What hockey team should I cheer for? A guide to picking your NHL team

Hockey is great! Hockey is fun to play and watch, but do you know what makes it even better? When you have a team to cheer for! Sometimes I wonder if I like my team more than I do the game itself. 

As a Calgary Flames fan I have been through many ups and downs (it often feels like there have been many more downs).

They have basically had one good year since they won the Stanley Cup in 1989 – one! There has been a lot of pain and frustration in those years, but I wouldn’t trade them for any other team

So my advice for getting into hockey is to pick a team, but know what you are getting into. I have compiled a number of different ways that you can pick your team. People are different and like to pick a team based on different criteria, so I’m giving you lots of options. 

But once you pick your team, make sure that you stay with them – through thick and thin!

So, here are some things to think about as you pick your team:

Geography (map of NHL teams) 

The easiest way to pick a team is to cheer for the team that is closest to your house.  Here is a map to help you out!

Map of NHL teams in Canada and the US

Source


When I was in elementary/grade school (1980s) I had a choice to make of who to cheer for: the Edmonton Oilers or the Calgary Flames? Edmonton had the Stanley Cup and the best player in the world (Wayne Gretzky who was winning a lot of Stanley Cups), but Calgary was the hometown team. I remember making a conscious decision to pick the Flames.

Being with the team that is closest to you has a few major advantages:

  • Easiest access to information – usually the radio programs or the people you bump into will be talking about that team the most, and it is just fun to talk about it with people who care like you do
  • You can go see them live – one of the best ways to really become captivated with a team is to go see them play live – (here is a list of the NHL Arenas to see which one is close to you). Seeing them up close in the pregame warmup, getting an autograph, cheering with the other fans after scoring is such a great way to bond with the team
  • There are others around you who care – it is fun to cheer and talk with others about a team. I have so many friends who love the team that I love. It is fun to cheer in the good times and be therapeutic to console each other in the bad times. 

For me, it’s easy, I live in an NHL city. But if you don’t, use the map above or the list of arenas to locate the nearest couple of NHL cities as your starting point. Now, use the points below to further help make the choice to find out which team you should root for.


Support the team of the city or region where you grew up or were born

I have a friend who lives in Calgary and has lived in the following cities in the past 20 years:

  • Edmonton: they have an NHL team (insert ‘debatable’ joke here!)
  • Ottawa: they have an NHL team 
  • Toronto: they have an NHL team

Now, does he cheer for the Flames, Oilers, Senators, or Maple Leafs? No. He cheers for the team from where he grew up – the Vancouver Canucks.

I have met a lot of people who simply cheer for the team where they were born. It doesn’t matter if they only lived there for a few years that you can’t even remember – that is their team!


Rally behind the team your parents support

As I go to NHL games there are always at least a few fans for the opposing team. However, when an Original Six team comes (did you know that when the NHL started there were actually only four teams?) and plays there are always to me, surprisingly, a lot of fans cheering for them.

But why? My city is a long way away from those cities. Sure, we would expect some transplanted fans, but not that many. 

Many of the fans of Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Chicago who do not live in those cities cheer for them because that is who their parents grew up cheering for. There were no teams out west prior to the Canucks coming on board in 1970 so the early fans of the modern NHL would pick one of the Original Six teams. 

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Even when their area or region finally got an NHL team they kept the loyalty to the team that they had always cheered for. And as a fan of that team, their kids became a fan of that team. 

Who did your mom and dad cheer for? Do you want to continue the legacy? 


Rebuilding Team


Let’s be honest some people love to cheer for a team that is starting right at the bottom. It is fun to follow them over the years and see them draft young players. And, finally, then take those young players and nurture them into a true contender.

So if you want to cheer for a team that is in the midst of rebuilding (or pick a team that has never won a Stanley Cup) here are the teams for you:

  • Ottawa: They are right at the bottom, they have got young talent, but it is going to take a number of years for them to be dangerous again – one of the 11 teams to have never won a Stanley Cup
  • Detroit: Detroit needs to acquire and develop a lot of young players before they get back to former glory. They just brought in one of the best general managers in Steve Yzerman who will take the time to build it right
  • New York Rangers: They stated this year that they were going into rebuild mode. They have already made a few shrewd moves and have some great young players. This rebuild may be shorter than most. 
  • Los Angeles: They had been really, really good in the past decade. But now they are really, really bad and are in for a long rebuild
  • Anaheim: They have also fallen off a cliff in the past year. They are in for a long rebuild after they get all of their old players out the door.  


Teams with History


Some people love history and want to cheer for one of the older teams. So if you like a team that has a lot of tradition you can choose one of the Original Six teams:

  • Montreal Canadiens
  • Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • New York Rangers
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Boston Bruins
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I Love Teams that Win

Then cheer for one of the last two Stanley Cup Champions

  • St. Louis Blues (2019)
  • Washington Capitals (2018)

No team has won more Stanley Cups than the Montreal Canadiens at 24 but the most recent was all the way back in 1993. When teams think of winning teams they will want someone who they can cheer for now – a team that gives them a shot at the Stanley Cup this year or for the next few.

So here is a list of some of the other best teams in the NHL, and will give you a chance to lift a Stanley Cup up with them in the next few years:

  1. Vegas Golden Knights
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Boston Bruins
  4. Toronto Maple Leafs
  5. Colorado Avalanche
  6. Calgary Flames
  7. Edmonton Oilers
  8. Dallas Stars
Embed from Getty Images


The Loveable Losers

There are a few franchises that have just had a consistent history of losing. There are eleven teams in the NHL who have never won the Stanley Cup. Within this eleven, some are even better at losing than others. 

