What NHL Team Should I Root For? A Team Picking Guide

Posted on April 19, 2024 by Dan Kent
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With the National Hockey League having 32 teams, it can be daunting to pick a favourite team if you're just getting involved with the sport.

In this article, I will go over some guidelines and situations you can utilize to help you pick out a particular team to root for in the NHL if you're currently on the fence.

I'll also discuss some general misconceptions about the National Hockey League and being a fan of the sport.

Let's get right into it.

How do I choose an NHL team to root for?

As new hockey fans, picking a team to root for is not an easy task. However, there are some things you can take into consideration that will certainly help you make a commitment. Let's get into them.

Stick to the home team

Suppose you're from a large city in the United States or Canada. In that case, you likely already have a team that plays in the National Hockey League. This can often be the easiest thing to turn to when picking a favourite franchise for many reasons.

For one, if you enjoy the city you live in, it makes perfect sense to have a sense of pride and fellowship in the team that plays out of your home city. Secondly, you could attend live games and watch the games on television without any regional restrictions if you lived in the area.

Keep in mind, depending on your area, there could be multiple teams to support that I'd classify as the "home team." For example, living in New York, you could easily justify cheering for the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, or even the New Jersey Devils.

If you live in Los Angeles, cheering for the Anaheim Ducks or the Los Angeles Kings wouldn't be outrageous. And if you're from Alberta, Canada, you could easily cheer for the Edmonton Oilers even if you lived in Calgary, a city which hosts the Calgary Flames.

Your favourite style of play

You could be a sports fan who enjoys a gruelling defensive matchup or a high-flying offensive game. You may even like a punishing, physical battle where players leave it all on the ice night in and night out.

Depending on the type of game you like to watch will heavily influence the team you may choose to watch if you're just starting out watching hockey. Historically, many teams have developed a reputation for their play style. Although it may change occasionally, they tend to stick to their guns.

For example, during the strongest years of the Edmonton Oilers, they've always been noted as a high-flying offensive team that routinely trades chances with the opposition, knowing they can outscore them. This is as true today in the Connor McDavid era as in the 80s when they had Wayne Gretzky.

On the contrary, although they're starting to shift their strategy, the Minnesota Wild have historically been known as a defensive team that patiently waits for its opponent out and pounces on chances while giving up next to none.

And finally, the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers have always had team reputations that are more on the physical, bruising, intimidating style of play. The "Big Bad Bruins" and "Broadstreet Bullies" are often their team nicknames.

Whatever makes you most excited to watch hockey in terms of style of play will likely heavily influence the team you decide to cheer for.

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Your favourite player

You may have started watching hockey solely based on a single player. Maybe you started watching because you heard Connor McDavid is one of the most advanced players in the game today. Or perhaps you heard Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals is close to becoming the all-time leading goal scorer in the league.

Regardless of how you started watching, if you've developed a liking for a particular player, picking an NHL team to follow will be relatively easy. Many fans who adopt this strategy for picking a team to root for will stick with the team even after the player leaves or retires.

Recent success or failure

It's not hard to gravitate towards teams that have had recent success in the league, especially as a new fan. Whether you do this or not will depend on your preferences regarding sticking with a winner or rooting for an underdog.

Being a hockey fan, I've found it's a mixed bag regarding fan preferences. I've found that some love the underdog as new fans and then stick with that team as they progress, and some like the best teams at that current time and tend to stick with them as they inevitably fall off and become an underdog themselves.

One thing is certain, however. In the salary cap age of the NHL, it is very difficult for a team to be successful year in and year out. So, if you decide to cheer for a top-tier team, just know they likely won't stay there long.

Rivalries

There are many intense rivalries in the National Hockey League. Suppose you are a new fan and tune into a game between two rivals. In that case, this can undoubtedly draw your attention and help you develop an admiration for a particular team.

