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Is Sunbelt Hockey Working? Part II

July 21, 2010
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I had originally intended to make this a single post, but I feared that the length and density of it would dissuade some from reading it. So instead I have opted to make it into a three-part series spread over the next several days. If you’d like to read the full post now, please click here. My only request is that all feedback is placed within the comments section on either this post or the others in this series.

Since I’m on the topic of the “Sunbelt Era”, which I’m counting from August 9th, 1988 to Present, let’s examine the makeup of the NHL since “The Trade.”

“The Trade” is often considered the event that really pushed Sunbelt hockey really into being. That moment seems to be the point where people began to believe that hockey could survive, if not, thrive below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Using this date as a guideline, I decided to see if this era has produced more Southern NHL players than previously in the league’s history.

To collect the information for this portion of my study, I used the data made available from hockey-reference.com. I took the birth place of every player that made their NHL debut in the pre-Sunbelt Era (1918-1993) to those who played their first game in the Sunbelt Era (1994-Present).

Now at this point you’re probably wondering why I just claimed the Sunbelt Era started in 1988 and then used 1994 as the start date in my data collection. Well, I accounted for the development of youth.

Let’s be honest, if a kid from Texas suits up for his first NHL game in 1988, it isn’t because of the chain of events caused by “The Trade.” What I did for this portion of the information was I took the oldest possible age I could conceive someone starting to play the game and actually making it to the NHL. I determined that 12 was a fair number. So let’s claim that a 12-year old in 1988 watches Gretzky play hockey for LA and is swept up in the spread of hockey down South. The earliest that child enters the league is 1994. Therefore if we’re trying to gauge an effect from “The Trade” and its repercussions, this wouldn’t be seen until at least 1994.

Before I get to the results, one problematic part about this data deals with the fact this only accounts for birth place, not hometown. While it would have been more accurate to find where these players lived the majority of their lives, I was unable to find any such database and had to work with what I had.

For the pre-Sunbelt Era, these numbers were pretty much what you’d expect. Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota were the only states that contributed 1% or more of all NHL players, with a combined 6%. This is more than all other states combined (3.88%).

Since the Sunbelt Era began there’s been a slight shift in the American makeup of the NHL. Yes, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota still produce the most pros, but instead of producing twice as many players as the rest of the country, it’s only half of the Americans in the league.

Meanwhile for Sunbelt states, they went from producing less than one percent of the league’s players (.60%) to now being responsible for 1.44% of the league. While that sort of sounds unimpressive, in terms of real numbers, they went from having 25 players over a 75-year span to since producing 28 NHLers in only 16 years. That’s a massive improvement. In fact every state in the South that has an NHL team, with the exception of Tennessee, has sent forth at least one native son to play in the NHL.

This definitely says something about Sunbelt teams getting people involved with the sport.

Now this is not to say that my work is a definitive piece of evidence proving that the move South by the NHL was a great idea, nor do I intend it to be. Instead it was a thought that has been in the back of my mind for some time now, and I decided to explore it further. I am always open to critique and a link to my work can be found here.

One note about my spreadsheet: I had intended to find someway to work Olympic and World Championships rosters into this post, but found no meaningful way to display the data I collected. Although, I decided to leave it on the document for those interested in the information.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. DFash permalink
    July 22, 2010 10:07 am

    In fact every state in the South that has an NHL team, with the exception of Tennessee, has sent forth at least one native son to play in the NHL.
    ***************************************************************************

    Blake Geoffrion is from Brentwood, TN. He grew up playing youth hockey in Nashville. He was drafted by the Predators and has a reasonable shot at making the team, although realistically he’s still a year or two away. So go ahead and add Tennessee to your list of sunbelt states that have produced an NHL player. Blake will be there.

    • July 22, 2010 12:05 pm

      Yes, this is true. You’re actually the second person to highlight this. While Geoffrion will be playing in Nashville shortly, I went with the data up to last season. So if I go over the numbers and add info from this upcoming season, you would be completely correct.

      Also, it is really nice to see that every state that has a team is now represented.

  2. Jason permalink
    July 24, 2010 12:16 pm

    Great article. I’d be curious to see how the shifts in population and number of children born coincide with the distribution of youth hockey players. Also, it would be interesting from USA hockey’s standpoint how much of their growth was from new leagues/systems versus them affiliating themselves with previously established leagues. Some of the rinks in the DC are part of USA hockey and others are not.

    Also, you may want to keep TN off the list for a while…According to the Predators, Blake was born in Plantation, Florida. He moved to TN as a youth and was definitely a product of the Nashville youth hockey program. While Blake is going to be an NHL player, he definitely would have played hockey no matter where he grew up as long as that area had ice. Since I don’t live in TN and don’t know the Geoffrions , I don’t know whether the area around Brentwood had a youth league around the time his parents moved there. Assuming it did, perhaps it was a reason they moved there instead of another suburb of Nashville. Or maybe because of the expansion of hockey overall, Nashville got their ECHL team which led to the development of the youth hockey program that taught Blake the basics before he moved (relatively) north to apply his trade while going to school.

    The Indianapolis equivalent would be (if my father and grand father are in the NHL Hall of Fame and I played as well) that I would choose to live in Hamilton County to be close to the hockey rink there (circa 1988) versus living near Franklin Township that was not as close to an ice hockey rink (to the best of my knowledge).

    It is interesting to see the increase in the sport over the past 20 years and most of it had to come as a result of the Trade.

    BTW – I miss the Checkers!

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