suter and Parise. The team will sell out games once again.

Montreal Canadiens

15 of 30

    2003-04: 20,555 (100%)

    2005-06: 21,273 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Montreal is a large market with only one major professional sports team, the Canadiens, and they’ve been known to pack hockey games.

    Nobody out there is happy about the lockout, but they’ll return to their beloved game as soon as the lockout ends.

Nashville Predators

16 of 30

    2003-04: 13,157 (77%)

    2005-06: 14,428 (84%)

    Likelihood of Return: 2

    It should be noted here that the Predators were at a point where they were no longer a novelty and also not good enough on the ice to draw a lot of fans before the 2005 lockout.

    After being locked out the first time, the team strung together a couple nice seasons and became a regular in the postseason.

    Unfortunately, the Preds just lost Ryan Suter, a franchise defenseman, and nearly lost his partner, Shea Weber, before matching a $110 million offer from the Flyers.

    The problem with the timing of the lockout is that this team was developing a reputation as a great place for player development, but there appeared to be a glass ceiling above them once it came to the playoffs.

    Nashville isn’t really a sports town to begin with (they play a little music down there, in case you missed it), but the Preds had started to develop a niche fanbase in the city.

    While they will eventually fill seats again, it may be a while before they get over this year’s lockout.

New Jersey Devils

17 of 30

    2003-04: 15,059 (79%)

    2005-06: 14,230 (74%)

    Likelihood of Return: 2

    The Devils have the unfortunate problem of being lodged in a market full of Rangers and Flyers fans in New Jersey.

    It seems like no matter how well this team does on the ice, it will always play second fiddle to the Blueshirts and the Orange and Black in the city.

    Remember that this club had just won its third Stanley Cup in 2003 and still couldn’t sell out the Continental Airlines Arena, and then the lockout caused the already small crowds there to shrink even more.

    This team may have made it to the Stanley Cup Final last year, but history has told us that that won’t override the devastating effects of a lockout in the Garden State.

New York Islanders

18 of 30

    2003-04: 13,693 (84%)

    2005-06: 12,609 (77%)

    Likelihood of Return: 1

    Attendance took a big hit the last time the NHL locked out and has dwindled in subsequent years as Fort Neverlose has not lived up to its name.

    Now that the fans know the Islanders are locked into a deal with the Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, they no longer have to show up hoping to keep their team in town. And without a good product on the ice, there really is no reason for the average person to go to a game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

New York Rangers

19 of 30

    2003-04: 18,080 (100%)

    2005-06: 18,142 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    New Yorkers are hardy souls to begin with, and the Rangers are a team that looks, on paper, like a bona fide contender.

    MSG will be rocking as soon as hockey resumes play.

Ottawa Senators

20 of 30

    2003-04: 17,758 (92%)

    2005-06: 19,474 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    The Senators actually saw a boost in attendance following the lockout.

    As the only professional sports team in Canada’s capital, the Sens are a team on the rise that is dearly missed right now.

Philadelphia Flyers

21 of 30

    2003-04: 19,375 (100%)

    2005-06: 19,653 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Philadelphians love their hockey.

    A lockout only makes them want to punch Gary Bettman in the face.

Phoenix Coyotes

22 of 30

    2003-04: 15,467 (90%)

    2005-06: 15,582 (91%)

    Likelihood of Return: 2

    Since the 2005 lockout, the Coyotes have become a serious financial black hole for the league.

    With an arena located in suburban Glendale (20 minutes from Phoenix), the Coyotes are possibly placed in one of the worst, if not the worst, hockey markets in the US.

    Despite all their difficulties, however, the team has managed to make the playoffs the last three years under Dave Tippett and may be heading in the right direction. Having said that, the team doesn’t have much of a fanbase to begin with, and it’s hard to think the lockout will help expand it.

Pittsburgh Penguins

23 of 30

    2003-04: 11,877 (70%)

    2005-06: 15,804 (93%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Pittsburgh looked like a moribund franchise before the 2005 lockout.

    And then they drafted Sidney Crosby.

    After moving from the House That Lemieux Built to the House of Crosby, the Penguins became a can’t-miss attraction in Pittsburgh and are clearly on better footing than they were.

    This team should do just fine after this year’s work stoppage.

San Jose Sharks

24 of 30

    2003-04: 15,835 (90%)

    2005-06: 16,831 (96%)

    Likelihood of Return: 4

    The Sharks became a powerhouse in between the latest lockouts.

    Their continual success in the regular season brought many loyal fans to the Shark Tank, although the team appears to be heading in the wrong direction right now.

    Even though Bay Area fans have plenty of other teams to root for—the Niners look like a contender, the A’s made the playoffs recently, the Warriors suddenly look good and the Giants have won two World Series recently—by nature of being located in San Jose, not an hour north in San Francisco, the team has a local fanbase that should return as soon as hockey begins playing again.

St. Louis Blues

25 of 30

    2003-04: 18,560 (97%)

    2005-06: 14,213 (74%)

    Likelihood of Return: 4

    The Blues saw the biggest drop in attendance the last time the NHL locked out.

    From 1980 to 2004, St. Louis essentially played the role that the San Jose Sharks did after the lockout: an impressive regular-season team that could never win it all.

    There were signs that the team was going in the wrong direction before the lockout happened.

    This time around, things may be different now that the revamped Blues are a team on the rise. While a lockout is never going to sit well with the people of St. Louis, a winner always seems to bring people back to the game.

Tampa Bay Lightning

26 of 30

    2003-04: 17,820 (93%)

    2005-06: 20,509 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 4

    It didn’t seem to matter that the NHL locked out the season after the Bolts won the Stanley Cup—people still overstuffed the Ice Palace as soon as hockey returned.

    Last year was a downer for hockey fans in Tampa, but with a renovated arena, new uniforms and one of the league’s brightest coaches, the talented Lightning have given their fans plenty of reason to return when hockey starts up again.

Toronto Maple Leafs

27 of 30

    2003-04: 19,376 (100%)

    2005-06: 19,408 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Toronto has some of the greatest hockey fans in the world.

    A lockout may have angered them, but it won’t keep them from going to Leafs games.

Vancouver Canucks

28 of 30

    2003-04: 18,630 (100%)

    2005-06: 18,630 (100%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    Canucks fans aren’t going to miss out on an opportunity to see a team that may win its first Stanley Cup in franchise history—lockout be damned.

Washington Capitals

29 of 30

    2003-04: 14,720 (80%)

    2005-06: 13,905 (76%)

    Likelihood of Return: 4

    Attendance figures would eventually jump off the charts following Washington’s acquisition of Alex Ovechkin in the 2005 NHL draft.

    Even in a Redskins city, the Phone Booth was the place to be for a Washington sports fan in between lockouts. Even now, with Robert Griffin III tearing it up on the gridiron, John Wall balling out on the hard court and arguably the best team in baseball in their city, the Capitals should pack the seats once hockey starts again.

Winnipeg Jets

30 of 30

    2003-04: 15,121 (82%)

    2005-06: 15,550 (84%)

    Likelihood of Return: 5

    The attendance figures above are basically irrelevant. They are from the club’s days in Atlanta.

    What’s interesting to note is that Winnipeg’s current home, the MTS Centre, was originally built for the minor league Manitoba Moose and only seats 15,004. This means that the Thrashers “crowd” (or at least tickets sold) would have been over capacity in Winnipeg.

    Either way, hockey belongs in the ‘Peg, and the fans will let you know it…even after seeing the NHL move their team to Phoenix and then lock out their new team after its first year in existence.


    Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com and contributes to Hockey’s Future and Stadium Journey.