It's the concern of every player that's drafted into the NHL: "You're saying I have to begin my career where?" It seems Edmonton is where most first overall draft picks end up these days, but all jokes aside, if you actually had a choice in the matter, where would you actually want to play? And, more importantly, are there any cities that are completely off the list of places that you'd ever consider playing?
For kids that grow up in or around a city that actually has an NHL franchise, the choice is very simple. But for those who come from any other place in the world, would you care all that much about the organization that is willing to invest their future in your services? Especially considering the millions of dollars that are at stake, we'd like to think that absolutely any organization is better than none, right?
But that's not what we're trying to accomplish with this list. We're going to try to make an argument for why certain destinations would be a little less attractive than others. We're going to incorporate franchise history into the mix (successes and failures), location (good or bad hockey markets), overall fan support (be it rabid or non-existent), and pressure to succeed (can you be the next Gretzky?). There's an awful lot to consider, so hopefully we're able to make a solid argument about why certain cities would be nightmares to play for.
This list will by no means try to bash particular cities, just the hockey atmosphere in those areas. Not everyone has the fortune/skill/luck to wind up playing for their hometown team like Zach Parise ended up doing in Minnesota, so here's our list of places that we think most players would rather play elsewhere, in a manner of speaking. We hope you enjoy!
Honorable mention: Dallas isn't exactly the greatest hockey market in the NHL, but they were omitted from the list because of the appealing tax breaks that the state of Texas offers (0% income, which we can see why top talents like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Patrick Sharp brought their game to the Stars).
15 San Jose
San Jose are currently in contention for a Stanley Cup, so things aren't all bad for the franchise as it currently stands. So why wouldn't young players want to play in San Jose? It's a problem that a lot of west coast teams face and that's the fact that there's little to no youth hockey programs for the sport to grow. Colder markets lend themselves much better for planting the seeds of hockey's future, but California is the opposite of that climate. Hockey in general faces an uphill battle in this regard and it probably won't get any better anytime soon for San Jose.
Carolina makes the list because I'm not really even sure why they thought that hockey would do well in the Carolinas in the first place. It's not really comparable to a market like Nashville because the Carolinas already have other professional sports franchises in the Panthers and the Hornets, so NHL hockey takes a distant third in terms of importance throughout the region. However, they have managed to win a Stanley Cup in their short tenure as a franchise (which not all teams can boast), but the team isn't currently in the process of making a good run anytime soon, not to mention all the incessant rumors about the team being relocated to Quebec or Las Vegas...
The Florida market is very interesting because you'd think that with the high population of the state it only makes sense that a lot of sports franchises would be successful there. But hockey is different in that regard because it's not typically a sport that is embraced by fans of other, more warm weather focused sports. The Tampa Bay Lightning have done well recently, but the Panthers have had trouble trying to fill their arena to its capacity year after year. If I'm a top prospect, I'd look to sign with a team that can draw a crowd that really knows the game.
Ottawa is in a tough position by being inbetween the two major Canadian hockey markets in Toronto and Montreal, both of which have intense hockey fan bases. In fact, most Canadian teams have a hard time trying to lure top free agent talents to their market because of how the nation as a whole treats the sport, which can be very daunting for any player. Mass media hysteria over a tough loss, online harassment on Twitter from faceless users who sling insults from the comfort of their homes... you name it and it has probably happened to every player who has ever played a game for either Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal. That's probably the toughest area in all of North America, to be honest. No thanks...
Practically the exact same scenario as San Jose, Anaheim finds itself in a climate where hockey just isn't going to grow no matter how hard you try. Sure, the success of the team dictates when fans choose to show up, but the city of Anaheim is never going to have a hockey culture the likes of any Canadian team. Plain and simple, hockey was only brought to Anaheim because of the success of a Disney movie and with the recent firing of Bruce Boudreau after squandering four consecutive 3-2 series leads with home ice advantage, this team is bound to take two steps back before it takes another step forward. Godspeed to whoever comes in to fix whatever is wrong with Anaheim.
The Washington Capitals were far and away the best team in the league all year in the 2016 season, they have one of the league's best goaltenders in Braden Holtby, and they also have one of the league's best snipers in Alexander Ovechkin. Head coach Barry Trotz took over behind the bench and won the President's Trophy in a runaway, so why would you not want to play in that market? History. The Capitals have never been able to get over the hump of being a great regular season team and parlaying that success into a Stanley Cup championship, and until that day comes, players who want to win the holiest grail in of all sports may need to look elsewhere.
