Per The State of Hockey News:
In an effort to improve the accuracy of my rankings I am going to utilize a more strict set of criteria for placement. Each of the league’s 30 teams will be assessed on three basic criteria: 1. Attendance average for the last 3 seasons. This will entail tabulating the season average against the maximum capacity of the arena they currently play in. At least 75%-80.9% will equal 6.0, while anything below 75% capacity would equal a 5. 81%-85.9% will equal 7.0, 86%-89.9% equals 8.0. 90%-99% equals 9.0 and anything over 99% will yield a score of 10. 2. A simple Google search taking note of amount of blogs and team-related message boards listed as well as message board activity. Each component will be graded on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being outstanding or perfect and 0 being very poor. A portion of this grade will take into account the team’s average finish during that span of time. In the case of online presence teams are awarded 1 point for every individual blog or team-focused message board that is out there and can receive a maximum score of 100 which would equal a 10 on the 1 to 10 scale with partial points included. For every assessment there will be an explanation for the grade. I would also like to toss out a small disclaimer. While the title of the article is the best and worst fans of the NHL it does not mean that all of the fans of any particular NHL team are bad. It just means the support for the team; one way or the other isn’t as great as it may be between various teams. The team’s will be listed with their total score tabulated next to it. So let’s begin shall we?
#30 – Atlanta Thrashers – 9.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 78.8% (14,626, 29th in the NHL) Online Presence: 3.2
Last Year’s Rank: 26th
Justification: I am going to share a little story with you which will might explain why the Atlanta Thrashers are deserving of being called the league’s worst fans. Just this spring, I went down Georgia as part of an Educators Tour to Ft. Benning. On our way back, we were given the day to enjoy downtown Atlanta. While there I went into a sports apparrel shop, which was filled with all sorts of Atlanta sports team clothing; Braves jerseys, Falcons jerseys, and some college football jerseys yet nowhere to be found was anything pertaining to the Thrashers. I asked the attendant, “Do you have any Atlanta Thrashers stuff” and I was met with a confused look and then a quick question to her co-worker, “Do we have any Thrashers stuff?” A few seconds later they pointed me to the only two items they had pertaining to the the Thrashers along with an explaination of how extremely rare it is anyone is looking for their merchandise. Now does that mean that there are almost no Thrashers fans out there? No, but in the larger scheme of things there does not appear to be too many. In a Southern city where its almost a challenge to find someone with a southern drawl, it might surprise people just how many Atlanta residents are people who used to live in areas which are quite familiar with snow and ice. The Thrashers online presence is very small and that does little to help a team that many in Atlanta seem to struggle to remember they are even there. That sound you just heard was Ilya Kovalchuk screaming over the fact he has at least one more season with the team.
#29 – Tampa Bay Lightning – 10.7
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 83.4% (16,497, 21st in the NHL) Online Presence: 3.7
Last Year’s rank: 12th
Justification: It was supposed to be the year of a tremendous transformation for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With 1st Overall pick from 2008, Steven Stamkos as new showstopper joining an already talent loaded forward core featuring Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis the Lightning, with new old bench boss Barry Melrose were going to bring an exciting brand of game back to Tampa. It not only stumbled, it basically imploded. It wasn’t long before the two-headed monster, and I mean that literally when I am talking about dual-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie started making trades right away and eventually they canned Barry Melrose who left rather bitterly back to ESPN. The team then installed Rick Tocchet as head coach as they hoped to salvage the season but the Lightning never recovered and finished near the bottom and the attendance reflected that unfortunate turn of events. By season’s end, Koules and Barrie were at each others’ throats almost requiring a league intervention to get them to be civil to one another. It is strange to think how far this team has slid considering the fact that its only 4 seasons removed from winning a Stanley Cup proving definitively that simply being exciting is not enough to fill the rather large (by NHL standards) St. Pete Times Forum but winning is what gets butts in the seats. With the selection of Swedish behemoth defenseman Victor Hedman indicates that better times are in the organizations future but the fans will likely wait to see the wins pile up before they come back.
