Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hockeytown, USA?

Does Detroit really deserve the title? Or is Boston more deserving?

I have been mulling over this question for the past couple months as it randomly comes up in hockey conversations. Originally, I had planned to write about the NHL's policy, or lack thereof, regarding suspensions after illegal hits in the wake of the Van Ryn incident. However, I was beaten to the punch by Tom at HCtB which proved quite fortunate for me seeing as my attempt at the topic would have paled in comparison to his well-written and carefully thought-out masterpiece. So instead, I will write about this trivial matter... onwards to the debate!

NHL Success:
– Founded in 1924, Original Six member
– Seventeen Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Five victories
– Marquee players: Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque

– Founded in 1926, Original Six member
– Twenty-three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Eleven victories
– Marquee players: Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Steve Yzerman

At first glance, Detroit clearly holds the advantage here based on Cup victories but when you look at the facts, it is no longer quite so clear. The majority of their victories (7 of 11) are tainted by the grossly unfair practices present in the early days of the NHL. For the majority of its infancy, the NHL did not have an amateur draft but instead enforced an exclusivity policy. The policy ensured that franchises had absolute rights to players living within a 50-mile radius of their city. This was clearly detrimental to Boston, New York and Chicago as they were therefore blocked from the majority of Canadian prospects. (That is not even considering the fact that both New York and Boston are port cities and thus half their territory would be the Atlantic Ocean!) Detroit was mostly unaffected by this unjust policy since talent-rich southern Ontario fell within its territorial boundaries. This absurd policy remained in place until the advent of the amateur draft in 1963 but it had a major impact on all six franchises throughout the rest of the decade.

A second situation working in Detroit’s favor was its owner James Norris. This powerful figure actually controlled all four American franchises through varying means (purchased Chicago through a syndicate, major shareholder in Rangers, held mortgages for Bruins), allowing him to neglect them to further the causes of his Red Wings. Evidence of his lack of investment can be seen when looking at NHL playoff history from 1941 to 1970 as the trio only managed one Cup victory (Chicago ’61). It is even more evident when considering the fact that the ‘Haves’ only missed the playoffs in favor of a ‘Have-Not’ eight times over the three decades! Needless to say, Boston (as well as Chicago and New York) were at a major competitive disadvantage and any early NHL success should be reconsidered appropriately.

Local Success:
– Hosts the Beanpot, arguably the most famous amateur hockey tournament in the US.
– Four D-1 NCAA hockey programs (Northeastern, Harvard, BC, BU)
– Eight NCAA Championships in twenty-one appearances (4 and 11 in past 2 decades)*
– 161 NHL players**

– One D-1 NCAA hockey program (U of Michigan 45 miles away)
– Nine NCAA Championships in eleven appearances (2 and 2 in past 2 decades)*
– 111 NHL players**

Boston has a clear advantage in this regard, especially when considering that Detroit’s only collegiate presence is actually in Ann Arbor (but was included for arguments sake). The difference between the two is even more resounding when you consider the fact that the majority UofM’s success came in the 50’s while BU and BC have dominated the 90’s and 00’s. Add in the sizeable advantage in NHL talent Massachusetts holds over Michigan and it would seem clear that Boston is more deserving of the title of Hockeytown, USA.


* BU: 4-5 record, BC: 3-6 record, Harvard: 1-2 record, UofM: 9-2 recordYears of titles and appearances can be found here.

** Based on birthplace starting in 1918. Minnesota leads the way with 193 NHL players, with MA and MI second and third respectively. Values found here.


Rian Murray said...

No mention of Cam Neely? No mention of Lidstrom? C'mon Doh.

Anonymous said...

Any discussion about American Hockey's epicenter which excludes Minnesota is simply incomplete. Why cant Michigan and Eastern collegiate programs play all homegrown talent like Minnesota does? Its because they don't have it.

The Bastahd said...

Unexpected comment so late after posting.

I agree that Minnesota is the top place for hockey talent in the US but the problem is there is no one centralized location as there is in Boston or Detroit. An easy compromise would be to call Minnesota the 'State of Hockey'.

As for MA not having homegrown talent, I beg to differ. It has the second most NHL players among US states and I would wager that New England has produced more NHL talent than has Minnesota.