As someone who was born in the 80’s (1983) and became a hockey fanatic in the early 90’s, it was always hard for me to imagine the sport being played in warmer climates.
I worried about things like ice conditions, fans showing up to games, and if a team could survive in that kind of market. I never thought that places like Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, California, Nevada, or Washington could have NHL teams.
Boy, was I wrong. Four of the six states mentioned above all had teams in the postseason last year.
So, why are these unsuspecting hockey markets having success? Winning games and getting into the playoffs is a major factor.
For example, the Nashville Predators is a franchise that usually makes the postseason year in and year out. The Predators’ success on the ice has helped hockey grow immensely not only throughout Nashville but throughout other southern states in the U.S. as well.
The San Jose Sharks used to be like the Predators in terms of success, but they have recently fallen on hard times and are in the midst of a rebuild. Prior to that, however, the Sharks were a perennial postseason contender.
While the Arizona Coyotes have certainly gone through a lot of tough times, whether it was with ownership or arena problems, the team is building towards being in a good position to have success on the ice again. They have a lot of solid prospects in their system, and within the next few seasons, they should be able to fight for a playoff spot.
When it comes to the state of Florida, they have two great hockey teams. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and then again in 2020 and 2021.
The Florida Panthers were the league’s best team in 2022 and went to the Final last season. They are also well-positioned for success in the next several seasons.
The Los Angeles Kings are the team that really started it all when it comes to hockey succeeding in strange places. It started for the Kings when the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings back in 1988.
As soon as Gretzky arrived in the Sun Belt, California started to look at hockey in a much different way. It was not just a casual game anymore, rather, it was one that was taken up to not only have fun in but to have success in as well.
The Kings won the Cup both in 2012 and 2014. They also usually find a way to make the playoffs on a somewhat regular basis.
Ever since they joined the league for the 2017-18 season, the Vegas Golden Knights have been a success. They made the Final in their first season and lost to the Washington Capitals in five games and then won it last season in five games over the Panthers.
That brings us to the Seattle Kraken. After being one of the worst teams in the league in their first year in 2021-22, they made the playoffs last season and knocked out the defending Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in seven games.
With the way hockey is portrayed these days, the game could use all the bandwagon or non-traditional fans it can to help continue to grow the game of hockey in strange places.