Originally formed in 1917, the National Hockey League, or NHL, is comprised of 30 teams throughout North America that play a nine-month season culminating every year with the awarding of the championship Stanley Cup trophy. The league is considered the premier professional hockey association in the world and is one of the four major North American sports leagues.
The NHL was founded in Montreal in 1917, but the Great Depression and the onset of World War II left only six teams in the league by the 1940s. Televised games and popular players such as Maurice "Rocket" Richard and Gordie Howe in the 1950s and 1960s helped boost the league's popularity, and it has steadily expanded to its current 30-franchise size. In a typical season, the league begins play in early October with the top eight teams in each conference advancing to a tournament-style postseason playoff. The winner of the best-of-seven playoff finals series is awarded the Stanley Cup, the oldest trophy in North American team sports. The large cup-style trophy is engraved with the names of every player on every Cup-winning team in NHL history.
With revenues of $3.7 billion, the NHL is the wealthiest professional hockey league in the world. Its television deals with national networks in Canada and the United States allow it to have high player salaries and state-of-the-art arenas. These factors attract the best players from around the world, not just those born and raised in North America. As a result of this, the NHL typically goes on a month-long midwinter hiatus every four years for the Winter Olympics because so many of its players play for their home countries in that tournament.