The World's Biggest Ice Hockey Leagues and Championships

It hurts me to admit this, but the first professional ice hockey league originated outside of Canada. I know, it’s hard. I’ll give you a moment to collect your thoughts.

Now, dear reader, the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League, formed in 1902, was the first recognized hockey league in the world. While some of the teams within the league featured semi-professional players, it was the first hockey league to achieve professional designation.

In 1910, the National Hockey Association was established in Montreal, initially an all-Canadian league, the league was rebranded the National Hockey League in 1917 after disputes between ownership groups within the league. The Boston Bruins were the first American team to join the league.

As the game spread across the world, similar professional leagues developed across Europe as more foreign players joined the NHL. Currently, the top leagues in Europe are the following:

  1. Kontinental Hockey League
  2. Swedish Hockey League
  3. NLA (Switzerland)
  4. Finnish Liiga
  5. German DEL

In this guide, will cover the history of the NHL, the top international competitions in the world of hockey, and will quickly go over the Canadian Hockey League and it’s three regional leagues.

National Hockey League (NHL)

nhl ice hockey
The highest level of professional hockey in North America, the NHL has 31 teams (expanding to 32 in 2021) with 24 teams located in the USA and the remaining 7 spread across Canada. The highest level of competition in the world of hockey, the NHL is an incredibly diverse league featuring more than 17 nationalities, of which nearly half are Canadians.

The NHL is the fourth largest professional league in North America, however, it is far and away the largest and most viewed professional sports league in Canada.

As you’d expect, this makes it an apt gaming market for bettors looking to expand their gaming outside of the NFL, NBA, and MLB. You can find additional material on betting strategies specific to ice hockey at Mr. Green.

History of the NHL

As mentioned above, the NHL was created in 1917 after a dispute between ownership groups in the National Hockey Association. The NHL struggled to capture the attention of North Americans in the beginning and this had an adverse effect of league expansion. Initially only featuring six teams, these founding teams were given the moniker the “Original Six”. As their success and rivalries grew, the league was able to capitalize on the regional success of the league and expand into neighbouring markets. A further 6 teams were added in 1967, followed by another 6 in 1974, before a final 3 teams were added in 1979. The NHL would eventually reach 30 teams by 2000. Most recently, a 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights, was added to the league with an additional expansion slot to be awarded for the 2021 season.

How the NHL is structured

The structure of the league has undergone numerous changes and amendments. Currently, the league is separated into two conferences with each conference further divided into divisions.

In the Eastern conference, 16 teams are divided into two divisions, the Metropolitan and Atlantic, respectively. In the Western conference, 15 teams are divided into two divisions, the Pacific and Central, respectively.

The regular season runs from October to April with the playoffs taking place immediately after. An 82 game season, the 16 teams with the best records, 8 from each conference, qualify for the playoffs. Teams then progress through a best of 7 tournament structure until the final two teams, one from each conference, compete for the Stanley Cup in a best of 7 series.

Players in the NHL

Like most professional sports leagues, the NHL is driven by elite talent with a cabal of superstar players dictating the news and headlines across the league. Individually, players are singled out for their achievements in the regular season with awards named after famed players from the past.

The awards are:

  1. William M. Jennings Trophy (best goaltender)
  2. Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (highest goalscorer)
  3. Art Ross Trophy (highest individual point total)

Service to the league is recognized by successful admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame. An honour bestowed upon individuals from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, players, team officials, and the staff that keeping the league humming are available for selection to the HHOF. While many illustrious individuals have been inducted into the HHOF, on November 22, 1991, Wayne Gretzky, more commonly known as “The Great One” was selected a mere six months after his professional playing career ended. Canadians aren’t the most inventive bunch when it comes to adorning our national icons with nicknames. Current NHLer Sidney Crosby was dubbed “The Next One” after he showed promise as a youth player in Junior Hockey before subsequently becoming the greatest living hockey player since the aforementioned Wayne Gretzky. Not to be outdone, a recent entrant to the league, Connor McDavid, was earmarked for stardom at an even earlier age, and is currently having to build his career under the moniker of “ The Chosen One”.

The National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup

ice hockey stanley cup
Lord Stanley’s Cup, more commonly known as the Stanley Cup, is the name given to the most cov-eted trophy in the hockey world. Awarded to the team that successfully navigates the regular sea-son and playoffs, it’s at times been referred to as the most difficult trophy to win in all of profes-sional sports.

Since the 1914-1915 season, the Stanley Cup has been awarded 101 times to a grand total of 23 teams with only 18 still active in the league today. Currently, the Montreal Canadiens lead the league with 24 championships, followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings with 13 and 11 championships, respectively.

