Hockey is Canada’s game. Much like football is to America, hockey is the sport that plays on all bar TVs, plays on Saturday night, and is the talk around the water cooler. Canada also supplies the NHL with the most considerable portion of players, many of whom learned to skate before learning to walk.
Many small towns across Canada have hockey rinks dedicated to developing and enjoying the game many call the best in the world. With such dedication to the game, it would seem there’s a major league team in every major city. For the most part, that’s true, with one notable exception—Quebec City.
Canada is home to more major league NHL teams than any other professional sports organization. With seven NHL teams, it’s by far the most significant representation of Canada in major league sports. Only the Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) and the Toronto Raptors (NBA) play in Canada from the other sports leagues.
Despite several still existing, even more teams have gone defunct or relocated. With the popularity of these NHL teams and the fact that there are so many professional hockey teams in Canada, we’ll explore what makes them unique. Here’s a deep dive into the Canadian NHL teams.
How Are Teams Divided in the NHL?
The NHL divides the 32 teams into two conferences—Eastern Conference and Western Conference. This format includes the Canadian teams, with three in the east and four in the west.
Within each conference, teams further break into two divisions. In the Eastern Conference teams, Canadian teams play in the Atlantic Division opposite the Metropolitan Division.
The Western Conference sees action between the Central Division, which hosts the Winnipeg Jets. The Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames play in the Pacific Division.
The NHL then plays a conference quarter-final, semi-final, and conference final playoff structure followed by a Stanley Cup Final composed of one team from the west and one from the east.
Former Canadian NHL Teams
The NHL has existed since 1917. Since then, several NHL teams have called Canada home. Though seven still exist, seven previous teams have come and gone. Winnipeg recently received a relocated team from Atlanta, but some groups aren’t so lucky. Here are the NHL teams that once existed in Canada.
- Montreal Wanderers – The Montreal Wanderers only played for one year and went 1-5 during their tenure. They went defunct due to a lack of players and a burned-down arena.
- Quebec Bulldogs – Quebec’s Bulldogs played from 1919 to 1920 and went 4-20 in that time. They would relocate to Hamilton to become the Tigers.
- Hamilton Tigers – Hamilton received the Tigers from the former Quebec Bulldogs. They played from 1920 to 1925 and had a 47-78-1 record. Players went on strike and eventually ended up as the New York Americans.
- Ottawa Senators (1917) – The original Ottawa Senators played for 16 seasons between 1917 and 1934, eventually lasting one more year as the St. Louis Eagles. They had a 258-221-63 record during that time, but the Great Depression killed many teams.
- Montreal Maroons – Playing from 1924 to 1938, the Montreal Maroons posted 271-260-91 during their existence. Unfortunately, the Maroons would also fold during the Great Depression.
- Quebec Nordiques – The Quebec Nordiques originally played in the WHL, making the leap to the NHL in 1979. They played in Quebec through the 1994 season, when they relocated to Colorado to become the Avalanche. They had a 497-599-160 record in 16 seasons.
- Winnipeg Jets (1979) – The original Jets hopped from the WHL to the NHL along with the Nordiques, Oilers, and Walers. Only the Oilers survived, as the Jets would relocate to Arizona in 1996. In 17 seasons, the Jets posted a 506-660-172 record.
While some teams relocated and still play, like the Avalanche and the Coyotes, several cities are still searching for their NHL team. Quebec, Hamilton, and even the suburbs of Toronto all have an interest in obtaining an NHL team.
Current Canadian NHL Teams
Currently, 32 teams play in the NHL. The majority of those teams play in the United States. Of those 32 teams, seven play in Canadian cities. Most significant Canadian metropolitan areas support an NHL team, and the fans go absolutely wild.
Alberta is home to two NHL teams, the first being the Calgary Flames. The Flames have origins in Atlanta, as the Atlanta Flames played their first season in 1972. In 1980, the team moved from Atlanta to Calgary, where they’ve played since.
Several world-class players have found themselves on the Flames’ roster, including Al Macinnis, Jarome Iginla, Lanny McDonald, Mike Vernon, Sean Monahan, and Mark Giordano. Because of their loss against the Edmonton Oilers in 2022, there are many questions surrounding the line-up’s future.
Currently, the team plays at the Scotiabank Saddledome in downtown Calgary. The Flames won a Stanley Cup in 1989, beating the Montreal Canadians in six games. The Flames fielded a competent team headed by star players like Johnny Gaudreau this most recent year. The team took first in the Pacific division for the 2022 playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers were part of a four-team deal to expand the NHL and see the end of the WHL. This deal saw the Oilers keep star player Wayne Gretzky upon entry into the NHL. Edmonton has seen success in the playoffs, having captured five Stanley Cups, four of which came between 1983 and 1988. They would win again in the 1989-1990 season.
Edmonton is where the best player in the world, Wayne Gretzky, first played, being an integral part of their four-cup dynasty. Unfortunately, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings and would finish his career in New York. Gretzky still supports the Oilers and speaks highly of their future.
