Saturday, July 03, 2004

Where NHL Players Come From

The following is a list of the places of origin for all current NHL players, based on the active rosters on as of 6/23/04. This data is intended to give a general idea of where players are coming from. I do not vouch for the numbers to be precisely accurate, as some players were not on the active rosters listed on when I researched the subject, and I did not feel the need to search these players out individually. Europe/Other Czechoslovakia: 79 Russia: 58 Sweden: 44 Finland: 28 Germany: 5 Switzerland: 3 Poland: 2 Brazil: 1 Brunei: 1 France: 1 England: 1 South Korea: 1 Austria: 1 Northern Ireland: 1 South Africa: 1
Total Europe/Other: 227
United States Massachusetts: 21 Minnesota: 19 Michigan: 15 New York: 15 Rhode Island: 4 Ohio: 4 Connecticut: 4 Indiana: 4 Illinois: 4 California: 3 Colorado: 2 New Jersey: 2 Virginia: 2 Alaska: 2 Delaware: 1 Washington DC: 1 Oklahoma: 1 New Hampshire: 1 Utah: 1 Florida: 1 Texas: 1 Washington: 1 Georgia: 1 Maryland: 1 Pennsylvania: 1 Missouri: 1 Vermont: 1 Nebraska: 1 Iowa: 1
Total United States: 116
Canada Ontario: 146 Alberta: 66 Quebec: 64 Saskatchewan: 35 British Columbia: 35 Manitoba: 17 Newfoundland: 6 Nova Scotia: 6 New Brunswick: 3 Prince Edward Island: 2 Northwest Territory: 1
Total Canada: 381
Total NHL players documented: 724 Percentages: Canada: 52.6% United States: 16.0% Europe/Other: 31.4% As seen in the data, the majority of NHL players come from Canada, which only has six teams. This is because Canada boasts a top-notch minor league hockey system, and hockey is the beloved national pastime of Canada. The United States is home to the other 24 teams in the NHL. Even though nearly all corners of the continental United States harbor hockey, there are only localized niches of the country that actually produce NHL players. During his reign as NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman has made a strong effort of trying to diversify the NHL fanbase. This has led to expansion clubs springing up well below the Mason Dixon Line, something that hockey traditionalists are hard-pressed to accept. Hockey in Paradise Even though Florida can only get credit for one current NHL player, the state hosts two teams in the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Florida's lone player is Dan Hinote of the Colorado Avalanche. Hinote was born in Leesburg, Florida, but raised in hockey-rich Minnesota, in a city called Elk River, just north of Minneapolis. This phenomenon leads to my main thesis:
Can the NHL broaden its market to tropical states and hockey-deficient communities, which produce no NHL talent, and expect to survive there? And is it in good standing with The Game to import players without producing any talent locally?
I don't want to single out Florida as the microcosm of what many states are in the NHL, but the fact that the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 makes the Sunshine State fair game. Tampa Bay Lightning Looking at the Tampa Bay roster, 15 players come from Canada, 3 from Czechoslovakia, 3 from Russia, 3 from the United States (New York, Colorado, Minnesota), and 1 from Sweden. Imported talent from the north won the Cup for the Lightning. Heck, they even have to import their owner in Detroiter Bill Davidson. Note: European players are imported no matter what team you are, so I will subtract them out of my equation for the time being. When a team like the Wings win the Cup, I find it more acceptable that the imported talent is merely across the Detroit River. In addition, the city of Detroit produces its own NHL talent (Michigan: 15 NHL players), so it's not like Detroit is only importing players for its team. If you take from The Game, you must give, and that means produce NHL talent. And something about hockey reminds me of ice. Wait, the game is played on a rink of ice, something that is meteorologically impossible in tropical locations. The simple fact that Floridian kids aren't able to go to the local pond and skate hurts the chances of the Sunshine State ever becoming a significant producer of NHL talent. It's kind of like expecting Canadians to become world-class surfers and compete with Hawaiians and Californians. And would it really make sense for Canada to organize its own surfing league and import southern talent? The culture of certain regions of the United States just doesn't fit ice-sports, just as Canadian culture doesn't fit surfing. Yet Gary Bettman is attempting what appears to be the impossible, thinking that the