#28 – Florida Panthers – 11.3
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 81.1% (15,621, 24th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.3
Last Year’s Rank: 27th
Justification: Perhaps its a symptom of not having made the playoffs in eight seasons but the Panthers are growing more and more irrelevant each year. The Panthers have the 2nd lowest percentage of their arena filled in the NHL in 2008-09. To Florida’s credit they did their best to try to keep its star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester but he wanted out and the Panthers were at least able to swing a deal with the Calgary Flames so they got something in return. In South Florida, the Panthers have steadily been fading out of the public’s memory as each season appears to be a practice in futility. The Panthers are indeed getting better on the ice, but the fanbase is growing tired of waiting for next season. There has been criticism over how many tickets are simply given away to anyone who will take them as well as additional perks like free parking. As the old adage goes, winning and in this case getting to the playoffs and being successful are likely the only cure for these forlorn cats right now.
#27 – Phoenix Coyotes – 11.6
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 86.8% (14,875, 28th in the NHL) Online Presence: 3.6
Last Year’s rank: 29th
Justification: An outsider might ask ‘can’t we all just get along’ as the feud between the former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Ballsillie who was again shut down in his bid to purchase an American-based team and move it to Southern Ontario. Either way, the off-ice fortunes of the Coyotes (a team that has lost $60 million dollars last season alone!) have been marginally more depressing than the on-ice product. The Coyotes have only made the post-season once since it moved from Winnipeg in 1997. While there would definitely be people that would debate the announced attendance as you can see a lot of empty seats most games, the Phoenix area has been one of the hardest hit areas by the economic downturn. Phoenix has lots of promising young talent in its system but the team does not look to be on the cusp of a playoff run anytime soon so in essense, relief is not in sight. Online the fanbase is there but still rather small in comparison to the rest of the league’s teams.
#26 – Colorado Avalanche – 12.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 85.6% (15,429, 26th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.0
Last Year’s rank: 16th
Justification: Perhaps its fitting an Avalanche is a downward slide of snow and ice because it has been downward spiral for the team since 2007-08. Injuries submarined the team’s dim playoff hopes early in the season as Colorado plummeted towards the bottom of the standings. Up until the 2005-06 season the team was riding a 10-year sellout streak, but since the team first missed the playoffs in 2006-07 (since it arrived in Colorado) the sellouts have ended and attendance has been dwindling. The retirement of the franchise’s best skater of all time, Joe Sakic, likely will not help get fans to show up either. A sagging economy has not helped either, but when the team stopped winning, Denver stopped caring as much. It will still be a while before Colorado can turn it around, but how much farther will this avalanche travel down the mountain before that begins, or could this team go the way of the Colorado Rockies (the hockey team not the MLB team)?
#25 – New York Islanders – 12.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 84.8% (13,773, 30th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.3
Last Year’s rank: 28th
Justification: How bad is it for the fans of the New York Islanders, its so bad that the team’s owner Charles Wang said it was a mistake to have purchased the team. Ouch! The Islanders fielded a lineup akin to what you’d find in the AHL most nights (minus Mark Streit of course) and this certainly did little to make fans want to fill the Nassau Coliseum most nights, which ESPN called the worst arena in professional sports. Ouch! Yet, the Islanders certainly have fans, as the 2009 draft party clearly demonstrated. Despite the best efforts of Charles Wang and the NHL to attempt to lean on locals to get a new arena the issue appears to be in a stalemate having the Islanders owner at wits end. A perennial bad team, bad fan experience (i.e. their arena) makes it rough to want to show up and buy tickets. The selection of John Tavares should mean attendance and general interest in the team should improve but the Islanders are a long way away before they make anyone think they’re next coming of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders online presence is a bit surprising considering the large size of the population they draw their fanbase from. Sure its split but you’d think it’d be more prevalent than it is.
#24 – Carolina Hurricanes – 12.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 88.7% (16,680, 20th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.2
Last Year’s rank: 25th
Justification: The Carolina Hurricanes love to toss out how ‘loud’ they can be, especially in the post-season because in many ways it covers up the fact that throughout the regular season the RBC Center is often a bit vacant come most game nights. Even after winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06 the ‘love’ from that significant accomplishment was short-lived and the sellouts soon became infrequent occurances. The online fanbase is smallish but combative, and the fans have demonstrated when they do show up to games they’re loud and rambunctious. The Hurricanes do not necessarily have bad fans, they just show up when its convenient to say they’re a fan of the team.
