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|Current season or competition:
2013 Stanley Cup playoffs
|Founded||November 26, 1917,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
|No. of teams||30|
|Country(ies)||Canada (7 teams)
United States (23 teams)
|Most recent champion(s)||Los Angeles Kings (1st title)|
|Most titles||Montreal Canadiens (25)[nb 1]|
|TV partner(s)||Canada: CBC, NHL Network, RDS, TSN
United States: NBC Sports Group, NHL Network
The National Hockey League (NHL; French: Ligue nationale de hockey—LNH) is an "unincorporated not-for-profit association" which operates a major professional ice hockey league of 30 franchised member clubs, of which seven are currently located in Canada and 23 in the United States. Headquartered in New York City, the NHL is widely considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.
The league was organized on November 26, 1917, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, after the suspension of operations of its predecessor organization, the National Hockey Association (NHA), which had been founded in 1909. It started with four teams and, through a series of expansions, contractions, and relocations, the league is now composed of 30 active franchises. The nation to which the name of the league originally referred was Canada, although the league has now been binational since 1924 when it expanded into the United States. After a labour dispute that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004–05 season, the league resumed play under a new collective bargaining agreement that included a salary cap. In 2009, the NHL enjoyed record highs in terms of sponsorships, attendance, and television audiences.
The NHL draws many highly skilled players from all over the world and currently has players from about 20 different countries. Although Canadians have historically constituted the majority of the players in the NHL, over the past four plus decades the percentages of US and European players have increased both because of the NHL's continued expansion from six to thirty clubs since 1967, and the increased availability of highly skilled European players.
|National Hockey League|
|Ice hockey portal|
Early years 
A series of disputes in the National Hockey Association with Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone led the other owners, representing the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Quebec Bulldogs to meet at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal to talk about the NHA's future. Realizing the league constitution left them unable to force Livingstone out, the four teams voted instead to suspend the NHA, and on November 26, 1917, formed the National Hockey League. While a full member of the new league, the Bulldogs were unable to play, and the remaining owners created a new team in Toronto, the Arenas, to compete with the Canadiens, Wanderers and Senators. The first games were played three weeks later on December 19. Joe Malone scored five goals in a 7–4 victory for the Canadiens over the Senators on opening night; he finished the 1917–18 season with 44 goals in 20 games. The league nearly collapsed in January 1918 when the Montreal Arena burned down, causing the Wanderers to cease operations and forcing the Canadiens to hastily find a new arena. The NHL continued on as a three-team league until the Bulldogs returned in 1919.
Toronto won the first league title, then defeated the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Vancouver Millionaires to win the 1918 Stanley Cup The Canadiens won the league title in 1919, however their Stanley Cup Final against the Seattle Metropolitans was abandoned with the series tied after several players became ill as a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic that resulted in Montreal defenceman Joe Hall's death. Montreal defeated the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) in 1924 to win their first Stanley Cup in the NHL. The Hamilton Tigers, who had relocated from Quebec in 1920, won the regular season title in 1924–25 but refused to play in the championship series unless they were given a C$200 bonus. The league refused and declared the Canadiens the league champion after they defeated the Toronto St. Patricks (formerly the Arenas) in the semi-final. Montreal was then defeated by the Victoria Cougars for the 1925 Stanley Cup. It was the last time a non-NHL team won the trophy, as the Stanley Cup became the de facto NHL championship in 1926 after the WCHL ceased operation.
Expansion into the United States and the Original Six 
The league embarked on rapid expansion in the 1920s, adding the Montreal Maroons and Boston Bruins in 1924. The Bruins were the first American team in the NHL, while the Maroons played in the newly completed Montreal Forum that the Canadiens made famous in later decades. The New York Americans began play in 1925 after purchasing the assets of the Hamilton Tigers, and were joined by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tex Rickard, owner of Madison Square Garden, was so impressed with the popularity of the Americans that he added the New York Rangers in 1926. The Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Cougars (later Red Wings) were also added after the league purchased the assets of the defunct WCHL. Conn Smythe purchased the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927, immediately renamed them the Maple Leafs, and built Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931.