imported ice will never melt in the South. I'm no pessimist, but I'm starting to see slush... Rat Race Sure, the 1996 Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals, and even though they were swept by the Avs in 4 games, it seemed like a hockey craze began in Miami. The whole throwing the rats on the ice bit was a play on the Wings' tradition of throwing the octopus. It looked like the state of hockey was strong in Miami. Wrong. When the team slumped in seasons after, the bandwagons of fans left the Panthers. And with the Tampa Bay Lightning victorious as Stanley Cup champions, look for the same to happen to them if the 2004-2005 season proves a bust. Interest is quickly lost in these southern expansion teams, a volatility that may end up sending these businesses down the tubes. It is more of a fad than a fabric of their culture. Remember Beanie Babies? Take, but not Give The idea that the state of Florida is mooching the hockey talent of the north without producing any of its own talent is a sticking point for me. While I will give the southern states some time, as the impact of the expansion teams hits, I do expect a reflexive participation in the game. To be in good standing with the game, these new enclaves of hockey must work harder at getting minor league teams going and making their own impact on the game. If the fans take The Game solely as entertainment, and the kids aren't emulating their hockey heroes on the local rink, hockey is not doing well down south. If hockey is going to become bigger in the United States, particularly in certain states like Florida, more talent has to be produced at home. For perspective, all areas of the United States are way behind these foreign countries in producing talent. But in comparing production from hotbeds like Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, and Minnesota to these other states, I find myself dissatisfied. Now I'm not saying at all that I'm against European or Canadian players, these are some of the best players in the league and the NHL couldn't function without them. With that said, and considering that 24 NHL teams have homes in the States, I think it'd be positive for more players to come from the United States. Interest in hockey at all levels, not only NHL, but pee-wee, minor league, and NCAA, will get the gears rolling on more talent production in the States. In fact, it almost seems like there are more teams located in the United States where hockey isn't produced than where it is. Here's an objective list of producers and non-producers for states that have a current NHL team: Producers (5+ current NHL players) New York - Sabres, Rangers, Islanders - (15) Massachusetts - Bruins - (21) Michigan - Red Wings - (15) Minnesota - Wild - (19) Non Producers (<5) Pennsylvania - Penguins, Flyers - (1) New Jersey - Devils -(2) Florida - Panthers, Lightning - (1) Washington DC - Capitals - (1) Missouri - Blues - (1) Tennessee - Predators - (0) Ohio - Blue Jackets - (4) Illinois - Blackhawks - (4) Colorado - Avalanche - (2) California - Mighty Ducks, Kings, Sharks - (3) Texas - Stars - (1) Arizona - Coyotes - (0) Carolinas - Hurricanes - (0) Georgia - Thrashers - (0) Among the non-producers, I'll give a temporary pardon to states that have only recently received the game: Arizona, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Carolinas. But this pardon is only on the condition that the fans in these states not only support their NHL teams but a grassroots effort to get hockey going on lower levels of the playing field. This is how talent is produced. Clearly, the hotbed of NHL talent in the United States is coming from a swath of states in New England and the Midwest. This is partially because of the weather conditions of the region, but also because Canada lies close to the north and Original Six cities of Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York were where the league started in 1926. Now, I don't ever expect Florida, or any other hockey-new states, to become Ontario's or Michigan's of hockey production. I understand the constraints of their weather patterns, and how the culture of the South works against them playing the "Yankees' game." I would just like to see these states work at increasing their NHL talent, because it is their responsibility to The Game to produce talent if they are importing it. To be truly successful in the South, NHL teams must transcend their business as entertainment and become a part of Southern culture.


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