#23 – Nashville Predators – 12.4
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 87.7% (15,010, 27th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.4
Last Year’s rank: 23rd
Justification: If the Predators were a ship they’d be one that barely stays afloat. The team narrowly met its attendance requirements to qualify for revenue sharing. Yet I must admit, as a bit of a Predators fan I feel bad that I’ve placed them this far down on the list. However the numbers indicate this is a deserving place for them. Yes, the corporate support has not been there for the Predators the way it has been for other teams and few NHL teams can boast such a raucous section as Cellblock 303. The grim fact of it, is the Predators organization has put a competitive product on the ice and they have had a fair amount of success but for whatever reason it has not led to a dramatic increase in attendance. The Predators have a loyal fanbase, but unfortunately it isn’t enough for the team to make money. Online the Predators fanbase is passionate and they have some excellent blogs. A trip beyond the first round of the playoffs is perhaps just what is needed to get this team out of its current holding pattern.
#22 – New Jersey Devils – 12.6
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 89.5% (15,790, 23rd in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.6
Last Year’s rank: 30th
Justification: Last year, I ranked Devils fans dead last in the league and it created a bit of an uproar to put it mildly. They challeged my assessment of their online presence and claimed that I understated it considerably, let when I did my search for Devils related message boards and blogs I found it to be average at best. It still does not excuse a fanbase who has had one of the most dominant teams over the last 10 years to still not able to sellout most nights. The Devils fans provide a bunch of excuses but 23rd in the league in attendance for the team that finished amongst the top 5 in the league throughout the regular season is still rather puzzling. New arena, high quality team, huge population base and still in the bottom 1/3rd of the league in attendance both proportionately (in relation to the capasity of the arena) but as a fanbase they may not show up to the games as much as they should but they certainly love to complain!
#21 – Columbus Blue Jackets – 12.7
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 85.6% (15,543, 25th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.7
Last Year’s rank: 24th
Justification: For Blue Jackets fans, this ranking might surprise them. Afterall it was season the team finally got rid of the dubious phrase, “the only team that has never made the post-season.” In that way, the fans in Columbus had lots to cheer about but it was short-lived as their team was swept out of the playoffs without too much trouble by Central Division rival Detroit Red Wings. With the Blue Jackets having their most successful season in franchise history I have say I was shocked that they only managed to fill their building just over 85% most nights. Sure, there were many years of the team losing that steadily eroded the amount of fans showing up at Nationwide Arena, and I would not be surprised to see attendance greatly improved next season. Online, Blue Jackets fans must have had a wonderful (albeit short) ride to the post-season and their fanbase there remains steady as the team has a number of message boards and blogs.
#20 – St. Louis Blues – 12.7
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 96.8% (17,488, 15th in the NHL) Online Presence: 3.7
Last Year’s rank: 18th
Justification: This might seem strange but the Blues are on a resurgence. Last year, the team a mix of veterans and a number of youngsters had an outstanding 2nd half to make the playoffs only to be swept by the Vancouver Canucks in four very hard-fought games. The fans have started to fill Scottrade Center most nights and as always are a loud and boisterous group. Despite the resurgence of the team on the ice, the team creates very limited buzz in the town that features MLB superstar Albert Pujols; even the dismal St. Louis Rams garner considerably more discussion then the rising Blues. Sure, the NFL owns the United States but the Rams have been spinning their wheels for years now. The Blues online presence is amongst the league’s worst, which is disappointing considering the fans seem to enjoy their hockey. General Manager Larry Pleau and Team President John Davidson have done a tremendous job of building from within while adding just a handful of key vets and Head Coach Andy Murray has the team playing a gritty game their opponents hate and perhaps over time that will inspire more of its fans to blog and discuss the team on the interweb. I would not be surprised at all if they garnered a higher ranking next season if the team continues to improve in what is becoming one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.