The Blue Jackets have been around since the 2000 expansion (along with the Minnesota Wild), so their 15 plus years of mediocrity can no longer be blamed on a franchise that's still trying to figure out who they are. They are currently being coached by John Tortorella, so at least they're trending in the right direction for entertainment value, but it's going to take several more years of quality drafting and player acquisitions before this currently constructed team is even close to "championship contending" status. There are also no other franchises in the "big four" that compete in Columbus, so the sports market in Ohio as a whole outside of Cleveland and Cincinnati is very low.
It's arguable that Philadelphia has the most passionate fans in the entire United States. Hell, they angrily hurled snowballs at Santa Claus in 1968 because the Eagles weren't going to get the first overall pick in the following year's draft. Their reputation hasn't dwindled in the least: several fans have run onto the baseball field during a game, a Flyers fan literally jumped into the penalty box to confront Tie Domi after he threw water into the crowd, and Bill Burr infamously spent 12 full minutes trashing 10,000 people during an Opie and Anthony comedy tour because the people in attendance were booing every comedian at the show without remorse. I can only imagine how hard it must be for athletes to endure that kind of harassment.
Not unlike the story in Washington, D.C., Vancouver is another destination where history plays a major factor in why you wouldn't want to offer your services as a player. The Canucks have been one win away from their first ever Stanley Cup championship in both 1994 and 2011, and when they lost both Cup runs in Game 7 of the Finals, fans took to the streets and destroyed parts of downtown Vancouver. Sure, they're not the only city to have fans riot over tough losses, but until they get that first Stanley Cup under their belts certain players might think twice about going to a city so passionate about their hockey.
6 New York City
Marks against New York City? It's America's largest market, which means that it has a built-in audience of rabid sports fans that could turn on you at the drop of a hat. The traffic is an absolute nightmare. The housing market is absolutely ridiculous (not that professional hockey players really have to worry about that, but if and when they consider starting a family, there are far better options than NYC). And the worst part about the New York market is that Barclays Center was definitely not designed to house a hockey rink, which has alienated plenty of fans from enjoying a live hockey game. That team has been good recently, but you could see why players might consider alternative cities.
It's highly doubtful that anyone is ever going to match the success that Wayne Gretzky brought to Edmonton and their dynasty years between 1983 and 1988 with Gretzky as their captain, so it should be pretty obvious as to why someone might see Edmonton as a place for inevitable failure as a player. While it is true that all players who are drafted today have never even seen Gretzky play a single second of hockey in their lifetime, the memory of his legacy is still fresh in a lot of Oilers' fans brains, which can be a pretty big deterrent.
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Blackhawks were a team that nobody wanted to watch, nobody wanted to talk about, and seemingly nobody really wanted to play for. It was rated the "Worst Franchise in All Professional Sports" by ESPN in 2004 and rightfully so. Bill Wirtz was an owner that alienated his hometown audience for over 30 years, and fans responded accordingly: they vanished. All of that was true almost a decade ago, but fast forward to right now and the Hawks are one of the premier teams in the league. With the amount of success that new owner Rocky Wirtz, General Manager Stan Bowman, and head coach Joel Quenneville have had recently, leashes on players are at their all-time shortest. It's incredibly hard to crack Q's strict lineup and once all trust is lost, your time in Chicago is over. That's some serious pressure.
Where to start? Well, one would have thought that having Wayne Gretzky coach for a few seasons would have given them a very big boost in popularity, but Gretzky never coached at any level of hockey and didn't exactly bring the team into immediate success. Not to mention the fact that the Coyotes were the center of focus of a massive police investigation regarding illegal sports gambling, and that the franchise has declared bankruptcy, AND that they didn't even have an owner for a couple of years, AND that they are constant rumored to be relocating to either Las Vegas or Quebec (along with the Hurricanes). It's easy to see why Arizona isn't exactly a stable place as it currently stands.
The pressure of maintaining a winning culture in Montreal has to be completely overwhelming for most young players, considering that the Canadiens are far and away the league's most successful franchise in terms of championship history. I mean, c'mon, the sport itself was born in Montreal for cryin' out loud, not to mention the fact that the Canadiens are the only professional hockey team that actually predates the NHL. Players are celebrities in Canada, so any sort of low-key personal life outside of hockey would be completely gone. Just about every day would be a struggle, so we can see why many players enjoy their civilian lives in other cities outside of Canada.
It's no secret that Canadian markets eat, sleep, and breathe hockey; that isn't news to anyone. On top of that, Toronto is an "Original Six" team, which means that deep-rooted history has been instilled in the city since hockey's inception. They also have had the burden of currently possessing the longest drought between Stanley Cup championships in NHL history at 48 years and counting, so you could see how much Leafs fans are desperate to turn the tide in Toronto. Some fans have even thrown their Maple Leafs sweaters onto the ice to voice their displeasure with the current state of affairs. Would anyone want to play for an organization with that much pressure to perform?