So you’ve made it to Unrestricted Free Agent status, Hockey Player X. Congratulations.
The neat part about this is that you just happen to be a really great player, and everyone wants you. You can literally choose to play for whichever team in the NHL. Who’s it gonna be? Where do you want to live?
Every player in the NHL, as with every person in all walks of life, has their personal reasons for making the life decisions they do. Some people choose to live in Hollywood, some in South Dakota. Some NHLers choose to live in New York City, others in Winnipeg (well…the latter is rare, but you get the point).
Often money and employment play a large part in where we choose to live, so let’s strip those away entirely. Let’s say you’re in your late 20s threatening 30, and you’re going to sign a deal for the next few seasons (any longer and we’re getting too hypothetical). Every team in the league is offering you the exact same dollar amount. Who cares what it is – just assume you’re going to be a fairly rich person, given that every team in the league wants you.
From a general standpoint over the next few years, what would be the most appealing team in the league to sign with, given the city and it’s weather, the team’s chances of winning the Cup (or of at least being a playoff team), the fans, the building, your teammates, just every general thing?
I’ll do my best to strip away personal biases. Certain ones like “I have family on Long Island” are easy to get rid of, but stuff like “I prefer the city of Boston to New Jersey” is going to be part of the process.
It’s the summer of 2013. What teams are the most appealing to unrestricted free agents?
“Grand Slam. Couldn’t Be Happier”
1. Boston Bruins
And your winnner is… wait, you already saw, didn’t you? Hm, maybe I should’ve done this in reverse order.
Anyway, from where I sit the Boston Bruins are, and will be, the most desirable team to be a part of over the next few seasons.
The pros of choosing Boston to me seem pretty endless. You’re pulling on the respected logo of a team who’s had success in recent years. You get to live in Boston, a wonderful city. Despite some serious house-cleaning in the off-season, there’s no doubt that the team is going to be competitive over the next few seasons. That’s not to say they’re going to win the Cup, but they’ll have as much of a chance as anyone. They have a good GM who takes winning seriously, and is always trying to improve his club. The team will spend to the cap. You have a great fan base. Your travel is nearly as good as it gets, in that clump on the east coast. You don’t have to like their owner to acknowledge that the Bruins are a rock-solid organization.
2. New York Rangers
The Rangers are a close runner-up. Granted, this one is very much personal preference – I love big cities, and the thought of being rich in a big city sounds amazing. Manhattan offers players the perfect mix of fame and privacy, given that there are a zillion Ranger fan, but you’re basically a low-level celebrity so you can still get out and enjoy the city without getting mobbed. Your travel is amazing, the team will spend to the cap and compete, you’ve got a rock in net and you’re part of an original six team, meaning you get perks like Winter Classics and TV coverage. I’m obviously not a Rangers fan, but I acknowledge that playing for them would be pretty top drawer.
3. Los Angeles Kings
If living in the concrete jungle isn’t your style, maybe the beach is. The way players live on the Kings is ridiculous, between Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach, Hermosa Beach, Venice Beach, BEACH BEACH BEACH. The winter weather is some of the best in the league, and oh yeah, the team is effing excellent, and will continue to be. Another team that’ll spend, another GM who will pursue the big dogs and general success at all costs. There’s some real high-end talent on the club already, and as a player looking for a place to go for a few years, that’s a major draw. “Where do we play this week? San Jose, Anaheim, and Vancouver? Sure, sounds fun.”
4. Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago would be a near dream-come-true of a team to play for too. Couple of Stanley Cups in the past handful of years with a young core of stars that will compete year-in, year-out. One of the best cities in the league. An organization with great tradition and an awesome building that they pack with fans. Another quality GM set on winning with an owner willing to spend what he has to. And like the Rangers, you’re the type of well-known organization that’s never overlooked for the Winter Classic. Go Hawks.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh basically only sits this far down because I love the other cities so much, but there’s really not anything but great things to say about playing for the Pens in their current state. First and foremost, you get to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which is a privilege in itself. You’ve got a great building, a competitive team, a savvy GM, a team that’ll spend, and great location. What more do you want, buddy?
6. Philadelphia Flyers
I was really torn on the order of Pitt and Philly, because I think Philadelphia is an awesome city – the Penguins only stay ahead with the Crosby bump. Say what you want about Paul Holmgren’s moves, there’s going to be a lot of talent in orange sweaters next season. I think they’re going to be a playoff team the next few seasons, and I know they have great location for travel and great fans. They’re on the “prestigious organization” list. I’d go there in a heartbeat.
