The National Hockey League (NHL; French: Ligue nationale de hockey—LNH) is an “unincorporated not-for-profit association” which operates a major professional ice hockey league of 30 franchised member clubs, of which seven are currently located in Canada and 23 in the United States. Headquartered in New York City, the NHL is widely considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, and one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.
The league was organized on November 26, 1917, in Montreal, Canada, after the suspension of operations of its predecessor organization, the National Hockey Association (NHA), which had been founded in 1909. It started with four teams and, through a series of expansions, contractions, and relocations, the league is now composed of 30 active franchises. The nation to which the name of the league originally referred was Canada, although the league has now been binational since 1924 when it expanded into the United States. After a labour dispute that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004–05 season, the league resumed play under a new collective bargaining agreement that included a salary cap. In 2009, the NHL enjoyed record highs in terms of sponsorships, attendance, and television audiences.
The NHL draws many highly skilled players from all over the world and currently has players from about 20 different countries. Although Canadians have historically constituted the majority of the players in the NHL, over the past four plus decades the percentages of US and European players have increased both because of the NHL’s continued expansion from six to thirty clubs since 1967, and the increased availability of highly skilled European players.