PHT Time Machine

PHT Time Machine: NHL’s weirdest, most unique home venues

Barclays Center
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

Word surfaced this past week that the Arizona Coyotes have been attempting to find a temporary arena solution that could result in them sharing a home building with Arizona State University’s hockey program. That would result in them potentially spending a couple of years playing home games in a venue that seats under 5,000 fans. Needless to say, that would be pretty much unheard of in today’s NHL and one of the most, let’s call it, unique home-ice situations in the league.

The smallest rinks in the NHL currently are in Winnipeg (15,321) and New Jersey (16,514) and are the only two buildings in the league with a listed capacity of under 17,000 fans. Arizona’s current home rink, Gila River Arena, holds 17,125 fans.

That development got us thinking about some of the other unique home arena situations in NHL history that, for one reason or another, forced teams to play in some strange venues.

Civic Arena (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Originally constructed in the early 1960s for Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera, the Civic Arena became the permanent home of Pittsburgh’s expansion hockey team, the Penguins, starting with the 1967 season. They played there until the 2010-11 season when they moved into their current home, PPG Paints arena.

What made the Civic Arena so unique was its shape, literally looking like an igloo, and the fact it had the first retractable roof in North American sports stadiums, even though it was never actually opened for a hockey game.

Jeanine Leech, Getty Images

The Cow Palace (San Jose Sharks)

When the NHL went through an expansion boom in the early 1990s a lot of league’s new teams had to find some temporary homes that were a bit out of the ordinary.

The first of those homes was the Cow Palace just outside of San Francisco. What made the Cow Palace so noteworthy as an NHL rink is that the NHL originally rejected it as a building for the California Seals when they entered the NHL during the 1967-68 season. It was also one of the last rinks in the NHL to have an ice surface smaller than the traditional NHL regulations (the old Boston Garden also famously had a smaller playing surface).

With a capacity of just around 11,000 it was one of the smallest buildings in the league, with the Sharks routinely playing to sell outs during their years in the building. The Sharks played there from their inagural season until the San Jose Arena (now the SAP Center) opened in 1993.

The arena has been a popular destination for concerts, other sports (the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors also called the arena home throughout the 1960s), and, as the name might suggest, livestock competitions and rodeos.

Ottawa Civic Centre (Ottawa Senators)

When the Ottawa Senators entered the NHL during the 1992-93 season their new, permanent building was not yet built, resulting in them playing the first two-and-a-half years of their existence in the tiny Ottawa Civic Centre, which had had a capacity of around 10,000 and a very unique design. One side of the building had only about 15 rows of seats, with the majority of the fans sitting on the opposite side and in the two ends. The arena was temporarily renovated to increase capacity and add a handful of luxury suites, but it still resulted in a bizarre configuration.

The Thunderdome (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Now we get into the fun one.

The Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, and Stadium Series have made seeing hockey games in a baseball stadium something of a common occurrence. But did you remember when the Tampa Bay Lightning made one their permanent home rink for a couple of years?

Tampa had constructed a domed baseball stadium in the early 1990s with the hopes of luring a Major League Baseball team to the arena, a move that ultimately failed until they were granted an expansion team (the Rays) in the late 1990s. With the stadium sitting empty, it was temporarily reconfigured  into a hockey arena (and called “The Thunderdome”) for the cities NHL expansion team (the Lightning). It resulted in some massive crowds of more than 25,000 people, including more than 28,000 people for the Lightning’s first playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. That game was an NHL attendance record until the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton.

The Lightning played at the Thunderdome until the 1996-97 season when they moved into their current home.

What is funny about the Lightning’s brief experience in a baseball stadium, making it the largest home rink in the league, is that they originally played in one of the smallest buildings in the league, playing their initial season at the 11,000 seat Expo Hall which was located on the Florida state fairgrounds.