#19 – Anaheim Ducks – 13.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 98.9% (16,990, 17th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.0
Last Year’s ranking: 17th
Justification: The Stanley Cup hangover is a bit stale but the fans in Orange County seem to be steadily fading away since the team won it all in 2006-07. When the team switched logos and embraced a rough and tumble brand of hockey Honda Center was rocking and rolling but throughout the regular season the fans are far more mild and you can see a lot of empty seats. Still, 98.9 of capacity is pretty impressive in a non-traditional hockey market yet I find it hard to believe that number really represents the amount of butts in the seats when you see their games. Online, the Ducks have a fairly limited presence considering the heavily populated metropolitan area they draw from. The Ducks have gone through some significant changes by departing with giant blueliner Chris Pronger to help restock its prospect pool and in a season that will be fan favorite Teemu Selanne‘s final year it will be interesting how those two situations affect who shows up this season. Anaheim had a strong finish last year, but can they follow that up or have they traded away the key piece that made that finish possible and does Scott Niedermayer have enough in the tank to do that by himself and keep the fans happy in Anaheim?
#18 – Los Angeles Kings – 13.1
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 91% (16,488, 22nd in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.1
Last Year’s ranking: 19th
Justification: It might surprise some people that the Los Angeles Kings are ahead of the cross-town rival Anaheim Ducks, but the fact of the matter is the expectations for the Kings was far lower than the Ducks yet both teams had very similar attendance figures. The Kings have been going through a long-term rebuild but during last season it was becoming obvious that this team is on the cusp of a Chicago Blackhawks-type turnaround. The team is loaded full of young talent, especially on its blueline and boasts some of the better young forwards in the game in underpromoted Anze Kopitar and well-rounded Dustin Brown. Online presence is just barely ahead of the Ducks but the chatter focuses mainly on the bright future which appears to be sooner than later. Sure there are question marks for this team, but they have lots of young kids in the prospect pool to be excited about and at times the Kings demonstrated they can be a rather stifling team to play against. They’ll never come even remotely close to eclipsing the Los Angeles Lakers in popularity but a strong 2009-10 could re-establish some of the buzz that has been painfully missing since Wayne Gretzky wore the black and silver uniform. With the additions of veterans Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi may mean that turn around could be this year. If I was General Manger Dean Lombardi I’d be very pumped up and feel as though its the Kings time to shine in LA and I have little doubt the fans will embrace that emergence.
#17 – Dallas Stars – 13.4
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 95.4% (17,680, 14th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.4
Last Year’s ranking: 15th
Justification: Accountability finally struck in ‘Big D” as Head Coach Dave Tippett got the axe as well as the re-assignments of co-GM’s Les Jackson and the incendiary Brett Hull (who should consider it a ‘thank you’ for his part in the Sean Avery debacle) and the team tried to perhaps reach out to fans by hiring former team star Joe Nieuwendyk to be the new General Manager. Yet will this really bring fans back to American Airlines Center? Can Marc Crawford entice fans back to watch his ‘up tempo’ offensive style of hockey that was more or less lost under Tippett? It has been 16 years since the Stars arrived from Minnesota so there fanbase has matured considerably but pattern of mediocrity has made the 1999 Cup win a distant memory. The 17,680 figure seems generous when you watch the games and see so many fans dressed as seats most nights. Will the fact this is the swan song for Mike Modano bring the fans out? Maybe, but I doubt it. I know I won’t miss him at all.
#16 – Boston Bruins – 14.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 97% (17,039, 16th in the NHL) Online Presence: 5.0
Last Year’s ranking: 22nd
Justification: Last year, the Bruins surprised many with a fast start and over the course of the season they managed to hold on to have the Eastern Conferences best record. The success on the ice translated into better attendance at TD Banknorth Garden. Bruins fans relished the steady play of Vezina winner Tim Thomas as well as the punishing Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara but really got a blast watching the emergence of David Krecji, Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler. The Milan Lucic total beatdown of Montreal’s Mike Komisarek was a huge statement and its impact resonated with Boston fans as much as it could when it was trying to sneak onto the front page of the paper against any discussion of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. Boston has been the ultimate professional sports success story and the Bruins are a bit late in the game, but still in a traditional hockey market there is no excuse for B’s not to be selling out every night. It will be a tough act to follow this season, but the Bruins have a very solid team from top to bottom returning and the Northeast Division is not as strong as it used to be so the continued success will likely see another increase in ticket sales and more butts in the seats. All of the other Boston teams have rejuvenated themselves with championships, its the Bruins’ turn now.
