As the NHL celebrates the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the classification of a "hockey town" has been redefined. As the league posts its strongest following in decades, cities across North America are fighting for their reputation as a place where NHL hockey is loved and watched.
The following is a power ranking of each franchise based on average attendance, history and how the team compares overall to its continent-wide counterparts.
Read on to find where your favourite NHL team placed and be sure to make your voice heard in the comments below.
This should be no surprise for followers of the desert dogs. For the last three seasons, fans have stood by and watched as the Phoenix Coyotes bounced into the hands of the NHL after numerous bids to buy the team from former owner Jerry Moyes. This was, of course, after Moyes made claims stating the huge losses he had incurred since becoming the primary owner of the 'Yotes in 2006.
Last season, Phoenix averaged an embarrassing 12,188 fans per game (according to ESPN.com)— perfect for second to last in average home attendance across the entire league.
With a lack of postseason success and dwindling fan interest, it is safe to say that the Coyotes likely will not be in Phoenix much longer.
Since joining the league in 1992, the Florida Panthers have been the poster-child of the NHL's 1990s Sun Belt expansion plan. While the team did reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1996 with a star-studded roster, the Panthers have since struggled, last making the postseason in 2000.
Ask any NHL fan their opinion of the Panthers, and they'll probably state how the team's front office seems to be pretty good at overpaying past-their-prime veterans (Ed Belfour, Bryan McCabe) and letting young stars (Roberto Luongo, Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton) slip through their grasp.
2010-2011 was mean to the Panthers organization, with word quickly spreading about their huge incentive packages and cheap tickets to get fans in the door (a quick glance at the team's official website proves this).
All in all, it's safe to say that the people of Southern Florida just don't appreciate this game as much as Bettman and Co. may have hoped.
The other Florida team has fared better in the standings than its predecessor, but interest around the Lightning is hot and cold. The team won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, but this market isn't buying into hockey as easily as other sports.
With the Lightning having to share the area with the Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NCAA, its tough to get fans interested in hockey. With the NBA, NFL and NCAA basketball and football sharing most or part of the Lightning's season, the team's owners constantly battle for good attendance from week to week.
The front office appears to be on the upswing, with the addition of GM Steve Yzerman and a strong financial backing from team owners Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment group, so the Lightning don't appear to be going anywhere soon.
Only time will tell if players and fans eventually start to consider this city as a hockey town, but right now, things like that aren't so good in Tampa.
Hockey has some history in the Ohio area, specifically with the ECHL's Columbus Chill and the long-defunct NHL Cleveland Barons, but since the Blue Jackets' founding in 2000, the city of Columbus has done little to establish itself as a hockey town.
It seems to have everything a hockey town should have, including a winter climate where fans can join hockey leagues and learn about the game. Sadly, a revolving door of coaching staff and numerous roster changes have left the Blue Jackets in the dust in terms of on ice success and home attendance.
The team averaged just over 13,000 fans a game, according to ESPN.com, and was ranked 27th overall. Their only playoff appearance was in 2009, when they faced off against divisional rivals the Detroit Red Wings and were swept in four games.
With a roster that boasts one of the league's hottest superstars—Rick Nash—it's a shame Columbus has not rallied around its NHL team.
The Anaheim Ducks have one of the most exciting teams on the ice right now, but you'd never know it by the looks of things in Orange County. Just down the highway from rivals the Los Angeles Kings, the Ducks have had periods of success since joining the league alongside the Florida Panthers in 1993, including a Stanley Cup in 2007.
In the 2010-2011 regular season, the Ducks were ranked 26th in home attendance despite finishing second in the tight Pacific Division. It must be mindboggling for team brass to look into their near-empty arena night after night as their team dominates its opponents and challenges for the Cup.
In the past, Anaheim has been home to stars like Teemu Selanne (who, as of this writing, has yet to retire at the age of 39), J.S. Giguere, Paul Kariya and Sandis Ozolinsh. The new guard of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf should carry on that tradition of good players in a hard to break market.
The relocated Hartford Whalers have had a respectable tenure in North Carolina, but really have not been able to establish Raleigh as a true hockey hot bed. A Stanley Cup in 2006 could have changed things, but fans just haven't flocked to the game in the way the league may have hoped.
The 'Canes missed the playoffs in 2011 and have yet to move past the first round since winning the Stanley Cup, but year-in-year-out, they ice a good team with strong players.
Maybe it's because the NBA, NFL and NCAA have such strong presences in the North Carolina region, but whatever the case, the Hurricanes finished 20th in league average attendance.
An NFL lockout may lift the franchise's attendance into the mid-teens of the league, but long term success in Raleigh may already be out of the question if the Hurricanes cannot turn things around and have some playoff success.