The Great Depression and the onset of World War II took a toll on the league. The Pirates became the Philadelphia Quakers in 1930, then folded one year later. The Senators likewise became the St. Louis Eagles in 1934, also lasting only one year. The Canadiens were nearly sold and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1936 before a trio of local owners purchased the team and kept them in Montreal. The Maroons did not survive, however, as they suspended operations in 1938. The Americans were suspended in 1942 due to a lack of players, but never revived. The league was reduced to six teams for the 1942–43 NHL season: the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. These six teams remained constant for 25 years, a period known as the Original Six.
The first NHL All-Star Game was held in 1934 to benefit Ace Bailey, whose career ended on a vicious hit by Eddie Shore. The second was held in 1937 in support of Howie Morenz's family when he died of a coronary embolism after breaking his leg during a game. His teammate Aurel Joliat said that Morenz "died of a broken heart" when he learned he would never play hockey again. Maurice "Rocket" Richard became the first player to score 50 goals, doing so in a 50 game season. Ten years later he was suspended for the 1955 Stanley Cup playoffs for punching a linesman, an incident that led to the Richard Riot. He returned to lead the Canadiens to five consecutive titles between 1956 and 1960, a record no team has matched. Willie O'Ree broke the NHL's colour barrier on January 18, 1958 when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins and became the first black player in league history.
By the mid-1960s, the desire for a network television contract in the U.S., and concerns that the Western Hockey League was planning to declare itself a major league and challenge for the Stanley Cup, spurred the NHL to undertake its first expansion since the 1920s. The league doubled in size for the 1967–68 season, adding the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, California Seals and St. Louis Blues. Canadians were outraged that all six teams were placed in the United States, and the league responded by adding the Vancouver Canucks in 1970 along with the Buffalo Sabres, who are located on the U.S.-Canadian border. Two years later, the emergence of the newly founded World Hockey Association (WHA) led the league to add the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames to keep the rival league out of those markets. In 1974, the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts were added, bringing the league up to 18 teams.
The NHL fought the WHA for players, losing 67 to the new league in its first season of 1972–73, including Bobby Hull, who signed a ten year, $2.5 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets, the largest in hockey history at the time. The NHL attempted to block the defections in court, though a countersuit by the WHA led to a Philadelphia judge ruling the NHL's reserve clause to be illegal, eliminating the elder league's monopoly over the players. Seven years of battling for players and markets financially damaged both leagues, leading to a 1979 merger agreement that saw the WHA cease operations while the NHL absorbed the Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. The NHL's owners initially rejected this merger agreement by one vote, but a massive boycott of Molson products by fans in Canada led the Montreal Canadiens, which were owned by Molson, to reverse their position in a second vote along with the Vancouver Canucks, allowing the plan to pass.
Wayne Gretzky played one season in the WHA for the Indianapolis Racers before joining the NHL in 1979–80 with the Oilers. He went on to lead the Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988, and set single season records for goals (92 in 1981–82), assists (163 in 1985–86) and points (215 in 1985–86), as well as career records for goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857). He was traded to the Kings in 1988, a deal that dramatically improved the NHL's popularity in the United States, and provided the impetus for the 1990s expansion cycles that saw the addition of the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, and by the turn of the century the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Labour issues 
There have been four league-wide work stoppages in NHL history, all happening since 1992.
The first was a strike by the National Hockey League Players Association in April 1992 which lasted for 10 days, but the strike was settled quickly and all affected games were rescheduled. A lockout at the start of the 1994–95 season forced the league to reduce the schedule from 84 games to just 48, with the teams playing only intra-conference games during the reduced season. The resulting collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was set for renegotiation in 1998 and extended to September 15, 2004.
With no new agreement in hand when the existing contract expired on September 15, 2004, league commissioner Gary Bettman announced a lockout of the players union and cessation of operations by the NHL head office. The lockout shut down the league for 310 days, the longest in sports history; the NHL was the first professional sports league to lose an entire season. The league vowed to install what it dubbed "cost certainty" for its teams, but the NHL Players Association countered that the move was little more than a euphemism for a salary cap, which the union initially said it would not accept. A new collective bargaining agreement was ratified in July 2005 with a term of six years with an option of extending the collective bargaining agreement for an additional year at the end of the term, allowing the NHL to resume as of the 2005–06 season.