#15 – Ottawa Senators – 14.3
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 98.9% (18,172, 12th in the NHL) Online Presence: 5.3
Last Year’s ranking: 11th
Justification: In someways the Ottawa Senators are the forgotten step-child of the league. Towards the early part of the decade the Senators were one of the dominant teams in the east but disappointing performances and dysfunction in the lockerroom from players like Ray Emery and now Dany Heatley has this team in crisis mode yet again. Its tough being the ‘other’ team in Ontario and the fans have done their best to keep Scotiabank Place full most nights but patience is starting to wear thin. Predictably, as a Canadian-based franchise the Senators enjoy a strong online fanbase as the team has a strong list of blogs and message boards to discuss the controversies that seem to be constantly swirling about this organization. While some may point to the traffic situation near the arena or the fact there is so much ‘other’ hockey around Ottawa to take fans away from Senators games, its still Canada where hockey is king it is the only NHL organization in that nation that is not playing to 100% capacity.
#14 – San Jose Sharks – 14.6
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 99.9% (17,488, 15th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.6
Last Year’s ranking: 13th
Justification: There used to be a commercial they’d show during Sharks games where they’d ask ‘random’ Sharks fans what basic hockey rules like icing means where they’d appear clueless or at the very least struggling to explain it. Meanwhile they’d ask these same ‘random’ fans what words like nanotechnology were and they’d provide a rather matter-of-fact definition for it as a way of proving how their fanbase represent those in the technology industry. Sure, its a commercial, but to a certain portion of Sharks fans I am sure the commercial seemed rather insulting to its fairly dedicated fanbase. The HP Pavillion is known as one of the louder arenas in the league but it is puzzling that they do not have a larger online representation than they do. Its online presence is just slightly above average in an arena that boasts anti-virus software companies as one its more visible sponsors. If the San Jose Sharks finally manage to transform their regular season success to the post-season perhaps the blogosphere will erupt with new sites dedicated to the Sharks but so far it appears to be a wait-and-see approach.
#13 – Detroit Red Wings – 14.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 98.9% (19,865, 3rd in the NHL) Online Presence: 5.0
Last Year’s ranking: 2nd
Jusifications: This might seem as though as I’m kicking a great city while its down but its nothing personal. ‘Hockeytown’ as Detroit has liked to call itself is really going to be challenged this year to show just how important hockey is as the city struggles under an incredible level of unemployment (over 15% in Michigan), and already it was beginning to show as the sellouts were not nearly so consistent. The fans are certainly in Detroit but when it comes to priorities taking care of one’s family is going to trump the expense of shelling out big bucks for season tickets. Considering just how good Detroit has been over the last decade its online presence is rather modest; perhaps its tough to blog when the fanbase has less to argue over than teams whose winning is not nearly as consistent as the Red Wings. This season, Detroit was forced to watch as some of its free agents were taken from it as it has committed itself rather heavily to a few core players giving it precious little room to work with. Detroit lost forwards Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa which will deprive the Red Wings of the scoring cushion they used to full advantage last year and that will likely affect the team’s record. Would these hard-pressed fans accept anything less than they’ve been given the last 5 years? That’s hard to say. The very much outdated Joe Louis Arena does not help matters much either.
#12 – New York Rangers – 15.5
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 99.8% (18,172, 12th in the NHL) Online Presence: 5.5
Last Year’s ranking: 7th
Justification: The Rangers will always have a distinctive advantage of being NYC’s #1 team regardless of where it finishes in the standings. If you ever watch the NHL Network’s “NHL Live” program New York Rangers fans are always quick to call in to offer their thoughts to the lucky guys (sometimes gals) working the show. New Yorkers are tough on their teams but they’re immensely loyal and that is certainly the case for the Rangers as well. However there are signs that some of that strength is eroding slightly. The Rangers lately have basically been just good enough to get to the playoffs only to be bounced in the 1st round and the fans clearly have much higher expectations and do not have a whole lot of faith in General Manager Glen Sather. For the first time in a while the Rangers failed to average a sellout for the season and that should set off some alarm bells even though the difference is quite small. It could a prelude to a more notable drop if the team does not show some definite progress and with Sather hedging his playoff hopes on the wonky groin of the often injured Marian Gaborik it does not provide a wide margin of error.
