When you think NHL, “The Original Six” immediately come to mind. Despite the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals being held in the Edmonton bubble, the two teams representing the Eastern and Western Conferences hail from the south.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and The Dallas Stars are probably the best examples of hockey flourishing in a southern market. This will be each clubs third Stanley Cup final appearance, with each club only having one Stanley Cup a piece. The Stars won their cup in 99, and the Bolts won their cup in 2004. As of right now only the Stars, Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes are the only southern teams to win a Stanley Cup with the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers having won a conference championship in their conference. But not all southern markets have seen success.
The NHL expanded into the south with the Atlanta Flames now the Calgary Flames in the early seventies in hope of cutting off the growing rival World Hockey Association (WHA) from expanding into potential markets. The Flames during there Atlanta run were pretty mediocre only making it to the first round of the playoffs during their run in the mid seventies. With low attendance the ownership group sold the club to Calgary in 1980. Atlanta would not see pro hockey again until 1999 when the city was awarded another NHL franchise the Atlanta Thrashers. The team only made the playoffs once in their history. Due to lack of attendance the team was sold in 2011 to a group based in Winnipeg, reviving the Winnipeg Jets. This is sad for Atlanta Hockey fans hoping for their 3rd stint in the NHL.
After the fail of the Flames, the NHL would not look into Southern Expansion until they relocated the Minnesota North Stars to Dallas which are now the Dallas Stars.
The expansions into Florida for the league are both hit in miss with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, and the Florida Panthers in 1993. The Panthers are always in talks of relocation but I feel the league like their place in the Miami area so I am sure they are staying put.
The Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina becoming the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. Bringing another southern team into the league.
As of now the last southern expansion team was the Nashville Predators. The club has a huge fan base earning the “Smashville” nickname from their fans. Within the last five years the club has been in a Winter Classic and a Stanley Cup Final, and despite losing in both efforts.
With the league expanding into the West as of late with the Las Vegas Golden Knights and their 32nd franchise Seattle Kraken, I think it’s safe to say the NHL might look towards the South for future expansion, I’m looking at you Houston.
The winner of this years Stanley Cup will not only have Lord Stanley but also be the new front runners of southern hockey , proving that if you put a good product on the ice fans in any market will support a team whether it’s in Dallas or Tampa Bay. Go Bolts!