“Great, This Is Gonna Be Awesome”
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs situation really comes down to personal preference, so it’s all about the individual. In my case, I’d love to play for the Leafs. If you play in Toronto you can be a schlub and get a stick deal. And if you’re on the Leafs, you’re famous in a big city. And being famous comes with perks, whether that means at restaurants or romantically. Toronto is a great place to live, and while the team may not be great – and oh boy, that might be an understatement – to me there are few better places to be a pro hockey player. They’re like the Yankees, minus all that burdensome success.
8. Vancouver Canucks
I’m a BC boy, so maaaybe my bias has seeped in a bit here, but I just think living in beautiful Vancouver on the ocean while playing for a competitive team sounds amazing. You know they’re going to do their level-best to load up for a few final runs at the Cup during the Sedin era, so you can expect to have some success. The fans are as passionate as they come outside of Toronto and Montreal, so again – you’re a pretty famous dude if you’re a Vancouver Canuck. I’m in.
9. Montreal Canadiens
Playing in Montreal would be undeniably wicked, with the only knock being that, y’know, I’m a unilingual English speaker, and that’s not ideal. But this clump of three Canadian cities provides the fame-factor, which some people find appealing. The Habs are poised to be pretty decent, they have great travel down the east coast, and they by all accounts play in one of the best barns in the league (thanks largely to the fans). Lotta history there too. I’d be a happy Montreal Canadien.
10. San Jose Sharks
It’s such a personal thing, so it’s tough to debate the “fame and scrutiny” versus “privacy and luxury” factor, so I thought it was fair to roll San Jose into this group too. If I were to get out of a smothering hockey market, living in California on a damn good hockey team would be pretty appealing too. There’s some real talent on the roster, so success-plus-lifestyle would equal some real happiness I believe.
11. Detroit Red Wings
There’s something about playing for a prestigious, classic organization that’s more appealing than, y’know, not. Ken Holland and Mike Babcock are among the smartest hockey minds in the league, and will never let that team be terrible. So you’re playing for a diehard passionate fanbase on a team that has a real chance of succeeding every year. I can work with that.
“Sure, This Will Do Just Fine”
12. Colorado Avalanche
I really, really like Denver. It’s a beautiful city in the winter. Combine that with getting to play with some of the best young talent in hockey, and the infusion of energy that’s come with that and Mr’s Sakic and Roy, and I’d be all good to give things a go in Colorado.
13. Minnesota Wild
Playing in the Twin Cities offers the good stuff right off the hop: a team willing to spend money to win, a great fanbase with a real desire for success (I think being a part of a great Wild team would be amazing, fan-wise). There’s some talent in place, and you get to play in a beautiful facility. On top of that, Minneapolis is a good city full of good people. I assume our own Daniel Wagner named his band “Minnesota Nice” for a reason. (Note: apparently “Minnesota Nice” means being a passive-aggressive a-hole, which kind of seems like being passive aggressive a-holes to people from Minnesota, ironically)
14. Dallas Stars
I like what’s going on Dallas. Everything screams “fresh start” and “trying to be competitive” there right now. New GM Jim Nill isn’t fooling around, adding Seguin, Peverly and Horcoff. The new uni’s are sharp. They hired a “name” coach in Lindy Ruff. I believe there’s no state income tax there, which is a bonus. I can see choosing Dallas as your destination as a UFA.
15. Washington Capitals
You get to play with Alexander Ovechkin. You get to play in a good building in front of great fans. You get to play for a team that will spend to the cap, and you get to play for a team with a nice location. I don’t think they’re winning the Cup or anything, but playing in DC sounds like a pretty good gig.
16. St. Louis Blues
The Blues have one crucial thing going for them: hope. They’ve got a bunch of talent on that roster (as evidenced by finishing with home ice in the West last season), and the core is young enough to believe they’ll be competitive over the next few years, especially if Tarasenko blossoms as it seems he can. The city in this case seems of relatively little consequence. Not awful by any stretch, not quite amazing.
17. Nashville Predators
I’ve yet to talk to a player who’s lived in Nashville that’s been like “Nashville? No, that place sucks.” Everyone seems to like living there. The team finds a way to be consistently competitive, and has some of the key reasons for that locked up for awhile. No taxes, good weather, country girls…sure, why not?