#11 – Buffalo Sabres – 15.8
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 99.1% (18,531, 11th in the NHL) Online Presence: 5.8
Last Year’s ranking: 9th
Justification: In many ways, the explanation for the Sabres’ ranking is rather similar to that of the New York Rangers. The Buffalo, New York area is perhaps the forgotten traditional hockey area of the United States as most only include Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan as these western New Yorkers love their hockey at all levels. Yet, Buffalo has always been a blue-collar town and with American industry struggling as perhaps more important the Sabres in sort of a ‘standby’ pattern the interest is starting to wane just a tad. The Sabres organization really has made very few changes (other than losing some of its star calibre players) the last few years; as it has had its GM (Darcy Regier) and Coach (Lindy Ruff) for the last 13 seasons. With virtually no significant free agent signees to speak of there is not much buzz surrounding the team and the fans are sick of being a mid-ling organization. A few seasons ago, the team really the city excited about hockey with a dynamic up-tempo product but without Daniel Briere and Brian Campbell this team hasn’t been nearly as explosive and fans want to feel that sort of energy again soon. Online the Sabres have one of the most active fanbases of the U.S.-based teams.
#10 – Washington Capitals – 16.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 99.3% (18,097, 13th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.0
Last Year’s rank: 20th
Justification: The Washington Capitals have really risen to the top as one of the league’s marquee teams not only for their strong play but more so due to their plethora of young talent led by reigning Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin. The fans now routinely fill Verizon Center, many of whom are sporting red or white Capitals sweaters. A few years ago that certainly was not the case as empty seats as well as apathetic fans were commonplace. Led by team owner, former AOL executive Ted Leonsis, the Capitals have a burgeoning online fanbase who give Washington a surprising web presence. Leonsis himself has his own blog, ‘Ted’s Take‘ and has taken it upon himself to help promote other team-related blogs which is unique to the rest of the league. The Washington Capitals are getting closer and closer to earning their way to the Stanley Cup Finals which should only make the fanaticism already swirling about the team throughout the D.C.-area just explode. No other team in the league has embraced bloggers quite the same way and it is this forward thinking that has helped make the Capitals a marketing success story.
#9 – Calgary Flames – 14.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 100% (19,289, 6th in the NHL) Online Presence: 4.2
Last Year’s rank: 8th
Justification: Any Wild fan can attest to the power of the “Red Mile” which is one of the most intimidating sights in the NHL. No other fans in the league unify in one color quite the same way as the Flames fans do for every game. When the Flames can get their crowd going, Calgary seems to transform into a steamroller and games often take a dramatic change for the worse if you’re the opposition. Whether its cheering a Jarome Iginla goal or a hit by Dion Phaneuf the fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome can really bring it if they have the motivation to do so. Yet despite the incredible fantacism in the arena it is not matched online. The team has a fairly small online presence in comparison to the rest of its Canadian kins, at least by my search it appeared that way. Flames fans do love to talk about their team on local radio stations but that is hardly unique nor is it incredibly exceptional in its volume. The Flames have disappointed their fans the last few years by fielding a strong team only to have it bow out early and it will be interesting if another disappointment will see the sellouts come to a stop. Yet, as the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Finals proved, Calgary can go absolutely crazy for its team and that great feeling has carried over as long as it has is a testament to their fans tremendous dedication.
#8 – Edmonton Oilers – 16.1
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 100% (16,839, 19th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.1
Last Year’s rank: 10th
Justification: To a person glancing quickly at the rankings it may surprise some to see that the Oilers averaged just under 17,000 fans per game, but that’s every seat in Rexall Place. A new arena is coming soon so perhaps Edmonton fans will finally be able to show that they too can bring the fans in with the rest of the elite (attendance) teams in the NHL. No doubt the memories of the Oilers’ dynasty of the 80’s still has a strong aura in Edmonton, but what one must remember is that for many fans in the 18-25 range that most of those glory days were at a time before they were born or really barely able to remember. That lack of shared memory of the ‘glory’ years may eventually play out in the team’s struggle to keep their arena full if the team continues on its standby pattern of winning and losing. Fans in Edmonton crave the up-tempo game that was typified by the Gretzky-Messier-Kurri-Coffey power years, but the teams they’ve had of late have not had a lot of offensive firepower. A Stanley Cup run in 2005 delighted in Edmonton, but it has been downhill since then. Star calibre players like Chris Pronger (and his subsequent defection to Anaheim) and the refusal of very lucrative offers to come to Edmonton by Marian Hossa and now Dany Heatley has made some fans wonder if the team will ever be able to attract superstars anymore. Online Oilers fans have a strong following, which love to debate the issues surrounding the team and asking themselves if the hirings of Tom Renny and Pat Quinn is a good thing. The organization has a great history, and it has done a fair job of embracing that by using its throwback jerseys and was the first NHL team to host a large outdoor NHL regular season game with the Heritage Classic. Eventually that would morph into the NHL Winter Classic which has been a surprising New Year’s Day success story.