History of the Stanley Cup

Once known as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the Stanley Cup has had a long and eventful existence with a number of associations, leagues, and teams competing for the opportunity to be crowned champions. Once the NHL became the preeminent hockey league in North America, the Stanley Cup Finals took centre stage as the marquee championship in the hockey world.

Dynastic franchises exist in every sport and the NHL is no different. As you’ve learned, the Mon-treal Canadiens were once the crown jewel of the NHL with an impressive 23 Stanley Cups. Never-theless, in recent years, tides have shifted and the power of the league has drifted to a select few franchises located in the coastal regions of the USA. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Black-hawks, and the Los Angeles Kings are usually a safe bet when choosing the winner of the league before the start of the season. Hockey is a cyclical sport that’s governed by data and trends that should be a mainstay in the toolkit of any serious bettor.
The last 10 Stanley Cup champions:

Year Winning team Games Losing team
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 Detroit Red Wings
2010 Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Philadelphia Flyers
2011 Boston Bruins 4-3 Vancouver Canucks
2012 Los Angeles Kings 4-2 New Jersey Devils
2013 Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Boston Bruins
2014 Los Angeles Kings 4-1 New York Rangers
2015 Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Tampa Bay Lightning
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 San Jose Sharks
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 Nashville Predators
2018 Washington Capitals 4-1 Vegas Golden Knights

How the Stanley Cup is structured

After the 82 game regular season comes to an end, the NHL playoffs kick off with 16 teams, 8 from each conference, competing in a best of 7 knockout style tournament that culminates in the Stanley Cup Finals when the champions from the Eastern and Western conference battle it out for the championship.

I know it might seem a bit redundant, but blame Gary Bettman and his incessant need to alter rules and constantly shift teams and divisions around to accommodate the many business interests of the league. With that out of the way, here’s a brief rundown of how teams earn a place in the playoffs and the ramifications of their seeding.

Ranked 1 through 8, playoff seeding has a variety of impacts on a teams journey throughout the postseason. For example, in the Eastern conference, the top three teams from the Metropolitan and Atlantic division would be awarded the top six places with their positioning determined by points total. The next two spots are open to any team, from either division, with a winner takes all ap-proach. This is replicated in the Western conference through the Central and Pacific division, re-spectively.

Finally, playoff ranking impacts a teams playing schedule, the number of home games they play in a series, and a team’s successive opponents as they progress through the playoffs. It’s always good to consider playoff matchups and the specific strengths and weaknesses each team possess. The NHL is a league where an 8 seed can go onto become a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.

 

Teams with the highest number of Stanley Cup wins:

Team Appearances Wins Years
Montreal Canadiens 34 24 1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1993
Toronto Maple Leafs 21 13 1918, 1922, 1932,  1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967
Detroit Red Wings 24 11 1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008
Boston Bruins 19 6 1929, 1939, 1941, 1970, 1972, 2011
Chicago Blackhawks 13 6 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013, 2015
Edmonton Oilers 7 5 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990
Pittsburgh Penguins 6 5 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017
New York Rangers 11 4 1928, 1933, 1940, 1994
New York Islanders 5 4 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
New Jersey Devils 5 3 1995, 2000, 2003

Ice Hockey World Championships

ice hockey world championships
The Ice Hockey World Championships, more commonly referred to as “the tournament NHL play-ers who didn’t make the playoffs participate in for a chance at silverware”, is an international hock-ey tournament governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). An important tourna-ment, especially for smaller nations, the tournament is a great showcase for upcoming talent from Canada, United States, Russia, Sweden, and Finland. Unfortunately, because of its proximity to the NHL playoffs, it’s often unable to draw in fan support and media coverage.

At times, mistakenly referred to as the Ice Hockey World Cup, the Ice Hockey World Champion-ships struggles to compete with the acclaim and attention afforded to the Olympics and World Jun-ior Championships.

History of the Ice Hockey World Championships

Interestingly, the Ice Hockey World Championship initially featured at the 1920 Summer Olympics. An odd showcase for an international hockey tournament, the tournament eventually separated from the Summer Olympics and became its own annual international tournament in 1930. Initially, it only featured 12 teams, of which, Canada, was far and away the most successful nation winning 12 competitions between 1930 and 1952.

The USSR had a brief period of supremacy, excuse the pun, from 1963 until its fated split in 1991. Outside of having geopolitical significance, the hockey world grew with an increase of hockey-loving nations growing the pool of talent and competitors on the world stage. Nowadays, Canadians are being markedly stalked by Russia, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Belarus.

