Love him or hate him, you can't deny that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has turned the league into a business and global juggernaut that has begun competing with all of the other major North American sports leagues like never before.
The NHL was a big league for six teams during the Original Six Era, but the American teams were forced to play in cities that also featured America's Pastime in baseball, plus NBA and NFL teams that had way more popularity and wider followings.
But as the NHL began to expand in 1967, more and more teams came into Canada and the United States.
But only since the lockout has the NHL reached new heights. Record breaking television contracts, an all-time high in revenue and league-wide followings have made the NHL, in my opinion, the best professional sports league in North America.
For the folks who follow the likes of the NBA, MLB, MLS and NFL, I understand why you may appreciate those sports leagues more than the NHL.
However, it's impossible to deny how much better of a product the NHL has become over the years, and fans who refuse to follow it as much as other sports leagues really don't know what they are missing out on.
All I ask for you is to give it a chance by reading this list, which outlines why the NHL is the best sports league around.
I didn't aim to change fans minds, but to explain why it tops all other leagues. Without further ado, lets get into the reasons that make the NHL the best league in sports.
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15 Underdog Stories
If you follow the NBA, you know LeBron James team will win the East ever year, and that the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors will represent the West.
In Major League Baseball, usually teams who spend the most win the most. As for the NFL, that league has a ridiculous amount of teams who can't be handled well, leaving few Super Bowl contenders each year.
The NHL is the one league that has winners of all sorts: the Los Angeles Kings were underdogs in 2012 and 2014 and captured the Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks were a powerhouse when they won their titles in 2010, 2013, and 2015.
Other winners over the years including the 2011 Boston Bruins, were good teams, but not considered front of the line contenders.
In the NHL, playoff upsets always happen, and it's not always the best teams winning. In fact, it's the hardest season to predict in sports.
And that's what makes it so fun.
14 The Salary Cap
For fans who didn't grow up watching hockey in the 1990s or early 2000s, the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars combined to take home the Stanley Cup every year from 1996-2003.
There wasn't much competition. The Pittsburgh Penguins won two Cups in the '90s. The Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders each had '80s dynasties. While the Montreal Canadiens did it big in the '70s.
Once the NHL implemented the salary cap for 2005-06, new winners have emerged. Gone were the days where Colorado and Detroit fought for every superstar free agent.
Teams like the Wings and even the Blackhawks have had to change their rosters significantly over the years to get under the cap.
And with that? Money can't buy championships. Good coaching and management develops the winners today.
That's how it should be. The other three sports leagues in North America result in the more money you spend, the more titles you gain (See 2004, 2007, 2013 Boston Red Sox and Miami Heat in 2012, 2013).
13 Teams in Canada and the United States
With all due respect to the NFL, it's hard to attract global audiences when its 32 teams play in one country.
Ditto for MLB and NBA, which each feature one Toronto-based team, but that doesn't make it all that more exciting.
The NHL is huge because it involves people from both sides of the border. Some of the best NHL players ever and presently are both Canadian and American. The NHL is huge because of Canadian hockey pioneers.
There's a mixture of coaches being from both sides of the border, which adds fuel to rivalries. But having teams from two countries compete for the Stanley Cup makes the league much more fun to follow.
Speaking on a similar note...
12 Players Come From All Over the World
Almost every NFL player is American. Very few aren't American in the NBA. Once again, not a lot of people around the world will follow if there isn't much diversity.
In the NHL, players come from all over the world. Aside from Canada and the U.S., superstars come from Russia and all over Europe, especially Sweden, France, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin are huge in their respective homelands even if they're playing in North America
That just makes it more enjoyable from fans all over the world. And so, making the NHL becomes a bigger deal when scouts are scouting from every corner of the planet.
11 The Superstars
Howie Morenz became hockey's first superstar. Followed by him were Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard.
Then Bobby Orr. Then Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Then Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman. Then Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
Then Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos. Now, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
The NHL has had new faces come in every half-decade as a new wave of superstars come in to take over the league.
The talent pool in the NHL rivals that of any other major sports league. You have so many superstars that fans come to watch. Most other sports leagues don't have the amount of franchise-changing players that the NHL has.
10 Players Are Loyal
In so many ways, money controls sports and athletes. How many athletes say it's not about the money yet they leave to go to an undesired place to make more dollars?
In the NHL, superstar players have a long history of sticking together to one team their entire career.
Bobby Orr and Maurice Richard stuck to one team. Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman never left Detroit. Ditto for Joe Sakic in Colorado.
Until his final year, Martin Brodeur stayed with New Jersey. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have no thoughts about leaving their cities.
It's much easier to admire athlete loyalty more than money. And the NHL proves that like no other.
9 Few Officiating Controversies
Houston, the NFL and MLB have problems: The officials are deciding way too many games, especially playoff matches.
The NBA is stuck with the long-believed theory that officials are always going to protect their stars, hence LeBron James getting away with flopping all these years.