Barclays Center (New York Islanders)

Yes, we have to include this one. The Islanders temporarily moved to Brooklyn in the mid-2010s to play in a brand new state of the art arena that was primarily built for basketball and concerts. Not hockey. The result was an off-center scoreboard that was located over the blue line, a three-quarter seating alignment that saw one end of the rink go without fans because you could not see anything below the face off dots, and the infamous Barclays Center SUV that was positioned in the one end. Great building. Just not built for hockey.

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    PHT Time Machine: When the Canadiens visited Seattle a century ago

    Adrian Wyld/AP Images

    We like to take an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at when the Montreal Canadiens first visited Seattle to play hockey, more than 100 years ago.

    The Montreal Canadiens will be in Seattle on Tuesday night to play the NHL’s newest franchise. Even though it will be the Canadiens’ first trip to play the Kraken, it will not be the first time the organization has played an NHL game in the Emerald City.

    The most recent time it happened: More than 100 years ago when the Canadiens played the Seattle Metropolitans for the 1919 Stanley Cup.

    It never ended up getting awarded.

    The Seattle Metropolitans and the early days of the Stanley Cup

    While the Kraken are new to the NHL, Seattle does still have a deep hockey history that goes back to the earliest days of the NHL. In fact, the Metropolitans were the first American-based team to win the Stanley Cup.

    The Metropolitans existed between 1915 and 1924 and played their games in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, a key professional hockey league in the development of the sport due to several innovation that are staples in the modern game. Among them: The blue line, the goal crease, forward passing (something that the NHL did not initially allow), playoffs, and the removal of the rule that required goalies to always remain on their feet.

    Starting in 1915 the PCHA entered into an agreement with the National Hockey Association, the predecessor to the modern day NHL, to compete for the Stanley Cup at the end of their respective regular seasons.

    Seattle, as a three-time champion of the PCHA, played for the Stanley Cup on three different occasions — 1917, 1919, and 1920.

    In the 1917 Stanley Cup Final they defeated the Canadiens 3-1 in a best-of-five series to become the first American-based team to win it. All four games were played in Seattle, with the Metropolitans clinching the cup with three consecutive victories in Games 2-4 by a combined score of 19-3. That series was also the last time non-NHL teams competed for the Cup as the NHA rebranded as the NHL the following season. The Metropolitans never engraved their name on the Trophy, while their name was not added until 1948, more than three decades after their championship season.

    The rematch that was never concluded

    It was just two years later that Seattle and Montreal were to set to face off for the Stanley Cup with the entire series to again be played in Seattle. Because the two leagues had differing rules and every game was played in Seattle they alternated which league’s rules would be used on a game-by-game basis.

    The problem this time around is that the series was played against the backdrop of a global pandemic (the 1919 flu outbreak) and it would ultimately take over the series in the worst possible way.

    With the series tied through five games (Seattle winning two games, Montreal winning two games, and one game being tied) a deciding sixth game was set to be played on April 1. But both teams were hit hard by the flu, with Montreal especially in trouble with all but three players being sick. Montreal had attempted to use replacement players from the PCHA’s Victoria team, a request that was ultimately refused by the leagues.

    Hours before the scheduled puck drop the deciding game was cancelled, with Montreal attempted to forfeit the Stanley Cup to Seattle.

    The impact of the flu was devastating on the Canadiens. Defenseman Joe Hall died four days after the deciding game was to be played, while team manager George Kennedy never fully recovered from his illness and died a few years later.

    Seattle refused to accept the Stanley Cup due to forfeiture because of the circumstances, making it the first the time the Stanley Cup was not awarded during a season. The only other year since then that it was not awarded was the 2004-05 lockout season.

    When the Stanley Cup was redesigned in 1948, the 1919 Cup Final was engraved on it to include the names of both teams.

    PHT Time Machine: When Wayne Gretzky made his return to Edmonton

    As Tom Brady returns to New England for this week’s NBC Sunday Night Football matchup, this edition of the PHT Time Machine will take a look back at when hockey’s G.O.A.T., Wayne Gretzky, made his return to Edmonton on October 19, 1988 for the first time after being traded to Los Angeles. 