How the Ice Hockey World Championships are structured

Operating under a structure that’s similar to the FIFA World Cup, 16 teams are separated into 2 groups with their initial seeding determined by their world rankings at the start of the tournament. The top 4 teams from each group continue on through the tournament and compete on a knockout style structure for the remaining rounds. The finals are decided by the winners of each group section competing in a winner take all game.
Previous editions of the Ice Hockey World Championships and Winter Olympics are the main con-tributing factors when determining a nation’s international ranking. However, the IIHF has recently amended this rule, opting to favour performances from the most recent Ice Hockey World Champi-onships. This was seen by pundits as a move to increase pressure on national federations that were fielding weakened or inexperienced rosters in the tournament.

Players in the Ice Hockey World Championships

Player eligibility has undergone a few amendments in the lead up to the modern era. In 1977, ama-teur players were added to a national federations player pool thereby allowing smaller nations the opportunity to field teams in the hopes of acquiring much-needed experience.
Interestingly, a player who has never featured in the tournament for their assigned nation can turn-out for another country as long as they meet the requirements of the IIHF and possess a valid Inter-national Transfer Card (ITC). Alternatively, a player who has featured in an IIHF competition can also request to represent a different nation as long as they’ve spent a minimum of 4 years playing professional hockey in a domestic league of the country they’ve chosen to represent. A transfer like this is only available to a player once during their international hockey career.

Ice Hockey in the Winter Olympics

ice hockey winter olympics
A staple of the Olympics since the 1920s, ice hockey was predictably transferred to the Winter Olympics in 1924. The most important international tournament in the hockey world, the Winter Olympics is the crown jewel of any hockey player hoping to cement their legacy in their home coun-try.
A round-robin style tournament like the Ice Hockey World Championships, the tournament progress to a qualifying medal round with medals awarded to the teams by their accumulated point totals. In 1988, the competition was amended to accommodate the schedule of the NHL season while also incorporating rules and regulations from the NHL. Most notably, a preliminary round that restricted the involvement of NHL players from six nations was overturned. The six nations were the USA, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the Czech Republic. Effective in 2006, NHL players were permitted to play in the five preliminary games before the start of the tournament. This resolution allowed the aforementioned teams to workshop their rosters throughout the preliminary stages be-fore the start of the tournament.

History of Ice Hockey in the Winter Olympics

Not surprisingly, with the professional ranks still relatively new, ice hockey was an emerging compe-tition at the Olympics. Entering in 1920, the tournament was initially mired in controversy when the Palais de Glace managing organization banned the Olympics from using its facilities if it refused to include ice hockey in the competition.

Ice hockey has greatly benefited from the exposure of the Olympics and has provided the game an organic outreach campaign into nations that never perceived themselves as hockey enthusiasts. Moreover, it’s increased exposure cemented the viability of ice hockey as an additional gaming market.

How Ice Hockey in the Winter Olympics is structured

In 1976, the format of the competition featured 12 teams competing in a round-robin style tourna-ment with medals assigned to teams by their accumulated points totals. This was amended in 1998 when the NHL granted special permission for players to participate in the 1998 Winter Olympics. The tournament was expanded to include 14 teams before returning to 12 teams 8 years later.
Ranking for teams is decided by the IIHF World rankings with the six powerhouse nations the USA, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the Czech Republic bypassing the preliminary round and entering the tournament at the round-robin phase. Successive qualifying rounds take place be-fore the beginning of the tournament to determine the rest of the teams eligible to compete in the tournament. First, teams with a ranking of 30 to 19 participate in qualifications with the top three ranking teams entering a further round of games with teams ranked 18 to 10. At the end of this round, the top three ranking teams join the previous three teams as the entrants into the Olympics.

Players in the Winter Olympics

In a discussion that closely tracked headlines surrounding international Basketball and Soccer com-petitions at the 1982 Summer Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was straining to define the limits of what players qualified for the 1984 Winter Olympics and if professional ath-letes should be permitted to compete. The IOC ruled that professional players contracted to NHL teams would only be eligible to compete if the player in question had played under 10 games. This became a point of contention with the U.S. Olympic Committee asserting that all NHL players should be permitted to compete and that this rule unjustly ruled against them. After much conster-nation, in 1988, the IOC repealed its original ruling and allowed all professional athletes to be eligi-ble for the Winter Olympics.
In recent years, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has shared his displeasure with the IOC and their attempts to circumvent the NHL schedule by arranging the Winter Olympics during the regular season. Responding to this apparent slight, he forbid NHL players from competing in the 2018 games in Sochi. Nevertheless, some Russian players, most notably, Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin, ignored the requests of Commissioner Bettman and proceeded to play in the Winter Olympics.