#7 – Pittsburgh Penguins – 16.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 100% (16,975, 18th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.2
Last Year’s rank: 14th
Justification: Success usually leads to more people talking about you; one way or another and that has certainly been the case with this year’s Stanely Cup Champions. Like the Washington Capitals, it was not all that long ago that this team was circling the proverbial drain and seemed to be a likely candidate for franchise relocation. A draft lottery jackpot of having the right to draft then wunderkind Sidney Crosby and fortune seemed to smile on Pittsburgh. As Crosby and many of the other high draft choices started to quickly turn the franchise around from laughing stock to contender the fans started to return to the oldest arena in the league. Mellon Arena, ‘the Igloo’ as its better known is antiquated and small by today’s standards and about the only unfortunate thing going for the Penguins this season was that its new (in construction) arena was not built to take full advantage of its two Stanley Cup runs. Online, the Penguins have a strong presence of blogs and message boards. Many of these bloggers grew up watching Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr during the Penguins other mini-dynasty during the early 90’s and now are enjoying a renaissance of sorts with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Sure, its easy to talk about a winner but a bad season or two can get the discussion to become pretty twisted rather quickly.
#6 – Philadelphia Flyers – 16.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 100% (19,545, 4th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.2
Last Year’s rank: 6th
Justification: The fans that can boo Santa Claus or in the case of the 2008-09 season, Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin may not be the kindest fans in the league but they are one of the best fanbases in all of pro sports. Philadelphia sports fans are loud and at times obnoxious but they’re not a group known to sitting on their hands and keeping quiet even when their team’s fortunes turn sour. There is not much difference attendance-wise between the seasons where the Flyers were one of the better teams in the East than the team that was one of the worst. Online the Flyers fans irrasciblity is also shown through a score of blogs and message boards. Fans fill Wachovia Arena and relish the rough and tumble style of play that current General Manager Paul Holmgren is embracing. It is almost a worst sin to Flyers fans to be soft and passive than it is to be a team with a losing record and with the additions of Chris Pronger and Ian Lapperiere will add more sandpaper to a lineup that already features the agitating Daniel Carcillo and tough guy Riley Cote who will give Philadelphia fans plenty to cheer about.
#5 – Vancouver Canucks – 16.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 100% (18,630, 8th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.0
Last Year’s rank: 5th
Justification: I must admit, its somewhat painful to have to admit this but the Vancouver Canucks have some of the best fans in the league. Vancouver fans fill up GM Place each and every night and they’re a demanding audience. Not quite as vicious as Flyers fans, but Vancouver fans will not hesitate to let their team know they are unhappy whether on local radio stations or on the CDC Message boards. Online, the Canucks presence is rather strong but not the top in that category in the league. Vancouver is brimming in expectation of the 2010 Olympic games which may bring out the best or the worst in the city. The city on the ‘left’ coast could very well embarrass Canada (and itself) if they let their strong anti-American sentiment come to the surface in what by all purposes should be the ultimate showcase event for British Columbia. The whole city breathed a collective sigh of relief as General Manager Mike Gillis managed to re-sign the Sedin twins; and who knows how ugly the backlash could’ve been if he had failed. Let’s put it this way, Mike Gillis might have to have been placed under the protection of the Canadian version of the Witness Relocation Program.
