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Breaking Down The Smallest Market Teams In The NHL

Dig into the data behind the smallest market squads in the National Hockey League.

The Buffalo Sabres mascot, Sabretooth, flashes the peace sign. The Sabres top our list of the smallest market teams in the NHL.
Credit-Buffalo Sabres/Joker Mag

The National Hockey League is seeing a steadily growing viewership in North America.

And it’s no wonder. Hockey is one of the most athletic sports on the planet, requiring players to evade defenders, handle the puck, dish out punishing checks, and more – all on skates!

On the ice, the underdogs always have a chance.

But when compared to baseball’s small market squads, an NHL team’s competitiveness has little to do with the size of its market.  While hotbeds like New York City and Chicago command plenty of media attention, any NHL team can make a run at the Stanely Cup in any given season.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • The NHL Entry Draft is designed for an even distribution of new talent.  Starting in 2022, the two lottery winners are limited to move up no more than ten places in the draft order.  This means that only the bottom eleven teams based on regular season points, can win the first pick in the draft.
  • With an international pool of talent, NHL teams have plenty of options to find skilled young players from anywhere in the world.
  • Every team has a chance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Eight teams from each conference qualify, meaning half the teams in the league get in.  If you get hot at the right time, you can make a run at the Cup.  We’ve seen plenty of stunning comebacks in hockey history.

Here are the smallest market teams in the NHL – broken down by market size, franchise value, stadium capacity, and more.

1.) Buffalo Sabres

A picture of Buffalo Sabres fans in the stands at a hockey game next to text that reads: The Buffalo Sabres are the smallest market team in the NHL, with a market size of just 632,000 people.

Market Size: 632,000

Stadium Capacity: 19,070

Franchise Value: $610 M (30th of 32)

The Buffalo Sabres are the smallest market team in the NHL with a market size of just 632,000 people.

Originally established in 1970, when the league expanded to 14 teams, the Sabres kicked off a new generation of hockey in Buffalo.  The AHL’s Buffalo Bisons were a pillar in the area up until that very year.

The franchise holds the worst possible NHL record (if you’re a fan of winning, that is) with the longest playoff drought in the league.  As of 2023, they have zero Stanley Cups to their name.

2.) Vegas Golden Knights

A picture of Vegas Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill holding the Stanley Cup next to text that reads: The Vegas Golden Knights are the fastest team to win a Stanley Cup title in NHL history.

Market Size: 870,000

Stadium Capacity: 17,500

Franchise Value: $965 M (16th of 32)

Since arriving on the scene as an expansion team in 2017, the Golden Knights have made Las Vegas proud.

The front office assembled a competitive roster from the beginning, culminating in a Stanley Cup victory in 2022-23.  In just their sixth year in existence, the Golden Knights became the fastest team to win a title in the NHL’s history.

To the rest of the league, though, Vegas’ fan base is one of the most hated in the entire NHL.  Does it stem from jealousy?  Maybe.

But who can blame them?  Especially if you’re a fan of a team that’s been in a playoff drought for longer than the Las Vegas franchise has been around.

3.) Columbus Blue Jackets

Market Size: 1,024,000

Stadium Capacity: 18,500

Franchise Value: $620 M (29th of 32)

After the short-lived Cleveland Barons franchise, Ohio hockey fans were hungry for a new team to root for.  The NHL granted that wish in June of 1997, approving a new franchise in Columbus.

That summer, the organization hosted a “Name The Team” contest throughout central Ohio.  It received more than 14,000 entries and was later whittled down to 10 name ideas before settling on the Blue Jackets – a reference to Ohio’s role in manufacturing the blue coats worn by Union soldiers in the Civil War.

The team has garnered a loyal fan base, called “The 5th Line”, which has stood by them through thick and thin.

It took the team 14 years to notch their first playoff victory and, as of 2023, they are still in search of their first Stanley Cup.

4.) Nashville Predators

Market Size: 1,169,000

Stadium Capacity: 17,159

Franchise Value: $810 M (23rd of 32)

The Nashville Predators have an interesting history.  The city failed in its first two attempts at convincing a major sports team to relocate to Nashville – first the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and then the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in 1996.

Finally, in 1998 they got their hockey team but were only allowed to begin play if they completed their arena and sold 12,000 season tickets before the start of the season.

Like the Blue Jackets, they held a fan contest to name the team.  But it wasn’t exactly fair.

After the contest was narrowed down to three names – “Ice Tigers,” “Fury” and “Attack.” – the team’s owner Craig Leipold added his own submission to the mix: the “Predators”.

As of 2023, the franchise has just two division championships to its name.

5.) Pittsburgh Penguins

Market Size: 1,175,000

Stadium Capacity: 18,187

Franchise Value: $990 M (15th of 32)

Since their inaugural season in 1967, the Pittsburgh Penguins have become one of the premier franchises in the National Hockey League.

Donning the black and gold that’s become synonymous with Pittsburgh sports, the team has built a small but loyal fan base.

But it wasn’t always this way.  In fact, the Pens struggled with fan attendance early on – averaging just 6,000 fans per game despite a stadium capacity of 16,000.  Today, it’s difficult to fathom anything like that happening again in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are part of one of the best rivalries in hockey with the Philadelphia Flyers and have boasted an array of legendary players, such as: Mario Lemieux, Jaromír Jágr, and Sidney Crosby.

More small-market NHL teams:

  • St. Louis Blues (6th smallest market)
  • Carolina Hurricanes (7th smallest market)
  • Florida Panthers (8th smallest market, 2nd lowest franchise value)
  • Colorado Avalanche (9th smallest market)
  • Minnesota Wild (10th smallest market)

More from this series:

Do you like rooting for the teams and players counted out by the masses? Then you’ll love our Underdog Newsletter where we highlight the best sports stories you’ve never heard 👇 

Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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