The National Hockey League (NHL), also known as the Ligue national de hockey (LNH) in Quebec, is the top tier level of ice hockey in North America. The franchise boasts 31 teams, with seven in Canada and 24 in the United States. However, although the majority of the teams are now based in the United States, the NHL was originally conceived in Canada with just four teams on November 26, 1917 as the successor to the National Hockey Association, which was rendered defunct in 1909.
NHL did not expand to the United States until seven years later, with the Boston Bruins becoming the first American-based outfit to join. Up until 1967, before it doubled in size, the NHL had just six teams in total: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers.
By 1974, the league had 18 teams and grew further to 30 between 1991 and 2000. In 2017, a new team, Vegas Golden Knights, became the 31st team to join the franchise, and the NHL has approved for a 32nd outfit based in Seattle to commence operations within the Pacific division. The NHL is broken up into two conferences: Eastern and Western, and further sub-divided into four divisions: Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific, with each division expected to have eight teams once the 32nd team begins operations.
Each year, all teams have the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, which is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America and is awarded to the victor of the league playoffs at the conclusion of each season, which runs from October through April. Over the course of the regular season, each team plays 82 games (41 home and 41 away) to determine their ranking.
The playoffs then pick up in April with the best 16 teams vying for the Cup and conclude in June. Like the NBA, the NHL also uses a “best of seven” format to advance to the next round and ultimately determine the victor.
The Montreal Canadiens are the franchise’s most decorated side and are the oldest team competing in the NHL – as they were founded in 1909, eight years before the league was created in 1917.
In the USA, matches are broadcast nationally on TV, radio, and live-streamed online. Meanwhile, in Canada, matches are broadcast both regionally and nationally on TV and are sometimes subjected to blackouts in order to protect local broadcasters. Live streaming and radio broadcasts are widely available for Canadian viewers as is watching NHL matches on-demand.
There is also the NHL Network for USA and Canada-based fans, a specialty channel devoted to exclusive NHL coverage. In addition to its highlight show, NHL Tonight, some games are shown on this channel from time to time both during the regular season and during the playoffs.
Over in the UK and elsewhere internationally, fans can enjoy live streaming of NHL matches and TV coverage, especially in countries like Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden where hockey is popular.