On October 5, 2005, the first post-lockout NHL season took to the ice with 15 games, and consequently all 30 teams. Of those 15 games, 11 were in front of sell-out crowds. The NHL received record attendance in the 2005–06 season. 20,854,169 fans, an average of 16,955 per game, was a 1.2% increase over the previous mark held in the 2001–02 season. Also, the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Vancouver Canucks sold out all of their home games; all six Canadian teams played to 98% capacity or better at every home game. 24 of the 30 clubs finished even or ahead of their 2003–04 mark. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the highest increase at 33%, mainly because of 18-year-old first overall draft pick Sidney Crosby. After losing a season to a labour dispute in 2005, attendance figures for League teams have returned to solid ground; the League's TV audience was slower to rebound because of American cable broadcaster ESPN's decision to drop the sport from its schedule. The NHL's post-lockout agreement with NBC gave the league a share of revenue from each game's advertising sales, rather than the usual lump sum paid up front for game rights. The NHL is estimated to earn annual revenue of around $2.27 billion.
At midnight Saturday September 16, 2012, the league locked out its players as the previous labour pact expired. The owners proposed reducing the players' share of hockey-related revenues from 57 percent to 47 percent. All games were cancelled up to January 14, 2013, as well as the 2013 NHL Winter Classic and the 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend. A tentative agreement was reached on January 6, 2013, for a 10-year deal. On January 12, the NHL and NHL Players Association signed a memorandum of understanding on the new deal, allowing teams to begin their training camps on January 13, with a shortened 48-game season scheduled to begin on January 19.
Organizational structure 
The NHL Board of Governors is the ruling and governing body of the NHL. In this context, each NHL team is a member of the NHL, and each member appoints a Governor (usually the owner of the club), and two alternates to the Board. The current chairman of the Board is Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs. The NHL Board of Governors exists to establish the policies of the NHL, and to uphold its constitution. Some of the responsibilities of the NHL Board of Governors include:
- review and approve any rule changes to the game
- hiring and firing of the NHL commissioner
- review and approve the purchase, sale, or relocation of any member club.
- review and approve the salary caps for member clubs.
- review and approve any changes to the structure of the game schedule
The Board of Governors meets twice per year, in June and December, with the exact date and place to be fixed by the NHL Commissioner.
- Deputy Commissioner & Chief Legal Officer: Bill Daly
- Executive VP & CFO: Craig Harnett
- Chief Operating Officer: John Collins
- Executive VP & Director of Hockey Operations: Colin Campbell
- NHL Enterprises: Ed Horne
- Senior Vice-President of Player Safety: Brendan Shanahan
Each National Hockey League regulation game is played between two teams and is 60 minutes long. The game is composed of three 20-minute periods with an intermission of either 15½ or 17 minutes (if nationally televised) between periods. Television timeouts are taken at the first stoppage of play after 6, 10, and 14 minutes of elapsed time unless there is a power play or the first stoppage is the result of a goal scored. In these cases, the timeout will occur at the first stoppage after the penalty expires or the next stoppage after the goal, respectively. A new rule was introduced for the 2007–08 season that if the first stoppage of play is an icing, the TV timeout does not occur. This is to prevent players from getting a break despite not being allowed to change. At the end of the 60-minute regulation time, the team with the most goals wins the game. If a game is tied after regulation time, overtime ensues. During the regular season, overtime is a five-minute, four-player on four-player sudden-death period, in which the first team to score a goal wins the game. Until the 2005–06 season, if no team was able to score in the five-minute overtime, the game ended in a tie.
Beginning in the 2005–06 season, if the game is still tied at the end of overtime, the game enters a shootout. Three players for each team in turn take a penalty shot. The team with the most goals during the three-round shootout wins the game. If the game is still tied after the three shootout rounds, the shootout continues but becomes sudden death. Whichever team ultimately wins the shootout is awarded a goal in the game score and thus awarded two points in the standings. The losing team in overtime or shootout is awarded only one. Shootout goals and saves are not tracked in hockey statistics; shootout statistics are tracked separately.