The 1990s were good to the Dallas Stars after the team moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the team built a good fanbase and even won a Stanley Cup in 1999. A good mix of veteran superstars and exciting young talent has kept the Stars competitive since the late-90s, but the fans have drifted from their Stars.
Dallas' growing reputation as a hockey town has all but been extinguished, as talk now shifts to the search for a new owner and ways to solve attendance woes. The team posted just over 80 percent total average attendance last season, according to ESPN.com.
Texas has been synonymous with football and basketball since as long as most people can remember, so maybe that's why hockey has struggled to find a place in the state. Whatever the case, Dallas is quickly losing ground on the ice and off, and speculation of a relocation may come up in a few years time.
The Nashville Predators have been growing in terms of skill and reputation since joining the league over a decade ago. With a roster that includes Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and the enigmatic Joel Ward, the Preds will likely be a very good team in the coming years.
Hockey has never been a part of Tennessee, at least in terms of an NHL presence. It was virgin territory back in 1998 when Craig Leipold brought hockey to the Music City, and since then, success has been mixed.
Fans came out in droves to support the Predators during their 2011 playoff run, and with more and more ice hockey rinks being built in the Nashville-area, Tennessee may one day be fertile hockey territory.
The Washington Capitals struggled their entire history to find a solid fanbase in the D.C. area until the team got a hold of superstars Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Niklas Backstrom. Although fans have not taken to hockey the same way as football or basketball, there are signs of a strong Capitals following.
The team ranked 10th in average attendance last season, and the arena appears on TV to be a sea of red and blue as the Caps hit the ice.
Unfortunately, the numbers for a strong following and love for the game just don't hold up. Compared to the attendance of the NCAA and NFL in the local metro area, the NHL is nothing.
A few more early playoff exits and a return to the team's mid-1990s mediocrity may cause the Caps to completely lose their growing distinction as a hockey town.
With the team's 2001 Stanley Cup victory a decade old, fans in Denver seem to have forgotten the glory days of this franchise. It was almost a generation ago that Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Ray Bourque crushed opponents with blazing speed and goals.
In 2010-2011, the Avs were ranked 24th in attendance and have seen their average attendance drop by almost one thousand fans per season since the 2005-2006 campaign.
Denver has the makings of a real hockeytown 10 years ago, but nowadays, hockey is not a big seller in the Centennial State.
Los Angeles has a sports history that features one of the greatest professional franchises ever to exist, the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the departure of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, who now play in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Kings have always existed in a limbo between the NBA and other pro leagues in the area, and since the team's 1993 cup run during the days of Rob Blake and Wayne Gretzky, interest in the Kings has drifted. Fans seem to have returned to this franchise since the team began to ice talent like Anze Kopitar, Johnathan Quick, Dustin Penner and Drew Doughty.
The Kings have not won a cup in their history, but they ranked 14th in average attendance last season, according to ESPN.com, and their fanbase appears to be growing.
Of all the franchises ranked below 15 on this list, Los Angeles is perhaps the only city with the makings of a real hockey town in the near future.
Most readers likely loved or hated the New Jersey Devils of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but today, the Devils are nothing but a laughingstock. With a roster packed with overpaid-and-underworked players and an aging goaltender, the Devils appear to be on the downswing for the foreseeable future.
Personnel aside, the fans in New Jersey are not coming out to watch their team like they used to. Finishing in the bottom five franchises in terms of average attendance and only cracking the the 15,000 fan plateau a handful of times in the Devils history is no stat to build a hockeytown around.
The New York Islanders of the past were one of hockey's greatest teams, but in recent years, this team has become more notable for its relocation rumours and repeated draft blunders than on-ice success.
Playing in the decrepit Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, fans seem to have left the Islanders in the dust. The team finished dead last in average attendance last season, and the only thing keeping this team high on this list is the amount of history that supports the Islanders.
A few more disappointing seasons and weaker attendance numbers will cause the Isles to fall once more in terms of hockey town designation.
Blues seems to be the best way to describe the state of affairs in St. Louis. Marred by the economic downturn and repeated regular season failures, this franchise has failed to attract decent amounts of attendance in the last few seasons.
Combine that with a long history of losing, and the makings of a hockey town are non-existant.
The team did pick up Chris Stewart from the Colorado Avalanche last season, but only time will tell if the Blues are able to turn things around and move up this list.
For a city that cried so loud when they lost the Minnesota North Stars, the support for the Minnesota Wild has been only decent compared to the rest of the league.
The average attendance over the previous four seasons has, according to andrewsstarspage.com, hovered around the 18,000 mark. These are great numbers for the Wild, especially considering how poorly the team fared in 2010-2011.
