NHL's 5 Most Obvious Bandwagons

Jason Sapunka@moreSapunkaCorrespondent IIAugust 2, 2011

NHL's 5 Most Obvious Bandwagons

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    Though the NHL boasts a number of dedicated and passionate cities who support a team regardless of success, there is the unfortunate prevalence of bandwagon fans.

    What is perhaps most annoying about these fair-weather fans is that their existence is nothing more than an annoyance to the group of diehards sure to back any team.

    While every city has fans seemingly crawling out of bushes as a sports franchise begins to play well, some are more blatant than others.

    Here are the NHL's five most obvious bandwagon cities.

No. 5: Colorado Avalanche

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    Currently, Denver does not appear to be a hockey-crazy city.

    It was 10 years ago.

    When Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy were carrying an NHL powerhouse and Ray Bourque to the 2001 Stanley Cup, the Avalanche were in the midst of a 487-game sellout streak.

    Now the Avalanche have not won a game after the first playoff round since before the 2005 lockout and had the seventh worst attendance in the NHL by capacity last season.

No. 4: Boston Bruins

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    Boston and the state of Massachusetts has a rich hockey history, being home to the country's strongest hockey programs at Boston University and Boston College. Hockey East, the NCAA's strongest division, is mostly based in Massachusetts.

    Both Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig, the heroes of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, are from Massachusetts.

    Unfortunately, this history has not always translated into a dedicated following of the professional team.

    During the 2006-2007 season, Boston was on its way to missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Average attendance in terms of capacity was seventh worst in the NHL at 84 percent.

    Even the recently relocated Atlanta Thrashers and perennial relocation candidate, Phoenix Coyotes, were able to fill their arenas more.

    Two seasons later the Bruins were atop the Eastern Conference standings and attendance soared to 97 percent. During this year's Stanley Cup-winning season, the Bruins averaged 100 percent attendance.

    Bruins fans crawled out of the woodwork to support a winner.

No. 3: Washington Capitals

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    Here's another team that switched from missing the playoffs to No. 1 in the conference and suddenly found several thousand more fans.

    From the 2003-2004 to 2006-2007 seasons, the Capitals missed the playoffs and gathered an average attendance of 14,185.

    Then Alex Ovechkin scored 65 goals and Washington made the playoffs in 2008

    During the seasons since, the Verizon Center has drawn an average of 18,257 fans per game.

    Washington's growth of support totals more than 4,000 fans per game after the switch from a non-playoff team to a perennial President's Trophy competitor with one of hockey's most talented players on its roster.

No. 2: Pittsburgh Penguins

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    After Pittsburgh lost the 2001 Eastern Conference finals to the New Jersey Devils, the team failed to win 30 games in each of the next four seasons.

    During the 2003-2004 season, Pittsburgh drew 11,877 fans per game, by far the worst average attendance in the NHL.

    For the 2005-2006 season, Pittsburgh was back with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Attendance increased by nearly 4,000 to 15,804.

    In the 2006-2007 season, Pittsburgh made the playoffs with average attendance increasing again to 16,424.

    The next two years locked down the ever-growing bandwagon, as the Pens made it to the finals twice, drawing an average of 100 percent capacity attendance at the Mellon Arena.

    With Crosby, Malkin and others maintaining the team's status as a perennial Stanley Cup contender, the Penguins continue to average a sellout in their new Consol Energy Center.

    The times of abysmal support and a potential move to Kansas City seem a lot longer than seven years ago.

No. 1: Chicago Blackhawks

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    During the early 1990s, the Chicago Blackhawks were a relatively successful team, with a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1992, back-to-back conference finals appearances concluding in 1990, plus two 106-point seasons in 1990-1991 and 1992-1993.

    Not coincidentally, attendance at the Chicago Stadium averaged a near-sellout, a trend which carried over to the United Center starting with the 1994-1995 season.

    Heavy support of the team continued until the 1997-1998 season, when the Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the first time in 28 years.

    Attendance dropped by more than 1,000 fans from the previous season, down to 18,356.

    Chicago missed the playoffs again in 1998-1999, attendance dropped again to 17,330.

    Chicago missed the playoffs again in 1999-2000, attendance dropped again to 16,274.

    Chicago missed the playoffs again in 2000-2001, attendance dropped again to 14,997.

    Notice a trend?

    It continued, and the Blackhawks drew an average of just 12,727 fans in the 2006-2007 season. Chicago totaled the fourth-fewest wins in the NHL, and found an arena at 62 percent capacity.

    Just two seasons later, the Blackhawks made a run to the conference finals, averaging 21,782 fans per game at the United Center.

    With a Stanley Cup championship in the following season, Chicago's bandwagon was secured.

    This past season, average attendance was 21,423—nearly 9,000 fans per game higher than it was in 2006-2007 after Chicago had missed the playoffs for eight of nine seasons.

    Chicago has been home to a number of excellent players, and the Blackhawks are a franchise with a lengthy, rich history that includes many honorable traditions.

    The Windy City undoubtedly has thousands of dedicated followers (as does any team), but a myriad of the team's fans are only around to cheer for a winner.

    (Attendance records for the 1989-90 to 2009-2010 seasons courtesy of Andrew's Stars Page).


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