The NHL has grown significantly since the 2004-05 lockout, which is impressive enough considering it wasn't even close to competing with other North American sporting juggernats like the NFL, MLB, and NBA. But here we are, with the league setting all-time highs in attendance, revenue and general fan interest.
Gary Bettman, love him or hate him, has done a phenomenal job making the NHL a more-followed sporting organization across the continent, especially in non-traditional hockey markets like Dallas, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Nashville. As such, every NHL team has had a lot to be thrilled about, with so much to enjoy and embrace.
But to some NHL fan bases, hockey is life, and yes we're talking about places in Canada for the most part. In case you didn't know, ice hockey is a huge deal in Canada, by far the most beloved and iconic sport. It's the one game where we Canadians develop our own stars the best.
As you'll see on this list, many teams just don't bring in enough interest from their respective cities and/or states. For others, fans are around depending entirely on how well the team is doing. But the fan thing? Any fan of any team can argue how they think their respective fan bases have the most loyal in the NHL.
Well, we're going to try our best to take all arguments into account by power ranking the loyalty and passion of all NHL fan bases. Based on attendance and game atmospheres, here is a look at how they all stack up.
Note: All attendance statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com
30 Arizona Coyotes
It's hard to give the state of Arizona any credit for their loyalty. Truth be told: There is virtually no passion there. In fact, it's absolutely difficult to believe that Gary Bettman has fought so hard over the years to keep a team that can't generate a passionate audience.
The Coyotes lost the league money for years and filed for bankruptcy. Instead of moving them to a more traditional hockey market, the Coyotes will stay here until the ice melts, it seems.
29 Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes energized their fan base with a Stanley Cup in 2006 and although the crowd was right behind them the whole way, that's just about all we've seen from them since. It's a shame because the state of North Carolina was a huge hockey success during their magical run.
28 New York Islanders
Yes, it was nice to see the fans at the Barclays Center go crazy when they defeated the Florida Panthers in the first-round of the 2016 playoffs, giving the Isles their first playoff series win since 1993.
But don't let that loud arena from the playoffs fool you: There isn't a lot of love for the Islanders, even though their rather rich tradition (four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980-84) is something most teams envy greatly.
27 Florida Panthers
Much like the Coyotes, it's increasingly questionable as to why there's an NHL team in a place where hockey isn't special. Even the three Florida NFL teams, as well as the two Florida MLB teams, struggle big-time to put fans in seats.
The Panthers aren't much better. Their magical 2015-16 campaign that saw them surprisingly win the Atlantic Division was only good enough to bring in 15,384 fans a game.
26 Columbus Blue Jackets
To be fair to the Blue Jackets, they're still one of the younger franchises in the NHL and Rick Nash (now a New York Ranger) is the only superstar they've ever had that was truly worth watching.
The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs just twice in their history, being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 and losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014. Years of coaching and front office mismanagement has led to these fans not willing to stick around.
25 New Jersey Devils
Despite Stanley Cup titles in 1995, 2000, and 2003, the state of New Jersey hasn't been loyal to a team that gave them nearly two decades worth of absolute dominance. With long-time stars Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez, Scott Stevens, and Brian Gionta long gone, fans have been forced to watch a long-term rebuild instead.
24 Anaheim Ducks
Despite being one of the Western Conference's elite teams for a decade, the Ducks just can't bring a full stadium in unless it's playoff time. It's a shame, considering they won the Stanley Cup in 2007, but also made the Conference Final in 2006 and 2015. There's no denying how successful they are.
But still, the Ducks can't attract a crowd like their California rivals do. They're constantly near the bottom-barrel of attendance. This season (Pacific Division Champions) they averaged 16,336 a game.
23 Nashville Predators
We'll give the Predators fans some credit, as the attendance and overall atmosphere has skyrocketed since the 2010-11 season. Despite being in the playoffs (or at least near qualification) every year since 2003-04, their attendance should certainly have been more consistent.
They had a 99.2% average capacity per home game in 2015-16, but the numbers in 2007-08, for example, were alarming: 87.1% capacity (14,910 fans per game) while having just 13,157 fans a game in 2003-04.
