AN OVERVIEW ON HOW I ARRIVED AT MY NHL RANKINGS
Ranking the NHL arenas is a much tougher task than ranking the MLB ballparks or even the NFL stadiums. There’s just way more homogeny across the various barns in which NHL teams play hockey.
Twenty-eight of the thirty-one rinks opened from 1993 onwards (meaning almost everything is newer than Ariana Grande). Of the three exceptions, two New York City arenas underwent major renovations that totally refreshed them. This means the “Grandpa of NHL arenas” is the Calgary Saddledome, a rink that opened in 1983 (making it three years younger than Macauley Caulkin).
The only lousy rink that’s been in use lately was in Brooklyn, and that was only because the Barclay’s Center wasn’t built for hockey in the first place. With the Islanders moving full-time to Uniondale until their Belmont Park rink is ready, all the rinks in use as of 2021 are good homes for hockey.
That said, I wouldn’t consider ANY of these to be a “bucket list” sports experience like a trip to Fenway Park or Lambeau Field. To a large extent, a hockey rink is a hockey rink, though going to games in Original 6 markets and Western Canadian cities always make the game feel more important.
I’ve been to 27 of the 32 since 2017. Of the 5 that I haven’t been for a while, I attended multiple games in all of them. I feel able to make a fair comparison.
Most of the differentiation in the physical arenas is found in the super high-end premium areas that most fans never get to experience. All rinks have the requisite sightlines, concessions, scoreboard, etc. The biggest swings tend to be location, game day experience and fan support. Location is the only one of those three that is stable over time; for the most part, rinks in the heart of a city score better than those in a suburban open field. Unfortunately for the longevity of these rankings, Game Day experience and fan support can be little fickle. As such, I’d argue my hockey ranking is more fluid than my baseball or football rankings. For instance, two of the rinks with the best atmospheres, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, both scored high on my rankings, but neither have long hockey history and may turn their backs on their teams when on-ice fortunes fall, negating some of the buzz. Detroit, on the other hand, has fallen on miserable times, and their gorgeous new rink is a tad dead right now even though the Motor City is a fantastic hockey market. But I can really only base this on my personal visits; if you’re reading this in 2024, some of this may be outright wrong.
While I’ve been a long-time hockey fan, I’m not a hockey purist. If fan ignorance or apathy had impact on the experience, it would be noted. But points aren’t automatically deducted from arenas located in cities not considered to be “a REAL hockey town”.
So with all that as backdrop, as they say in Minnesota, “Let’s play hockey” starting with arena #31.