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The National Hockey League (NHL) is a professional ice hockey league comprising of 30 teams from both the United States (23) and Canada (7). It is widely recognised as the most competitive league in the world and remains the pinnacle of competition for players both within and outside of North America, excluding the Winter Olympics.
The competition’s structure sees teams divided into two conferences, East and West, with each conference divided into two divisions.
The Eastern Conference is the larger of the two containing two eight team divisions while the West contains two seven team divisions. The competition culminates in the NHL playoffs with the winner awarded the Stanley Cup.
The NHL has its origins in Montreal, Canada where the league was established after the National Hockey Association (NHA) had its operations suspended. Originally formed in 1917 the newly established league featured only four teams – all of which were from Canada.
It was not until the 1920s that the league underwent a rapid expansion process opening its doors to American sides. In the 1960s the league sort a further expansion strategy, instigated by concerns that the Western Hockey League (WHL) was planning to declare a challenge.
The establishment of the World Hockey League in 1971 presented the greatest threat to the dominance of the NHL, however the threat was only short lived lasting only eight years. Famously, Wayne Gretzky – ice hockey’s greatest player, played one season in the WHL before the moving to the NHL. The league’s final expansion movement saw the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild join the league in 2000.
From the league’s inception Canadian teams have dominated over their American counterparts. The Montreal Canadiens have been by far the most successful franchise winning 24 titles. After the Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups, followed by the Detroit Red Wings with 11.