Take the Buffalo Sabres – they have spent the most time in the NHL and have never won the Stanley Cup, and when they get close it usually ends in heartbreak (a game 6 double OT loss in the Stanley cup finals on a controversial goal would do that). Or, the Columbus Blue Jackets – in their 20 year history they have won only one playoff round – ouch!

So if you like to pull for the underdog – the teams who seem like they are trying, but just can’t get there – then pick one of the following teams: 

  • Buffalo
  • Arizona
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Winnipeg Jets
  • New York Islanders (they have won 4 Stanley Cups, but have been particularly awful since the early 1980s)
  • Florida Panthers

I would add in the Maple Leafs – who have the longest playoff drought without winning the Stanley Cup at 52 years – but unless you are from Toronto you do not want to cheer for them.


Favourite Player

A lot of people end up cheering for a team by being captivated by a certain player. 

Do you love Alex Ovechkin’s shot and goal scoring ability? That’s how a lot of people became a Washington Capitals fan.

Embed from Getty Images


Johnny Gaudreau is so fun to watch – let’s cheer for the Calgary Flames.

This is a common way to decide to cheer for a team. Find out what player(s) you enjoy watching and then start to watch them and cheer for their team. 

Some really exciting players and their teams:

  • Johnny Gaudreau – Calgary Flames
  • Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
  • Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers
  • Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
  • Sidney CrosbyPittsburgh Penguins
  • Nathan Mackinnon – Colorado Avalanche 


New Shiny Toy

When your city was awarded an expansion franchise most fans had to be prepared to buckle in for a good 5 to 10 years of losing before a competitive team was iced. Well, no more!

With the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights the expansion player selection also got changed. This means that in expansion days past all of the new teams had to select the leftovers of the leftover players to form their new team. The NHL felt obliged with the $500 million price tag to give the new teams a better chance out of the gate, so Vegas actually got to select decent players from the other teams. 

This has all added up to the chance for Vegas to field a competitive team from day one, which they did going to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year. This is unheard of. So, if you like the new thing on the block, the shiny new team you have your choice of Vegas or coming soon to a hockey rink near you, Seattle. 

The two shiniest new NHL toys are: 

  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • Seattle ‘yet-to-be-named’ coming in 2021


Go against-the-grain by cheering for a team nobody else does

These are the teams that nobody else cheers for.

Their home attendance is dreadfully low, and their merchandise sales are next to non-existent (you never see a kid or random fan at a game dressed in these colours).

There are two advantages to this: 1. If you get to go to a home game to see the team play you will be able to get super cheap tickets 2. If the franchise every turns around and becomes respectable you can tell all the people who jump onto the bandwagon that you’ve always been there. 

So if you like to go against-the-grain and cheer for a team because nobody else does, here are your best choices: 

  • Arizona Coyotes 
  • Florida Panthers
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • New Jersey (who cheers for them over the Rangers, Islanders or Flyers?)

Right in the middle – not bad, not great

Some teams are just teams. Are they great? No. Are they bad? No. Who knows what they are, but I like their logos 🙂

  • Dallas
  • Philadelphia 
  • Minnesota

Just getting into hockey and need a few more pointers to get going? Here are a few articles that will help you on your way:


Conclusion

So, there you go! You now have enough information. Pick a team and cheer, cheer, cheer!

Fire me a note at the bottom and let me know who you pick. 

3 thoughts on “What hockey team should I cheer for? A guide to picking your NHL team

  1. What an informative guide! Great job and thanks for posting it!

    I am probably a good example of “the journeyman fan”.

    I liked the Canucks (closest team to where I grew up) up until news of how their fans trashed the city of Vancouver when their team lost in the play-offs.

    Then I switched to the Chicago Blackhawks, a team in the rebuilding phase (back then), but was either accused of being a band-wagoner because they won the Stanley Cup soon after, or was asked: “Why do you support a team that uses a native American as its logo? Isn’t that inappropriate?”

    Then the next (and best) switch happened: I picked the Montreal Canadiens – purely for food reasons. I don’t live in Canada anymore, and reasoned with myself: “If I ever go back there, I want to visit a city that has a rich culinary tradition. Happiness from a full stomach eclipses recent Stanley Cup wins!” To me, the Canadiens’ rivalry with the Bruins is more important than the one they have with the Leafs. A bilingual Canadian city which takes pride in its diversity vs. an American city that is proud of its old-country (Irish) roots. This is more of a juxtaposition (for me at least) than Montreal vs. Toronto; two Canadian cities.

    Despite following NHL for so many decades, I have only 2 pieces of merchandise: a Blackhawks beanie and a Canadiens jersey.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I was in Vancouver when those riots broke out. A friend and I went downtown to watch Game 7, but went back to his house because it was so, so crowded. And when the riots broke out we were watching i on tv, and were stunned as I noticed several spots were I was standing only a couple of hours before! (And, of course, as a Flames fan I was cheering for Boston)

      And, yes, the Canadiens are a great choice. I think Montreal is the premier destination to see an NHL game. I hear that it is an amazing building (the Bell Centre) to watch a game (seating, food, fans!). I would love to go see a game there. I also love their rivalry with Boston.

      I would agree that the rivalry with Boston it is better than the Leafs, partly because Boston and Montreal have had good teams over the past 50 years and have met in the playoffs. The past few years and in 93-95 were the only times the Leafs have been any good. It is hard to have a rivalry with a team that has overall been so poor.

      Wayne

      1. However, most of my “What NHL team are you?” quiz results have been either Oilers or Jets.

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