- NHL can also be an abbreviation for National Historic Landmark or Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
This article is part of the Evolution of the NHL series.
The National Hockey League (NHL; French: Ligue Nationale de Hockey) is a professional sports organization composed of ice hockey teams in Canada and the United States.
The National Hockey League, as it exists today, was made possible by various conflicts within the National Hockey Association. In the 1916-17 NHA season, there were six teams that comprised the NHA: the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs, the Toronto Blueshirts, and an army team from the 228th Battalion, stationed in Toronto. Among one of the conflicts, and indeed, the one conflict that formed the NHL, was one of Edward J. Livingstone, owner of the Blueshirts. Livingstone was barely tolerated in the hockey world, and frequently accused of exploiting loopholes in the various league regulations. At one point in the life of the NHA, Livingstone had owned two different teams in Toronto (the Ontarios and the Blueshirts) and merged the teams together when one was deprived of its top players, much to the annoyance of fellow owners. Because of the heated battles between Livingstone and the other NHA owners, Livingstone had repeatedly threatened to start a rival league in the United States and offering contracts to hockey players to not play hockey. However, Livingston did propose a split regular season, paving the way for how the NHL would play its playoffs its first few years.
The future of the 228th Battalion, arguably the most popular team at the time, was also in question, and when the team was called into action in World War I on February 10, 1917, the NHA was left in a very compromising position. The next day, league owners met in Montreal to decide the future of the NHA. Livingstone, unable to attend because of illness, was shocked to learn that the remaining owners chose to effectively kick him and his team out of the NHA. At the same time, Livingstone was campaining to kick the Wanderers out of the NHA for trying to lure two of the Blueshirts' best players to Montreal. By September 29, after the resignation of NHA president and Livingstone ally Frank Robinson, Livingstone did not attend league meetings personally, choosing to send a lawyer representing his interests interested. In the end, the owners demanded that Livingstone sell the Blueshirts in the five days following the meeting.
Livingstone had eventually negotiated a deal with the Toronto Arena Gardens to take control of the Blueshirts' day-to-day operations, and if the NHA continued to operate (which the other owners, desperate to kick Livingstone out, tried to prevent), Livingstone would eventually regain sole control of the team. This was good news to the NHA, which was also dealing with problems with the Bulldogs due to the lack of players.
On November 26, 1917, in Montreal's Windsor Hotel, the National Hockey League was formed, with the Canadiens, the Wanderers, the Senators, the Bulldogs, and the newly-renamed Toronto Arenas as its founding members. By then, the Wanderers were but a shadow of what they used to be - on January 2, 1918, in the NHL's first season, the Montreal Arena, home to both the Canadiens and Wanderers, was burned to the ground. Unlike the Canadiens, the Wanderers decided to not relocate, thus ending one of the most storied franchises in the early years of the Stanley Cup. The Bulldogs had been unable to start the season, so with the withdrawl of the Wanderers from the NHL the league operated for the rest of the season and the next with only three teams. The Toronto Arenas won the Stanley Cup that year, awarded to the champion of Canadian ice hockey.
As for Livingstone, he was naturally furious at the other teams, and, after failing in his attempt to collect his share of profits from the Arenas, sued the team and the league. The issue would not be settled until the 1930s, but by then, the team would be known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is ironic then, that the figure that the league tried to exclude was, in the words of Canadiens owner George Kennedy, the figure that "made [the NHL] a real league".
Although the league was struggling to stay in the business for its first decade, the NHL teams were very successful, winning the Stanley Cup seven out of its first nine years (with one in 1918 having been cancelled because of the Spanish Flu epidemic hitting Seattle). In 1926, the NHL was left without competing leagues to vie for the Stanley Cup, due to its higher player salaries that other leagues were unable to match. By this time the league had expanded into the United States, and from 1926 to 1931 there were 10 teams, but the Great Depression then took its toll. Teams such as the Philadelphia Quakers came and went, and even the storied Ottawa Senators suffered enough financial difficulties that they were forced to fold. Because of this and the effects of World War II, the NHL was reduced to six teams in its 25th year (1942), the six teams that are now known, somewhat inaccurately, as the Original Six. The NHL would play with the Original Six until the league expanded in 1967.
The war had also given new players a chance to play pro hockey, but after the war, many of these players found themselves in minor hockey. These minor leagues, especially in the Western United States and Canada, often fielded teams that could have defeated the Stanley Cup champions. It was one minor league, the Western Hockey League, and its plans to turn itself into a major league and challenge for the Stanley Cup that led the NHL to expand in 1967, 25 years after the formation of the Original Six. Six new teams, dubbed by some as the Expansion six, joined the NHL.