22 Washington Capitals
It doesn't seem fair to put the Capitals this low, because since they made the playoffs in 2007-08, the Verizon Center has been electrifying and home advantage has been huge for them during the playoffs in the Alexander Ovechkin era.
Though they are having no problems selling out, or getting at least close to it, they were in the bottom-five in attendance in 2005-06 and 2007-08. They were 25th-overall in 2003-04 and 18th in 2002-03.
21 Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche had what appeared to be a top-five passionate fan base in the NHL for years. At least, the first 10-or-so years when the team relocated from Quebec to the Mile High City.
Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake, and Peter Forsberg put Denver on the hockey map right away and they won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001, while making the playoffs every year until the end of the 2006-07 season.
20 Tampa Bay Lightning
With three-straight playoff years under their belts, the Lightning are getting a largely energized fan base that sounds as loud as almost any other throughout the successful times.
They've ranked in the top-10 over the past four seasons. In 2011-12, they were 13th-overall. In 2010-11, they were 18th, despite making the Eastern Conference Final that year. They were 21st-overall in 2009-10 and 2008-09.
19 Dallas Stars
The Stars were instantly one of the NHL's biggest powerhouses once they moved to Big D in the '90s. They won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and returned to the final the following year, before falling to New Jersey.
Dallas was always right behind their team, with stars like Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Ed Belfour, Sergei Zubov, and Brett Hull, among many others. However, after a streak of missing the playoffs every year from 2008-09 to 2012-13, attendance slipped a bit.
They went from 14th-overall in 2008-09 to 17th the following season. They then fell to 23rd in 2010-11 and all the way down to 28th in 2011-12. Then in 2012-13, they went to 21st-overall.
In 2015-16, they were 15th-overall. So yes, Dallas is a great hockey city for the most part, but when the team is playing awful, a large amount of them aren't around supporting them during the bad years.
18 Pittsburgh Penguins
I know the Penguins fan base stretches all across North America, but if they deserve a top-10 spot on this list, riddle me this:
How, just how, were the Pens last in league attendance in 2003-04, averaging 11,877 fans a game? Then, in 2005-06, this team was VERY close to moving to Las Vegas, until Mario Lemieux stepped in to become part owner.
17 Los Angeles Kings
Well before their Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014, the post-Wayne Gretzky era wasn't friendly to the Kings, who couldn't make the playoffs for the most part and were often out of the first-round, even after they qualified.
Still, attendance has remained steady, with the team in the middle-of-the-pack in recent years. Oddly enough, the Kings went from eighth in attendance during the 2013-14 season (their second Stanley Cup) to 15th the following season. Whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with a lack of fan loyalty.
16 Chicago Blackhawks
Yes, they've led the league in attendance every year since 2008-09, but once critical stat here doesn't lie:
The Blackhawks were second-last in NHL attendance during the 2006-07 season, when they were among the worst teams. They only averaged 12,727 fans a game and there are reports out there that 'Hawks players had to hand out free tickets to fans.
Now, the United Center is one of the loudest hockey arenas and there's nothing like the anthem in the playoffs. Blackhawks fans are always invading the opposing team's stadium when Chicago is on the road.
15 St. Louis Blues
One of the oldest NHL franchises is awaiting its first Stanley Cup, but that's not a concern yet, because the good folks of St. Louis are staying right behind their Blues.
The atmosphere during their opening-round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks was incredible, as the team finally didn't let their fans down in their first playoff series on the season.
Even though they were among the league's worst teams in 2009-10, they were seventh in attendance, averaging 18,883 fans a game. In 2010-11, the numbers jumped up to 19,150, also seventh in the league that year.
14 Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have only wrapped up five seasons in the NHL, but they're selling out every home game despite making the playoffs just once (2014-15) and even then, they were swept in the opening round.
13 Ottawa Senators
Despite having their arena in the middle of almost nowhere, years of mediocrity and no Stanley Cup Championships, the general fan base in Canada's capital remains one of the loudest and largest league-wide.
12 Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are on a level with the Canucks and Sharks: They've never won a Stanley Cup and their fans have had to endure more than enough crushing defeats. Yet that's not enough for the fans to leave behind their beloved Sabres.