Despite several Cup Final appearances, the Oilers have since failed to win the Stanley Cup since 1990. As of late, the Oilers have some more star players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who were most recently swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Western Conference Finals.
The Montreal Canadiens were part of the NHL’s “Original Six” teams, starting to play in 1909. They also happen to be the NHL’s most successful franchise, with 24 Stanley Cup titles. Although the Canadiens have the most Cups, they have yet to win a President’s Trophy for the best regular-season record.
The 24 professional championship titles rank only behind the New York Yankees. Many NHL players cite the Canadiens as being the inspiration for their careers. The Canadiens are also called the Habs by fans and media alike. Games have both French and English announcements, play-by-play, and color analyst translations.
The Canadiens were in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021 as part of a unique alignment that saw the first Canadian team compete for the Cup since 2011. They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games, and the team took a significant step backward in 2022, finishing 32nd with only 55 points. Montreal plays in the Atlantic Division at the Bell Center.
The most recent incarnation of the Ottawa Senators entered the NHL in 1992. During that time, the Sens have made 16 playoff appearances, with an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup in 2007, losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five games. While the original Senators team won 11 Stanley Cups, this version of the team has yet to claim a championship title.
Besides winning their first game in their long-awaited return, the Senators went on to post one of the worst records the NHL has ever seen. In their first season, the Sens had only ten wins. These early years also saw the team playing at the tiny Ottawa Civic Center. The team now plays at the Canadian Tire Center in the suburb of Kanata.
The Ottawa Senators have seen success and failure. Still, most recently, fans have noted the team seems to be a perennial failure. Some have suggested that late owner Eugene Melnyk was uncomfortable financing a winning team. In contrast, others have stated that the tax rates and lack of media exposure prevent quality players from signing deals with the team.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs, or simple Leafs, is another NHL “Original Six” team with a storied history stretching back to 1917. Toronto has the second most successful NHL team with 13 Stanley Cup titles, but most famously hasn’t won since 1967—the start of the expansion era. This drought stands as the longest in NHL history, surpassing the New York Rangers moving into the 2022-2023 season.
Toronto has the most hockey-obsessed media in North America, and players for the team are under a constant spotlight. Regardless of the pressure, many still dream of playing for the famous blue and white Maple Leafs. Several notable players even had their numbers retired from the organization, and the Leafs are the first to undertake the practice.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have several talented players like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares. Despite the stacked line-up, the team failed to make it past the first round in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing to Tampa Bay in seven games.
The Vancouver Canucks entered the NHL in 1970 from the WHL on an expansion application. Despite not winning a championship, the Canucks have seen moderate success in the playoffs and regular season. With three trips to the Stanley Cup Final, the team has failed to clinch a Stanley Cup.
In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks made their most recent appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. Since then, the Canucks have attempted to return to the title round but have been more in rebuild mode as of late. A long-time Sedin-Twins era ended in 2018 when the brothers retired. The Canucks moved to retire their jerseys the following season.
Vancouver failed to miss the 2022 playoffs by five points, finishing 40-30-12 for 92 points. With exciting players like Boeser, Horvat, and Pettersson, the young team is looking to take their play to the next level next season and make the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a talent that deep, they’re likely to only grow.
The Winnipeg Jets finally got a team in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved after a series of disappointing seasons stretching back to 1999. After 15 years, the Jets played their first game on October 9th, 2011, at the MTS Center. The Jets struggled a bit during the first few seasons, clinching a playoff spot only twice in the first five years.
In 2018, the Winnipeg Jets won their first playoff series for the city in 31 years. The Jets eventually lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals. For four straight seasons, the Jets would make it to the playoffs. Still, this most recent season saw a step backward with unfortunate injuries and the departures of key players.
The Winnipeg Jets have never won a Stanley Cup but are looking to make it back to the playoffs for the 2022-2023 seasons. With great players like Ehlers, Connor, and Scheifele, it’s only a matter of time before the Jets return to deep playoff runs.
How Many Canadian NHL Teams Are There?
Canada would have at least nine, maybe ten teams in a perfect world. Unfortunately, until the game expands, the seven teams in the NHL north of the border are unlikely to see an eighth addition.
Equally interesting are the teams that are no longer in Canada or those that have folded altogether. Several cities like Quebec City saw their NHL teams leave for the United States, leaving a massive void behind.
The classic teams like Toronto and Montreal will continue to be famous well into the future. Young teams like Vancouver and Winnipeg look to make some headway. At the same time, Calgary and Edmonton are poised to continue strong runs. And as for Ottawa, no one really knows what’s going on, but faithful fans will support the team until the end.
James is a big time NBA Golden State follower, who makes sure to catch games when he's in the area. He likes to follow International Soccer, with an interest in small town soccer club, Blackburn Rovers located in the North on the UK.