Shootouts do not occur during the playoffs. In the playoffs, sudden-death 20-minute five-on-five periods are played until one team scores. While in theory a game could continue indefinitely, only four games have reached five overtime periods, two of those have reached six, and none have gone beyond six. There are no television timeouts during playoff overtime periods; the only break is to clean the loose ice at the first stoppage after the period is halfway finished.
Hockey rink 
National Hockey League games are played on a rectangular hockey rink with rounded corners surrounded by walls and Plexiglas. It measures 25.91 by 60.92 metres (85 by 200 ft) in the NHL, approximately the same length but much narrower than International Ice Hockey Federation standards. The center line divides the ice in half, and is used to judge icing violations. There are two blue lines that divide the rink roughly into thirds, delineating one neutral and two attacking zones. Near the end of both ends of the rink, there is a thin red goal line spanning the width of the ice, which is used to judge goals and icing calls.
Starting in the 2005–2006 season, after testing in the American Hockey League, a trapezoidal area behind each goal net has been introduced. The goaltender can play the puck only within the trapezoid or in front of the goal line; if the goaltender plays the puck behind the goal line and outside the trapezoidal area, a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game is assessed by the referees. The rule is unofficially nicknamed the "Martin Brodeur rule".
- Main articles: National Hockey League rules
While the National Hockey League follows the general rules of ice hockey, it differs slightly from those used in international games organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) such as the Olympics. Infractions of the rules can lead to either the stoppage of play in the case of offside and icing calls, or a penalty call for more serious infractions.
During the 2004–05 lockout, the league changed some of the rules regarding being offside. First, the league removed the "offside pass" or "two-line pass" rule, which required a stoppage in play if a pass originating from inside a team's defending zone was completed on the offensive side of the center line, unless the puck crossed the line before the player. Furthermore, the league reinstated the "tag-up offside" which allows an attacking player a chance to get back onside by returning to the neutral zone. The changes to the offside rule were among several rule changes intended to increase overall scoring, which had been in decline since the expansion years of the mid-nineties and the increased prevalence of the neutral zone trap.
Another rule difference between the NHL and the IIHF rules concerns how icings are called. In the NHL, a linesman stops play due to icing if a defending player (other than the goaltender) touches the puck before an attacking player is able to, in contrast to the IIHF rules where play is stopped the moment the puck crosses the goal line. As a result of the rule changes following the 2004–05 lockout, when a team is guilty of icing the puck they are not allowed to make a line change or skater substitution of any sort before the following faceoff (except to replace an injured player or reinstall a pulled goaltender).
The NHL and IIHF differ also in penalty rules. The NHL, in addition to the minor and double minor penalties called in IIHF games, calls major penalties which are more dangerous infractions of the rules, such as fighting, and have a duration of five minutes. This is in contrast to the IIHF rule, in which players who fight are ejected from the game. Usually a penalized team cannot replace a player that is penalized on the ice and is thus shorthanded for the duration of the penalty, but if the penalties are coincidental, for example when two players fight, both teams remain at full strength. Also, unlike minor penalties, major penalties must be served to their full completion, regardless of number of goals scored during the power play.
The NHL and the NHLPA created a stringent anti-doping policy in the new CBA of September 2005. The policy provides for a 20 game suspension for a first positive test, a 60 game suspension for a second positive test, and a lifetime suspension for a third positive test.
Season structure 
The National Hockey League season is divided into an exhibition season (September), a regular season (from the first week in October through early to mid April) and a postseason (the Stanley Cup playoffs). During the exhibition season, teams may play other teams from the NHL. They also often compete against European clubs, such as clubs from the Russian KHL. During the regular season, clubs play each other in a predefined schedule. The Stanley Cup playoffs, which go from April to the beginning of June, is an elimination tournament where two teams play against each other to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. The final remaining team is crowned the Stanley Cup champion. Beginning in 2007, the NHL regular season has begun in Europe while teams not involved complete their pre-season exhibition schedule.