They averaged 18,580 fans a game in 2014-15 compared to 18,590 this year. In 2013-14, they averaged 18,579 fans a game. Why is this impressive? Because the Sabres were among the league's worst teams those three seasons.
11 San Jose Sharks
The Sharks were a good, not great, team in the '90s and emerged as a perennial powerhouse in the 2000s and 2010s, but they never made it to the Stanley Cup Final. They've had playoff letdown after playoff letdown, but the Shark Tank is crazy every night.
San Jose actually saw a steep decline in attendance, finishing 22nd-overall in 2015-16, but they still played up to a 95.4% capacity. They were 11th-overall in 2014-15, with a 109.2 percent capacity.
10 Boston Bruins
If it weren't for Minnesota, Massachusetts would be the ultimate hockey state. Their college programs and teams are phenomenal, but their Bruins are the pride of hockey in the state of Massachusetts.
Despite nearly 20 years of lackluster play, the Bruins fans have filled up TD Garden for ages and they were rewarded with a Stanley Cup in 2011 for their patience (39 years without a Cup before that).
9 Vancouver Canucks
Despite being by far the worst-managed team in the NHL over the last 10 years, the Canucks still draw great attendance at Rogers Arena. The fans deserve a lot of praise for being loyal to a team that's let them down in almost every way possible.
8 Minnesota Wild
Just how important are the fans in the eyes of the Minnesota Wild franchise? How about the fact that the number one was retired for the Wild faithful once the team got their hockey team back (after the North Stars left for Dallas after the 1993 season).
The Wild haven't seen a lot of success but still, the Xcel Energy Center is packed every night, with the Wild always among the top-10 in league attendance.
7 New York Rangers
Even as the Rangers faithful waited 54 years without a cup (a drought from 1940-1994), the fans were right behind their team, even though there were long streaks of losing over and over again.
22 years after the Rangers last won their cup and Madison Square Garden remains one of the best places to see a hockey game and not only for its history. The fans love their Rangers so much, that the team dedicated its goal song to the Blueshirts faithful.
6 Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia sports fans seem to have a reputation for being among the most obnoxious and arrogant in the NHL. Every team has that, but few sports teams have the loyal fans that the Flyers do.
5 Detroit Red Wings
As the city of Detroit has had many financial problems over the years, fans have relied heavily on their beloved Red Wings to give them something to always cheer about. How about 25-straight playoff seasons and four Stanley Cup Championships?
Joe Louis Arena has always been loud. Yes, you'll often see The Joe filled with empty seats during home games, but their attendance actually ranks in the top-five every year and the arena is louder than most in the league.
4 Calgary Flames
The Flames fans are like every other Canadian team: they haven't seen success in years, and sometimes decades, but it hasn't stopped the fans from coming all-out to support them as if it's playoff season.
Calgary's had no problem selling out each game and ranking in the top-10 in attendance consistently. Remember the Red Mile during their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final? That was a sight to behold.
3 Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers fan base is so passionate that Rexall Place, which sat 16,841, was simply not enough and they'll have a new stadium in 2016-17.
Edmonton fans, who haven't seen a Stanley Cup victory since 1990 or a playoff appearance since 2006, have stuck right by their Oilers the whole way, selling out game after game even though they keep fighting for the first-overall pick.
2 Toronto Maple Leafs
Even though Toronto hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and have made the playoffs once since the lockout, the fans at the Air Canada Centre are rocking it every night, supporting their perennially-struggling Leafs.
Their ticket prices are the most expensive in the NHL by far, but that doesn't stop fans from attending games. Yes, most of the lower bowl tickets are handed out to businessmen and women looking for clients, but the upper bowl is where the passionate fans are, and they can be heard no matter how high up they are.
1 Montreal Canadiens
There isn't a louder, more passionate or more rowdy fan base in North America than the Montreal Canadiens faithful.
At the Bell Centre, absolutely every game is as electrifying as most other teams' playoff games and that is no exaggeration. The Habs are always in the top-two in league attendance and have no problem selling games every year.
The fans have been a little over too passionate, such as getting the police to investigate the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty in 2011, starting a riot over Maurice Richard's suspension, and much more.
But this fan base sticks behind their team like no other.
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