When we think of heated rivalries, some very common pairs of teams come to mind:

  • Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins
  • Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames
  • Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals
  • Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Redwings

For the most part, these rivalries are developed due to the geographical location of the teams. However, they can also be developed due to a long stretch of matchups in both the regular season and playoffs that causes the teams and fan bases to hate each other.

A particular example that stands out to me was the fierce rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars in the late 90s and early 2000s, as the teams consistently met each other in the postseason and had many fierce playoff games. This rivalry has now faded due to the NHL adopting inter-divisional playoff matches. However, it was undoubtedly intense at the time.

The fan base

The current attitude and acceptance of the team by its fan base certainly can sway a new fan into cheering for that team. The idea of cheering for a team whose building is half-empty and quiet every night is not as attractive as cheering for a team that consistently sells out the building and gets top-tier support from their fans.

The fan base's reputation and attitude towards the game and team are different depending on the team. For example, the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens are well known for having a loud and boisterous fan base, making the arena particularly difficult to play in and a fun team to cheer for. 

The jersey or logo

Picking a team based on the colour or design of their jersey seems trivial. However, it is essential to many new fans when picking a team to cheer for. Even though I didn't end up cheering for them as a child, I was a huge fan of the Anaheim Mighty Duck's logo and jersey colours.

The history of the team

A team with past success certainly draws the attention of new fans to the game. For example, an Original Six team like the Detroit Red Wings will draw in more fans than a newer franchise with no history, like the Vegas Golden Knights or Columbus Blue Jackets. However, with Vegas recently winning a Stanley Cup, this could certainly change things.

Equally as attractive in terms of choosing a team to root for, some may like the expansion nature of the Golden Knights or the Seattle Kraken. Something about a "new" or fresh team tends to draw interest.

Overall, you just need to find out what part of history draws your interest, and you can utilize this as a small building block in picking your favourite NHL team.

The team's history in terms of winning

Some may get this confused with the history of the team. However, they're very different. Although many fans are drawn to a team like the New York Rangers because they're an Original 6 team with a storied history, many may appreciate newer yet more successful teams. Take, for instance, the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, or Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won more cups in a much shorter timespan and each built out an impressive dynasty.

Recent success or failure is a significant deciding factor when choosing a favourite team in the National Hockey League. However, historical success and notable events also draws in many prospective fans.

Family ties

Suppose your father, grandfather, or even second cousin likes a particular NHL team. In that case, you may want to keep the family dinners civil and cheer for the same team.

I was just kidding, of course. However, many families do end up cheering for the same team simply because children or young adults in the family witness adults watching a particular team play.

However, this isn't always the case. In some situations, it can be the opposite. Many people in die-hard Calgary Flames families become Edmonton Oilers fans, and vice versa. The same can be said about die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf families having Montreal Canadien fans.

I can't quite say precisely why this is. However, if I were to guess, it would simply be from the rivalries both teams share and the fact there has likely been a lot of hockey played and watched between the two teams, and one family member simply decided to cheer for the opposing team.

Is it OK to like two NHL teams?

Absolutely. Nothing in the rulebook states you cannot support one, two, three, or even ten teams in the National Hockey League. The most important thing is that you're enjoying the game of hockey.

It could be argued that casting a wider net and cheering for more teams in the National Hockey League can be a more enjoyable way to experience the game. Picking a single hockey team and watching them go on a long Stanley Cup drought can be mentally taxing.

Like or hate as many teams as you want. You have no limits as a fan.

Overall, just pick a favourite team and roll with it

Use the factors above and anything else you can think of, and simply adopt a favorite team and roll with it. If you've fallen out of love with your current favourite team, simply pick a new one.

There is nothing written in stone about how hockey fan needs to act or the dedication they have to have to their favourite team. I know plenty of people who have simply followed star players around to new teams, cheering for whatever team they land with. You could argue that they have no favourite team but just favourite players. However, in the end, who cares? They're watching and enjoying hockey, which is the point of the sport.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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