The National Hockey League (NHL) is widely regarded as the world's premier ice hockey competition, comprising 31 teams: 24 from the US and 7 from Canada. Each year, these 31 teams battle it out for one of the most prestigious trophies in world sport, the Stanley Cup. Despite ice hockey being inextricably linked with Canada's image, and Canadian players dominating the league, a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens' triumph in 1993.
Established in Montreal in 1917 as a replacement of the National Hockey Association (NHA), the NHL had four inaugurating teams, all from Canada, giving the 'National' to the NHL. The first American team joined in 1924, with the Boston Bruins entering the competition as the league expanded across the border. The most significant expansion to the league occurred in 1967, when the number of teams was doubled, setting a precedent for a steady influx of clubs since. In 2017 the NHL added its 31st and newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Like most North American leagues, the 31 teams are split into an Eastern and Western Conference, and then divided again into divisions. The Eastern Conference contains the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions, while the Central and Pacific divisions constitute the Western Conference. The regular season takes place from October until April, and sees each team play 82 games. The top three clubs from each division, as well as the next two highest ranked teams from each conference qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the end of the regular season. Created by the Canadian Governor-General Lord Stanley, the Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893 and has become one of the most sought-after and recognisable trophies in sport.
The NHL is a fierce, fast-paced and often brutal watch for its legions of fans. For new punters, a useful tip is to look out for the defensive record of each team when weighing up a bet, with the Goaltender thought of as the most important position on the ice. There are many betting opportunities available for punters in the NHL, with the gruelling schedule making it difficult for bookies to keep up to date with the changing nature of team line-ups.