Memorial Cup

elite ice hockey league
The Memorial Cup is a trophy awarded to the champion of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The CHL is a junior ice hockey championship in Canada that encompasses three leagues: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL). In total, the CHL has 60 teams with the WHL leading the way with 22 teams, fol-lowed by the OHL with 20 teams, and the QMJHL with 18 teams.

The Memorial Cup is contested by the three champions of each respective league with the host city earning entry into the tournament through a random draw that rotates throughout the CHL each year.

As a junior league championship, CHL results can be hard to predict at times, but it’s one of the only gaming markets where bookmakers and bettors are at similar disadvantages with odds nearly 50/50 for participating parties. Mr Green can help you out with learning more about sports betting strategies.

History of the Memorial Cup

Originally known as the OHA Memorial Cup, the Ontario Hockey Association donated the trophy to the Canadian Junior Championships as a way to honour Canadian soldiers who sacrificed their lives protecting the values and ethics of all Canadians in WWI. In 2010, the Memorial Cup was re-dedicated to all fallen Canadian military personnel as a promise to renew our appreciation for their sacrifices with every successive tournament.

 

The most recent Memorial Cup winners:

Year Winner Score Loser
2015 Oshawa Generals 2-1 (OT) Kelowna Rockets
2016 London Knights 3-2 (OT) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
2017 Windsor Spitfires 4-3 Erie Otters
2018 Acadie-Bathurst Titan 3-0 Regina Pats

How the Memorial Cup is structured

Existing in various formats before 1972, the Memorial Cup tournament as we know it today was established as a round-robin tournament contested by the champions of each division of junior hockey within the CHL. The host team, chosen by a draw, and the champions of the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL, compete in a round-robin series followed by a winner take all finale contested by the two top teams.

Players in the Memorial Cup

The Memorial Cup is the most prestigious trophy in junior hockey and is contested by players from a variety of backgrounds all competing in the CHL. While the majority of players are Canadian, play-ers from the USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and countless other nationalities from across the world have featured in the tournament.
As the premier junior competition, the CHL, and by extension the Memorial Cup tournament, is a showcase for junior players looking to make their dreams of professional ice hockey careers a reality.

The Allan Cup

elite cup ice hockey
The Allan Cup is one of the oldest ice hockey trophies in North America. An annual tournament contested by the best amateur men’s teams in Canada, the tournament is currently entering it’s 108th edition and is set to take place in Lacombe, Alberta in 2019.

18 teams, originating from 10 provinces, 1 territory, and the United States compete for the honour of hoisting Canada’s National Senior Championships trophy.

History of The Allan Cup

Famously, the Allan Cup was established by Sir H. Montague Allan as an amateur trophy for senior men’s teams across Canada as an achievement to be strived after within the amateur ranks. Initially operating as a challenge trophy, winners of the Allan Cup fielded offers from amateur league cham-pions across the country looking to try their luck against the current champions. As interest in the cup grew, a formal league structure was established with the Canadian Hockey Association coming into existence in 1914. The Allan Cup was chosen by the association as the trophy for the senior amateur hockey championship of Canada.

 

Most recent Allan Cup winners:

Year Winner Score Loser
2015 South East Prairie Thunder 2-0 Bentley Generals
2016 Bentley Generals 4-3 South East Prairie Thunder
2017 Grand-Falls Windsor Cataracts 7-4 Lacombe Generals
2018 Stoney Creek Generals 7-4 Lacombe Generals

How The Allan Cup is structured

The Allan Cup is a round-robin tournament that utilizes the same structure as the Memorial Cup. A host city, chosen by a draw, participates in a tournament with regional champions from each province in Canada, the territory of the Yukon, and the best amateur team from the United States. The selected teams compete in a round-robin series followed by a winner take all finale contested by the two top teams.

Players in the Allan Cup

As a tournament comprised of senior men’s amateur teams, players in the tournament must be qualified amateurs and can not have competed in a professional league in the last calendar year.

Conclusion

An extensive guide, ice hockey and it’s many tournaments, leagues, and national associations each play an important part in growing the awareness of the game while also increasing the standards of professional conduct within the sporting world.
At Mr. Green, we’re excited to bring our customers up to date information and thoroughly re-searched content with the goal of enhancing our customers playing experience.
The NHL and all the available ice hockey markets currently offered at Mr. Green provide a unique opportunity to combine analytical frameworks and tools to maximize your gaming experience. Nev-ertheless, sometimes, you just have to trust your gut!
If you’re looking for a new market, try the NHL and see if ice hockey is the game for you!