A championship and continued amount of growth in local hockey should push the Wild forward in and make St. Paul a true hockey town, but right now, they cannot be placed in the same breath as Philadelphia, Toronto or Chicago.
The San Jose Sharks have put on an exciting and successful team for most of the team's history, and fan support has been relatively steady since the 1993-1994 season.
Watching a home game against the Vancouver Canucks during the Western Conference Final proves just how rabid the Sharks faithful are about hockey in the Bay Area, a support that is sure to grow in the future.
Look for San Jose to become an anomaly in California when they move into the top half of the league's average attendance in the near future.
Winnipeg has inherited one of the league's lowest performing franchises as of June 21, and in the meantime, has sold an incredible amount of season tickets for the 2011-2012 regular season.
Winnipeg may support the NHL right now, but a fair designation as a hockey town must come with a mention of the Winnipeg Jets—the original Winnipeg team that moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996.
Without opening up the debate on why the Jets left town, the new Winnipeg franchise must work hard to keep fans interested in an on-ice product that will likely be lackluster until the team can trade and draft good players into the Great White North.
A long history of ice hockey at both the professional and amateur levels also gives Winnipeg a fair shot at becoming Canada's seventh hockeytown.
Buffalo has been a part of the NHL since the 1970-1971 regular season, and since that time, the team has met with mixed on-ice success. Three Stanley Cup Finals appearances later, the Sabres are no closer to that first championship than they were forty years ago.
Attendance has been strong in Buffalo, and that may because of the lack of professional franchises in the local area (with the exception of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, of course) or the proximity to Canada. It is not uncommon for Southern Ontario hockey fans to drive to Buffalo to catch games a cheaper price than the astronomical values of Toronto Maple Leafs tickets.
The team ranked ninth in average attendance last season, one of the six American teams in the top 10.
Buffalo has the makings of a hockey town and, like many of the teams on this list, will reach that landmark status if they can win a Stanley Cup soon.
The Pittsburgh Penguins as a franchise have had a long and tumultuous history amongst the league's standings. The struggling years of the 70s and 80s were meant with a renewed interest in the club at the dawn of the 1990s as Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux wowed crowds across the NHL.
Today, the Pens boast one of the youngest and fastest rosters in the league today and won their most recent Stanley Cup in 2009.
Average attendance last year hovered around 18,200 fans, thanks to ESPN.com, but since the team's presence in the 2011 Winter Classic, fans from across the continent have taken an interest in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Funny how just 10 years ago the rumour was they would be moving elsewhere...
Ottawa was once a hockey haven in the early part of the 20th century, but it took almost 60 years for a team to return to the Canadian capital. Since 1992, the Senators have reestablished Ottawa as an alternative hockeytown to Toronto, Ontario.
While the Sens have not been very successful on ice in the past few years, their short history has included a Stanley Cup Final appearance (2007) and a Presidents Trophy as the league's best regular season team after the 2002/2003 season.
The team has also gone through its share of financial woes, especially a stint in bankruptcy during their 2002/2003 campaign.
Regardless, the Sens' faithful—named Sens Army—have stood by their franchise and catapulted the Ottawa into meeting the criteria for a true hockeytown.
The Edmonton Oilers of yore were one of the best teams ever assembled. Featuring Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr between the pipes, the Oilers of the eighties won four Stanley Cups and added a final trophy in 1990.
Twenty years later, the Oilers have appeared in one more Cup final and are currently experiencing a lengthy rebuilding phase after firing longtime coach Craig MacTavish in 2009.
The city of Edmonton is famous for rallying behind its NHL team, even to the point of partying excessively along the city's famed Copper Kilometer—a strip taken over by fans to celebrate the Oilers during their 2006 Stanley Cup run.
Edmonton may be a league joke right now, but with a fanbase and history as rich as this, the Oilers will likely always be around the NHL. Edmonton is a strong market with a true love for the game.
The Rangers may have gone 54 years without a Stanley Cup before hoisting Lord Stanley's mug in 1994, but that doesn't take away from their reputation as playing in a hockeytown. Madison Square Garden, the Rangers' home since 1926, is consistently packed night after night, landing the team a 99.5 percent average attendance percentage (according to ESPN.com).
The front office's tactics as far as trading and pursuing players during free agency may be controversial, but no hockey fan can deny the power of the New York market and its distinction as one of America's true hockeytowns.
In a city that is packed with professional sports, the New York Rangers stand out amongst the crowd.
The population of Philadelphia is known across North America for having a passionate love for each of their Big Four sports franchises, but the Flyers hold a special place in most Philadelphians hearts.
Since entering the league as part of the 1967 expansion, the Flyers have won two Stanley Cups and appeared in eight Stanley Cup Finals.
