NHL's Best Fans: Power Ranking the Top 10 Most Dedicated, Passionate Fanbases

Jason Sapunka@moreSapunkaCorrespondent IIAugust 2, 2011

NHL's Best Fans: Power Ranking the Top 10 Most Dedicated, Passionate Fanbases

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    During the upcoming season, the NHL will see a team move from a city which neglects hockey to a country where the sport is second to nothing.

    The Winnipeg Jets received more potential customers for season ticket packages in 17 minutes than the average attendance of Atlanta Thrashers home games from this past season.

    This dedication to hockey is an admirable asset of an NHL city that can be matched by few.

    Here the top fanbases are ranked.

    Please note, the selection criteria requires that the team has maintained an average attendance above 90 percent capacity in each season since the 2004-2005 lockout.

Honorable Mention: Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators

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    Any Canadian city with the population to support an NHL hockey team will do so.

    If the NHL returned to Quebec City and Hamilton, those two teams would easily have a stronger following that certain current U.S. teams.

    According to ESPN.com, Calgary has averaged a sellout in every season since the NHL returned to play in 2005. Coincidentally (or not), this was also the first season since their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals.

    Ottawa has averaged 99 percent or higher capacity since their 2006 cup run.

    Like Calgary, this slight correlation of success with fan following hurts them from moving higher on the list.

    However, fans did not stop going to the games this past season, when both teams missed the playoffs.

No. 10: San Jose Sharks

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    A surprising addition to this list is the nontraditional hockey city of San Jose.

    In a climate unsuitable for the sport, the Sharks have earned one of the NHL's most consistent followings.

    The Sharks entered the NHL with two abysmal seasons totaling 28 wins and set an NHL record of 71 losses in 1992-1993.

    The next season, San Jose more than doubled the franchise win total, and made the playoffs. That season, the San Jose Arena average above 96 percent capacity. 

    The Sharks have not dropped below 90 percent since and have been above 96 percent all but three seasons in the franchise's entire history.

    Furthermore, the HP Pavilion was ranked in a Sports Illustrated-conducted player survey to be the NHL's toughest road arena.

No. 9: New York Rangers

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    Don't challenge New York City's passion.

    After opposing coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals said Madison Square Garden was "quiet," the arena responded.

    The Rangers' location in one of the most populated cities in the entire world might make it easy for them to sell out game after game, but there's no doubting that blueshirt faithful create a hostile territory for opposing teams and fans.

No. 8: Buffalo Sabres

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    Sabres fans have been known to travel in order to watch their team on the road (because sometimes, the television isn't good enough).

    The relatively small city was made home to the NHL's first Winter Classic for good reason; it is dedicated to hockey.

    While the traveling fans cannot be ignored, the team showed a drop in attendance from 2002-2004 (a time when the Sabres failed to make the playoffs), preventing Buffalo from falling higher on this list.

No. 7: Vancouver Canucks

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    Yeah, what you see in this video was caused by a hockey game.

    For the past seven seasons, Canucks fans have filled Rogers Arena to near capacity without a hiccup.

    However, the record is not impeccable, with dedication dropping by a few thousand in years such as 1994-1995 and 1999-2000.

    The riots may have been a huge overreaction to losing the Stanley Cup finals, but the emotion showed by thousands of people here cannot be ignored.

    In addition to a hefty level of immaturity and stupidity, it takes an unbelievable level of dedication to a hockey franchise to do this.

    Most of the time a city is torn apart, there is some form of important reasoning behind it such as revolution or rebellion.

    Vancouver lost a hockey game.

No. 6: Edmonton Oilers

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    When you play this video, don't be fooled into thinking your sound is on too high.

    The clip is from the end of Game 6 in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. Edmonton had previously won Game 5 in overtime despite facing elimination.

    This is what a city should look like one win away from a Stanley Cup. It's difficult to believe the Carolina Hurricanes were able to walk off the ice listening to this and still win Game 7.

    Since this game, the Oilers have not returned to the playoffs but have remained above 99 percent attendance, averaging a sellout over the past three seasons.

    Edmonton wants a winner but will support the team regardless.

No. 5: Minnesota Wild

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    When NHL hockey returned to Minnesota, the Wild sold out their first 409 home games before failing to fill the house during an exhibition game this past season.

    Average attendance dropped to 99 percent this season, but Minnesota has an impeccable record in showing dedication to a franchise with an overall losing record.

No. 4: Detroit Red Wings

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    How can "Hockeytown" not be No. 1?