In the NHL, there have been very few blown calls in history. Aside from Brett Hull's Stanley Cup clincher in 1999, the league hasn't been plagued with awful officiating that has decided marquee moments.
Players almost always determine the outcomes, and that's how it should be.
8 No Cheating Scandals
The NBA has Tim Donaghy and the aforementioned belief of refs protecting superstars.
The NFL has Spygate, Deflategate, Bountygate among other forms of cheating that are impossible to add up.
MLB has steroids. Enough said. Don't remind me of the Black Sox Scandal.
The NHL? There hasn't been a form of an NHL team cheating in its history that has been widely exposed.
No corrupt officiating. No teams spying on others. No bounties. Nothing. The NHL is played cleanly and fairly. They're the model sports league in terms of clean play by athletes.
7 Players Know How to Act
I'm not blaming the other league commissioners for this, but the disgusting amount of off-the-field violence and issues in the NFL have been an embarrassment.
The NBA has had its fair share of players getting into trouble; but I will say that MLB has also kept it clean like the NHL.
Few NHL players get arrested every year, and if they are, it's usually a one-night/day of drinking too much (see Claude Giroux and Eric and Jordan Staal).
But aside from Slava Voynov, no NHL player in recent years has gotten into such a horrific off-the-ice crime.
Their players keep it clean. Bettman and league organizations desere recognition for enforcing strict rules to make sure their players aren't doing anything stupid.
6 The Stanley Cup
What else is there to say? There is no trophy in professional sports as luxurious as the Stanley Cup.
It's been awarded since 1893. The World Series (Commissioner's Trophy) has been presented since 1967. The NBA's Larry O'Brien Trophy since 1977, and the Lombardi Trophy for the Super Bowl in 1967.
The Stanley Cup is the oldest, the hardest to win, and the fanciest at 35.25 inches high and 34.5 pounds.
5 Sudden Death
MLB goes to extra innings which drag on, yay. NBA gives teams five minutes to outscore the other, or it drags on forever.
NFL plays one quarter, otherwise it's a tie. Usually the losing team doesn't get a chance to possess the ball in overtime.
The NHL has the best finishes to their games. Even before the current 3-on-3 format was established, 4-on-4 was thrilling with the speed and open ice.
Say what you want about the shootout, but the suspense makes it exciting. And 5-on-5 action to determine playoff games set up amazing finishes.
4 The NHL Draft
The NBA and NFL drafts are just never exciting after the first five or 10 picks. Most NBA draft picks end up complete busts.
The NFL is quite similar, many of the high-end draft picks don't develop, and beyond the first few picks become boring.
MLB's draft has no excitement whatsoever. It's never followed that closely, and teams fluke out with stars.
The NHL draft has the best coverage. Major trades also happen. There are always ridiculous amounts of talented players throughout the first three rounds of the draft.
There's always a plethora of players that can be drafted. There are always topics to debate throughout the draft process.
The NHL Draft is way better and more exciting than any other draft from other leagues. Plain and simple.
3 Few Commercials
What can you complain about? Three two-minute time outs during each period. None during overtime or shootouts.
In the NFL, one team scores (and they need to review) followed by a five minute break. The extra point becomes another commercial break. Kickoff becomes another commercial break.
MLB? They have commercials every half inning, that's 18 commercials guaranteed a game, plus reviews and if a team changes its pitcher.
The NBA? Well, the last 40 or so seconds of a game take beyond 10 minutes to finish. So that becomes boring.
With the NHL, you know what commercials are coming. Six minutes between commercials is nothing to complain about.
And that's all there is. Thank you for showing your appreciation to the fans, NHL.
2 Season Length
The NFL is exciting, but it lasts basically five months in terms of game action. Even then, Sundays are the one day with large amounts of games taking place.
MLB drags on and on and a lot of people won't follow until the last month. After the World Series, the next season doesn't start for five months.
The NBA and NHL have it right: The season lasts six and a half months, and the playoffs go on for two months.
Oh, and the NHL features plenty of games on Tuesdays and Thursdays before Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays take over, with lots of games.
Even Wednesdays and Sundays each feature one premier matchup, similar to Sunday Night Football, to draw fan interest.
That's how you do it. You have a long season to watch with plenty of games on three days a week.
1 The Playoffs
Yes, the NFL playoffs are a thriller. But the winner has to win four games max. Most winners need three wins, including two home games, before they get to be Super Bowl Champions.
Major League Baseball only has three rounds of playoff action, the first one is a a best-of- five games. As for the NBA, usually the winners only have one or two competitive series when they win, if that at all.
The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all of sports. Four gruelling best-of-seven series' where players work their tails off like absolutely no other sport.
The intensity in playoff games is like no other. Like I said, the playoffs also last two months.
In the end, winning the championship matters. And the NHL's path to winning it all is the longest, most exciting, most difficult and most thrilling.
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