The Flyers' fanbase is famous for their rabid support for the Broad Street Bullies—a diehard attitude that was televised nationally during the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Philadelphia is a fertile sports market, and the Flyers hold their own amongst their fellow Philly sports franchises.
The Vancouver Canucks may have faltered in the seventh and deciding game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and been attached to the now infamous 2011 Vancouver Riots, but that is no indication of the true Canuck spirit and fan atmosphere.
Since beginning play in the NHL in the 1970/1971 season, the Canucks have built a huge following in the Pacific Northwest for their explosive offense and strong defensive play. Although they have yet to win a Stanley Cup, the team has posted some impressive records in their history and featured some of the game's top stars in Pavel Bure, Henrik Sedin and Thomas Gradin.
The city may not be known outside of Canada as a sports town, but Canucks fans love their team and love their hockey. They have consistently packed Rogers Arena, the Canucks' home rink, since the days of Todd Bertuzzi and the West Coast Express.
With strong fan support and a great on-ice product, Vancouver's place as another Canadian hockeytown will continue to grow in the coming years.
As one of the teams of the famed Original Six era of the NHL, the Boston Bruins have built a huge fanbase across North America. Famous for their gritty two-way play, the B's have won six Stanley Cups, the most recent coming this past June.
During the team's original glory years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Bruins quickly gained the admiration of many of Beantown's working class—a relationship that is still visible at TD Garden to this day.
Although they compete with some of the most beloved sports franchises in the world, mainly the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, the Bruins have worked hard to establish their market as a true American hockeytown.
Calgary has supported the Flames since their arrival from Atlanta in 1980 and routinely demonstrates that a small market team with a faithful fanbase can be successful compared to metropolis-based teams. With dozens of youth and adult hockey leagues springing up over the course of Calgary's long winters, hockey has been a staple of prairie life for generations.
The Flames, who have won the Stanley Cup once and appeared in two Cup Finals, averaged just over 19,000 fans per home game last season. Their home arena, the Scotiabank Saddledome, is famous in the NHL for its intimidating "C of Red"—a tradition that fans wear red to home games to boost team morale.
Calgary is a hockey town; no doubt about it.
2010's Stanley Cup champions the Chicago Blackhawks erased decades of futility and disappearing fan support with one great postseason run. This success was not short lived, as fans turned up night after night during the 2010-2011 season to support the Hawks, who lost a heartbreaking Game 7 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals to the Vancouver Canucks.
Leading the league in average attendance last season was a long time coming for the city of Chicago. Fans had long suffered, as they watched penny pinching owner Bil Wirtz do everything in his power to dismantle the team. Under Wirtz's misguidance, the Blackhawks quickly sunk to the bottom of the standings and stayed there, almost undoing all the years of success during the Original Six era.
With the Blackhawks preparing to open a new chapter as the darlings of the Windy City, Chicago's reputation as a hockey town will continue to gain a higher profile.
When you think American hockey, you think of Detroit and the Detroit Red Wings. It's painted right in the middle of Joe Louis Arena, after all.
The franchise has won an impressive 11 Stanley Cups and easily wins the distinction of being the most prosperous team of the last 10 years.
In their long history, the Red Wings have featured many of the game's greats, including Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Dominik Hasek and Niklas Lidstrom.
With a fanbase as crazed as the Red Wings, there is no end in sight for Hockeytown, USA.
Toronto, Ontario, is an obvious inclusion in the top three hockey towns of the NHL. Although the Maple Leafs have wrestled with a decades-long Cup drought, their fans have showed up season after season expecting a turnaround.
Boasting a season ticket waiting list that has well over 2,000 names and a franchise total value of over 505 million USD (according to Forbes), the Maple Leafs are one of the NHL's premier teams.
The amount of stars that have worn the blue and white is almost a slideshow in itself, and the effect this team has had on the game of hockey in general is invaluable.
Ahead of only Toronto, Montreal, Quebec is the NHL's number one hockeytown.
The team has won more Stanley Cups than any other franchise with 24 and has posted some of the league's best attendance numbers its entire 101 season history.
Currently featuring names like Mike Cammalleri, Carey Price and P.K. Subban, the Habs have also iced rosters that included greats like Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau.
Head down to the Bell Centre on game day and soak in the atmosphere of the Canadiens faithful as they warm up for their opponents. The fans scream passionately when they win and collapse in agony when the Habs lose, all the while representing everything hockey truly should mean to city. The game is an escape for people of all walks of life in Montreal.
Montreal is hockey; enough said.
Don't like where your city or favourite team fared in this analysis?
Please post your gripes and praises in the comments section below and, as always, enjoy the game!