In the regular season, with the current 30-team NHL geographically split up into two 15-team conferences, and each conference having three divisions of five teams apiece, each team plays 82 games; 41 games at home and 41 on the road. Each team plays 24 games in its own geographic division—six against each one of their four other divisional opponents—and 40 games against the ten remaining non-divisional intra-conference opponents—four games against every team in the other two divisions of its conference. Each team plays every team in the other conference at least once—one game each against 12 teams and two games against the remaining three teams. For three seasons between 2005 and 2008, teams played 32 games within their division—eight games against each team in the division—and 10 inter-conference games—one game against each team in two of the three divisions in the opposite conference. The two divisions faced from the opposite conference were rotated every year, much like interleague play in Major League Baseball. As with the current system, each team played four games against each one of the other ten teams in its conference outside of its division.
The NHL's regular season standings are based on a point system instead of winning percentages. Points are awarded for each game, where two points are awarded for a win, one point for losing in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation. At the end of the regular season, the team that finishes with the most points in each division is crowned the division champion. The league's overall leader is awarded the Presidents' Trophy.
The three division champions along with the five other teams in each conference with the next highest number of points, for a total of eight teams in each conference, qualify for the playoffs. The division winners are seeded one through three (even if a non-division winner has a higher point total), and the next five teams with the best records in the conference are seeded four through eight. The Stanley Cup playoffs is an elimination tournament, where the teams are grouped in pairs to play best-of-seven series, the winners moving on to the next round. The first round of the playoffs, or conference quarter-finals, consists of the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, third playing the sixth, and the fourth playing the fifth. In the second round, or conference semi-finals, the NHL re-seeds the teams, with the top remaining conference seed playing against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining conference teams pairing off. In the third round, the conference finals, the two remaining teams in each conference play each other, with the conference champions proceeding to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In each round the higher-ranked team is awarded home-ice advantage. Four of the seven games are played at this team's home venue—the first and second, and, when necessary, the fifth and seventh games—with the other games played at the lower-ranked team's home venue. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the team with the most points during the regular season is given home-ice advantage, regardless of where each team ranks in their own conference.
Entry Draft 
The annual NHL Entry Draft consists of a seven-round off-season draft held in late June. Amateur players from junior, collegiate, or European leagues are eligible to enter the Entry Draft. The selection order is determined by a combination of the standings at the end of the regular season, playoff results, and a draft lottery. The 14 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs are entered in a weighted lottery to determine the initial draft picks in the first round, with the 30th-place team having the best chance of winning the lottery. Once the lottery determines the initial draft picks, the order for the remaining non-playoff teams is determined by the standings at the end of the regular season. For those teams that did qualify for the playoffs, the draft order is then determined by the order in which they were eliminated, with the Stanley Cup winner getting the 30th and last pick, and the runner-up is given the 29th pick.
The National Hockey League originated in 1917 with four Canadian teams, which after a tumultuous first quarter century, found stability in the Original Six era spanning 1942–1967 with four franchises in the United States joining two Canadian clubs. Through a sequence of team expansions, reductions, and relocations the NHL currently consists of 30 teams, 23 of which are based in the United States and seven in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful franchise with 24 Stanley Cup championships (23 as an NHL team, 1 as an NHA team). Of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, the Montreal Canadiens are only surpassed in the number of championships by the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, who have three more. The next most successful franchise is the Toronto Maple Leafs with 13 Stanley Cup championships, but they have not won one since 1967. The Detroit Red Wings, with 11 Stanley Cup championships, are the most successful American franchise. The longest streak of winning the Stanley Cup in consecutive years is five, held by the Montreal Canadiens from 1955–56 to 1959–60; the New York Islanders (1980–1983) and the Montreal Canadiens (1976–1979) have four-year championship streaks. The 1977 edition of the Montreal Canadiens, the second of four straight Stanley Cup champions, was named by ESPN as the second greatest sports team of all-time.
The current league organization divides the teams into two conferences: the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Each conference has three divisions, and each division has five teams. The current organization has roots in the 1998–99 season when a league realignment added two divisions to bring the total number of divisions to six; the current team alignment began with the 2000–01 season when the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league as expansion teams.
Sixteen of the NHL's thirty teams are located in the Eastern Time Zone. Currently, the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are the only Eastern Time teams in the Western Conference, and Winnipeg is the only non-Eastern Time team in the Eastern Conference (a temporary alignment resulting from the franchise's move out of Atlanta in 2011).