#4 – Minnesota Wild – 16.3
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 102.7% (18,568, 9th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.3
Last Year’s rank: 4th
Justification: Some may think this is a total homer pick. Yet the numbers speak for themselves; a very strong online presence and a sellout streak that is well over 250+ consecutive games and still counting. Minnesota hockey fans pride themselves on their knowledge of the game and many were fearing the worst when Jacques Lemaire decided to end his tenure as the team’s bench boss. Yet, within one week the team sent then General Manager Doug Risebrough packing to the joy of a fanbase who had lost its trust in his abilities and there were signs that the fans’ frustrations were reaching a boiling point. Add in Chuck Fletcher as GM and former Golden Gophers star Todd Richards as coach and the team seems to be going in an exciting new direction. Team focused blogs and message boards have been eagerly discussing what to expect of their new team and its advertised ‘new’ direction. In some markets in the U.S. a team can announce a new direction and if it doesn’t really deliver it may not recieve much flak for it; but with a fanbase with a strong hockey tradition the understanding is that we should expect a considerable change in style. Whether that new style will be more successful than what we had with Jacques Lemaire remains to be determined.
#3 – Toronto Maple Leafs – 16.0
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 102.6% (19,312, 5th in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.0
Last Year’s rank: 3rd
Justification: The fans of Toronto have been waiting a long time for something to really cheer about. A team that has been near the league’s basement has not made one dent in the organization’s attendance speaks loudly to the incredible loyalty of the fanbase. Toronto fans keep Canada’s airwaves full of chatter about even the team’s most insignificant moves. Tickets to Air Canada Center are the most expensive in the league which further proves just how deep the fanaticism runs in Canada’s largest city. The team has a fairly strong online fanbase with a host of blogs and message boards but its not nearly as large as one may expect for a team that has so many die hards to its credit. Maple Leaf fans are eager to see General Manager Brian Burke give them something to really get pumped about, and this season he’s added quite a few fists so if the wins do not pile up the fights probably will. With a city bursting full of hockey fans, they’re sure to like the sound of that!
#2 – Chicago Blackhawks – 16.2
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 108% (22,247, 1st in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.2
Last Year’s rank: 21st
Justification: There is no team in the league that has climbed so far so fast as the Chicago Blackhawks who have jumped from 21st last season to #2. The Blackhawks have owed their emergence due to a young, dynamic team as well as a very well orchestrated marketing campaign that has made the NHL relevant again in the Windy City. This was best demonstrated by the hugely successful 2nd NHL Winter Classic held at Wrigley Field. The buzz is certainly in full swing both at the United Center as the Blackhawks had the highest average attendance of any team in the league. It was not really all that long ago when the Blackhawks were being outdrawn by the (AHL) Chicago Wolves! Fans are calling radio shows to discuss the team as well as filling blogs and message boards. The big signing of Marian Hossa has many thinking the Blackhawks are on the verge of a Stanley Cup run, and last year’s trip to the Western Conference Finals also serves to show just how close they are. Certainly there are bandwagon fans, but that totally ignores the fact that many had been driven away over the years by the poor marketing practices as well as the abysmal product that used to be on the ice and many are those who have been re-awakened now that the team seems serious about winning again.
#1 – Montreal Canadiens – 16.5
Pct. of Capacity in 2008-09: 100% (21,273, 2nd in the NHL) Online Presence: 6.5
Last Year’s rank: 1st
Justification: There simply are no other fans in the league that live and die as much by their team as Les Habitants. This can be a double-edged sword as only Toronto can boast the immense level of media pressure that comes close to Montreal. Montreal fans are loud and intense each and every game and they are also fans with very high expectations. A player who does not meet their expectations is mercilessly heckled as evidenced by the bronx cheers given towards young goaltender Carey Price in last season’s playoffs. The fans let the youngster have it and Price played to the crowd in a manner very reminiscent of Habs legend Patrick Roy. Montreal also enjoys a the largest online presence in the league as there are many blogs and message boards dedicated to the team in both French and English. The team has gone through some giant changes this offseason as team captain Saku Koivu and the most talented player Alexei Kovalev was allowed to leave while the team brought in a host of small forwards in their place in Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta. It was a bold and risky move on General Manager Bob Gainey‘s part who may find his job terminated if it doesn’t turn out. Montreal may show up to every game but they do not have much patience for anything less than success