18. Edmonton Oilers
I’m catching some flack for having the Oil this high around the office, but winning is important to me, and I think Edmonton is one of those teams on the cusp of breaking out in a big way, especially given the promotion of Craig MacTavish to GM. It’s not everyday you get to play with like, 604 #1 draft picks or whatever they have. Their fans are all about the team. …Still, the city in the winter is arguably the most difficult to live in around the league, weather-wise. It’s not exactly a cultural hotbed either. I’m thinking hockey-heavy here.
19. Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim, California. I know, I’m surprised this team is so low too. It’s warm there! Here’s the thing: I’m not super-confident that this team has a ton of success in their immediate future (are they playoff team next year?), and while they’ve got some good fans, the place is hardly hockey obsessed. I wouldn’t hesitate to go play there or anything, I just can’t think of a ton of reasons outside of weather and like, Corey Perry to go play there. And he kinda seems like a dick.
20. Tampa Bay Lightning
All sunshine and no taxes, yep, I’ll go play there. I think Steve Yzerman is a hard worker who will do his best to make that team competitive too. That said, I’m not sold on them as true contender, and while the weather is nice, I guess I should just get this out there – Florida scares the s**t out of me. I couldn’t turn down the whole beach-plus-puck thing, but there’s not a ton beyond that. Playing with Stamkos, I ‘spose.
“…I Can Make This Work”
21. Carolina Hurricanes
A warmer winter climate and some true talent on the roster. Not really sure what else to give you here other than “…I can make this work.”
22. New York Islanders
Kills me to have them so low, but I’m trying to put aside biases. Trying. But Long Island is great, Brooklyn is cool, you’re in a brand new barn (minus points for the horseshoe effect), you’re right close to the city, your location is about as good as it gets for travel, there’s some good young talent on the team… but you just know that the team won’t spend to make you Cup competitive, as close as you may be. Even if Isles fans think their current team is good enough to win a Cup at some point, they just don’t spend enough year-to-year to guarantee consistent success.
23. Buffalo Sabres
The passionate hockey fans in Buffalo are more than enough to put them in this category, if not higher. And while it hasn’t translated into results yet, they clearly have an owner willing to shell out for success. I like their jerseys (am I reaching yet?), and think you’d get to be relatively well-known about town, so there’s some mini “fame” factor.
24. Florida Panthers
Oh, if only Florida didn’t frighten me so. I’m actually one of the folks who thinks Dale Tallon is a good GM, so I don’t think they’ll be awful forever, but in the short term future, things are fairly bleak. They have that awful “red zone” of vacant seats at home games, their jerseys are atrocious, but, y’know…no taxes and sunshine. Sooo, I guess I can work with that.
25. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators have a chance to be a good hockey team in the near future. Other things I find attractive about playing there:
26. Phoenix Coyotes
Ah, Phoenix. It’s beautifully warm all winter, and you can live like a king for cheap. Nice barn, too.
But you’re on a budget team with poor fan attendance (unless it’s Detroit/Chicago/Canadian team, in which case well-attended games are away games) in a tough division. Still: there warm and cheap, baby.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are really, really trying. They’ve got a great new GM who’s making some good moves. If you were on a really good team in Ohio, I think you could be a part of a neat hockey community. Will they be contenders the next few years? Seriously unlikely, but who knows. It’s not that being in Columbus would be terrible, there’s just a lot of more appealing options to me. Nathan Horton on the other hand, well, it suits him just fine. Different strokes, etc, etc.
“What Are My KHL Options?”
28. Winnipeg Jets
The Peg scores hockey hotbed points galore and has a neat fan atmosphere. Those things are great. Beyond that…I think they’re going to be pretty bad next season, the winters are hell, and it’s a small Canadian city. Kinda low on reasons why anyone would choose there other than the adoration of a (comparatively) small group of people. No disrespect meant here, ‘Peg fans. Not your fault you don’t have the population of a major US city.
29. New Jersey Devils
Organizational stability issues, team looks like it’s going to be a non-playoff team, mid-level fan interest… It’d be tough to be more apathetic about an NHL organization and city. I guess I’ll give it “great location” points and some for an apparently good building. I ain’t goin’ there, is all.
30. Calgary Flames
Why on earth would I do this to myself over the next three years? Team isn’t going to win for awhile, the old building just flooded and wasn’t a palace to begin with, and it’s cold as s**t there in the winter. Nice city in the right season or whatever, but…why? Seriously, why would I choose Calgary?