In 1972, the World Hockey Association was formed. Although it never challenged for the Stanley Cup, its status was unquestionable in the fact that it was a rival league for the NHL. The NHL and WHA fought for the services of hockey players and fans until the WHA folded in 1979 and four of its teams joined the NHL. During this time, the on-ice product quickly suffered, due to both the dilution of the talent pool and the rise of Soviet-style hockey that simply skated circles around the mainly Canadian NHL and WHA players.
The NHL would continue to expand, reaching its present total of 30 teams in 2004. By then, although hockey remained popular in Canada, the popularity of hockey in the United States, especially the American south, dwindled to the point where many considered hockey to be a "minor sport" among American staples such as baseball, basketball, and American football.
The NHL has had three work stoppages in its history. The first was a players' strike by the National Hockey League Players Association in April 1992 which lasted for 10 days. Although the strike took place at the end of the season, it was settled quickly enough for the affected games to be re-scheduled. A lockout at the start of the 1994-95 season proved far more disruptive. It lasted from October 1994 until January 1995, forcing the league to reduce the schedule from 84 to 48 games. Teams played exclusively intra-conference games during the lockout-shortened season. The resulting collective bargaining agreement was initially for six seasons and was to be open to re-negotiation in 1998, however, the CBA was eventually extended to last until September 15, 2004.
Negotiations for a new CBA to replace the expiring agreement took place in August and September 2004, however, it appears that the league and players' union remain far apart on key issues. The league has vowed to negotiate cost certainty for its clubs, but the NHLPA counters that "cost certainty" is little more than a euphemism for a salary cap the union says it will never accept. On September 15, 2004 Gary Bettman announced a lockout of the uncontracted players' union, and with it confirmed the cessation of hockey operations by the NHL head office. It is possible that the 2004-05 NHL Season will be cancelled, if an agreement is not reached by February 15th, 2005.
Trophies and awards
The National Hockey League also presents numerous trophies, in addition to the Stanley Cup for the overall playoff champion as well as the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and the Prince of Wales Trophy for the conference playoff champions. They include:
The O'Brien Trophy was awarded in the NHL before it was retired following the 1949-50 NHL season.
The Lester Patrick Trophy has been presented by the National Hockey League since 1966 to honour a recipient's contribution to hockey in the United States.
Three years after retirement, players are eligible to be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In the past, if a player is deemed important enough, however, the waiting period could be waived. This has been done 10 times, after which the rules for eligibility was revised so that the period could not be waived.
Each team in the NHL plays 82 regular season games, 41 home and 41 on the road. Teams play teams from the other conference usually once or twice, teams in the same conference, but a different division three or four times, and teams in the same division five or six times. Two points are awarded for wins, one point for ties, one point for losing in overtime, and zero points for a loss. At the end of the regular season, the team that finishes with the most points in their division is crowned the division champions, and the division champions, along with the five teams from each conference with the most points but did not win the division (wild-card teams), qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs is an elimination tournament, where two teams battle in a best-of-seven series (named as four wins are needed to advance, and thus at most seven games are needed to determine a series winner) in order to advance to the next round. Unlike the regular season, there are no ties, with another period of overtime played should an overtime fail to reach a decision. Overtimes are also full periods of twenty minutes (of five-on-five hockey), rather than the five minutes (of four-on-four hockey) of the regular season. The overtime is played with golden goal rule (sudden death) so the game ends as soon as either team scores a goal. The higher-ranked team is said to be the team with the home-ice advantage. Four of the seven games are played at this team's home venue - the first and second, and, where necessary, the fifth and seventh, with the other games played at the lower-ranked team's home venue.
In each conference, the division winners are seeded one through three and the wild-card teams are seeded four through eight based on their regular-season point totals. In the event of a tie in points in the standings, ties are broken first by amount of wins, then by record against the team that is tied, then goals for and goals againt that team. The first round of the playoffs consists of the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, third playing the sixth, and the fourth playing the fifth. At the conclusion of the first round, the teams in each conference are reseeded as before, with the top remaining seed playing against the fourth remaining seed, and the second remaining seed playing against the third remaining seed. In the next round, the Conference Finals, the two remaining teams in each conference play each other, with the winners playing against in the Stanley Cup Finals for hockey's Holy Grail.
Presidents/Commissioners of the NHL