    Just because it's written on the ice, that doesn't make it true.

    That's not to say the Motor City hasn't earned an incredible amount of recognition for Red Wings fans. Support of this franchise is nationwide and away arenas are constantly infested by the red and white.

    Red Wings fans carry a passion for hockey matched by few, a level even some Canadian cities cannot compare to.

    During this past playoff run, the Red Wings tied their second-round series against the Sharks after going down 3-0.

    Detroit was incredibly loud during the final ten minutes of that game, as the Red Wings tied the game, took the lead, and secured the game with an empty-netter. The video featured in this slide is from that game.

    A generally spotless attendance record shows that the Joe Louis Arena draws a consistently interested chunk of fans.

    Despite being the best NHL team over the past two decades, Detroit fails to outdraw the teams above them in this countdown.

No. 3: Montreal Canadiens

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    Skip to 4:00 of this video and see how the city of Montreal responds to one of the franchise's most beloved players returning in another team's uniform.

    This was an arena filled with fans who knew exactly what was going on and gave the ovation Koivu deserved.

    Montreal is home to one of hockey's loudest arenas.

    The Canadiens have won more Stanley Cups than any other team, but not since 1993.

    Fans still show up.

    According to ESPN.com the Canadiens have averaged 100 percent attendance in every season since the lockout, and have not dropped below 90 percent in the past two decades.

    Compare that to a team like the New Jersey Devils, who have won three Stanley Cups since that year, are located less than 30 minutes from the country's most populous city but have one of the league's worst attendance records.

No. 2: Philadelphia Flyers

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    The video is from an away game; the hockey wasn't even being played in this arena.

    When any hockey follower hears "Flyers fan" the immediate assumption a rude, belligerent, orange-clad, cheesesteak-eating annoyance. However, it does not come without good cause.

    Philadelphia is arguably the toughest city to play in. At any moment, any player wearing the flying black "P" is subject to vocal disapproval from fans. Players without a thick skin do not last. Those who cannot compete to fan expectations are readily chastened.

    The city has booed Sarah Palin and Santa Claus. Anyone daring to enter the parking lot located at the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue should come expecting a myriad of vulgar rejections from the hometown fans.

    Wear another team's jersey to the Wells Fargo Center, the (profane) reception will not be friendly.

    Flyers fans are also prominent in opposing arenas, as the team is one of few nationally admired franchises.

    Philadelphia has not dropped below 97 percent average capacity attendance since the 1972-1973 season according to FlyersHistory.com.

    That's 37 seasons of relentless dedication.

    The Flyers are the only NHL team in the United States to have maintained an average attendance above 98 percent capacity for every single season over the past 20 years.

    That's something not even "Hockeytown" cannot claim, despite the fact that Detroit has won four Stanley Cups to Philadelphia's none during that timeframe.

    During the 2006-2007 season, the Flyers had the worst record in franchise history. Attendance averaged 19,282.

    That was the season Philadelphia went from November until February without winning a game at home. They still averaged 98 percent attendance.

    No excuses in this city. The people of Philadelphia made it clear they support the hockey team regardless.

    During the 2009-2010 season, the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 13 years. Attendance was 19,535, a difference of 253 fans per game despite completely different results.

    The dedication is to the hockey team, not to success, a quality shared by few other teams.

    Phillies great Mike Schmidt said of the city's fans, 

    "They read their sports pages, know their statistics and either root like hell or boo our butts off. I love it. Give me vocal fans, pro or con, over the tourist types who show up... and just sit there."

No. 1: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Despite the capacity of Air Canada Centre listed at 18,819, the Toronto Maple Leafs have drawn an average of more than 19,000 fans since the arena's opening in the 1999-2000 season.

    Only one season has produced an average attendance below capacity (2001-2002, 481 fans short).

    Since 1990 (the most distant source of available attendance records), the Maple Leafs have drawn no less than 99 percent attendance.

    As if this impeccable, spotless attendance record was not enough, Toronto fans have had little success to view for more than 40 years.

    Since the NHL expanded from a six-team league in 1967, the Maple Leafs have not made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    No team in the NHL has currently gone as long without a Stanley Cup victory, never mind an appearance.

    Toronto fans have had the most disappointing, anticlimactic 44 years of any franchise in the NHL yet boast the league's most perfect attendance record.

    Maple Leafs fans are the undisputed No. 1 in terms of dedication.

    (For a look at the opposite realm of dedication, check out The NHL's Top 5 Bandwagons)


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