    By the time Wayne Gretzky had been traded to Los Angeles he had already established himself as the game’s greatest all-time offensive player. He was only 27 years old, had only played in 696 career games, and was already third on the NHL’s all-time points list (1,669), fifth on the all-time goals list (583), and had already helped drive the Oilers to four Stanley Cups throughout the early-mid 1980s, making them one of the league’s all-time great dynasties.

    And then on August 9, 1988, just months after the Oilers had won the fourth of those Stanley Cups, Gretzky was shockingly traded to the Kings for a mountain of cash, Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, and three first-round draft picks.

    There was a tearful press conference, a lot of shock — and anger — in in Edmonton, and some new excitement for hockey in the state of California.

    A visit back sooner than anticipated

    Nobody would have to wait long for a reunion.

    The NHL schedule makers sent Los Angeles to Edmonton just 10 weeks after the trade, and seven games into the 1988-89 season.

    The Kings came in while riding one of their best starts in franchise history, while Gretzky had put up a Gretzky-like 15 points in their first six games.

    There was a ton of anticipation for how Gretzky would be received. There was even a small belief that he might get booed by the Edmonton crowd, while Gretzky himself hated the idea of going in to play against a group of players he called his best friends that he had won championships with.

    “I’d really rather not have to go in there,” Gretzky was quoted as saying in a Sports Illustrated piece at the time. “We were the closest team, I think, that’s ever been assembled in pro sports. It’s going to be extremely tough.”

    He also hated the idea of having to play one-on-one against former roommate Ron Lowe (who he expected to knock him down in front of the net) and the other part of Edmonton’s two-headed monster at center, Mark Messier.

    When it came time for the game, Gretzky was greeted with raucous cheers from the moment he stepped on the ice for warmups, and then received an extended four-minute standing ovation after the national anthem and the ovations continued throughout the game.

    The Oilers would end up winning the game, 8-6 in classic 1980s fashion, while Gretzky recorded a pair of assists (one shorthanded, one on the power play).

    “It was a tough night for everyone,” Gretzky said afterward. “I’m sure it was tough on them, too. But I know how that room (locker room) operates. I appreciated the applause, but in some sense, it probably got those guys started.”

    He would go on to win his ninth league MVP award that season and lead the league in assists for the 10th consecutive season.

    He would also help the Kings eliminate the Oilers in the playoffs that season in seven games.

    The Oilers would bounce back the following season to win their fifth Stanley Cup (while sweeping Gretzky and the Kings in the Second Round), but who knows how many more they could have won had they never traded Gretzky. Aside from being eliminated by Gretzky and the Kings in the year of the trade, the Oilers would lose in the Conference Finals in 1991 and 1992.

    Just one year after Gretzky’s initial return to Edmonton he would make history in another return trip to Edmonton, breaking Gordie Howe’s all-time points record with his 1,851st point in an overtime win against the Oilers.

    In one of the most anticipated regular-season games in recent NFL history, Tom Brady returns to New England, where he won six Super Bowls and became the winningest quarterback in NFL history, as the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers visit the Patriots on this week’s edition of NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

    Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with a special on-site edition of Football Night in America from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., followed by kickoff at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock and Universo.

    PHT Time Machine: How a blockbuster movie kept Joe Sakic with the Avalanche

    Joe Sakic Avalanche
    Robert Laberge / Allsport

    We do not get many offer sheets in the NHL, and on the rare occasion that we do they can sometimes lead to chaos.

    Brian Burke wanted to fight Kevin Lowe in a barn because of Dustin Penner. The Canadiens and Hurricanes are now involved in a two-year beef that started with Sebastian Aho and continued this weekend with Carolina’s signing of Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It is a perfectly legal — and sometimes probably smart — way to try and add talent to your roster, but the hurt feelings that result from them, as well as the difficulty in actually successfully pulling it off make them an incredibly rare event.

    In today’s edition of the PHT Time Machine, we go back to one of the more famous offer sheet attempts when the Rangers attempted to pry Joe Sakic away from the Avalanche in 1997.

    It probably would have worked had it not been for a Harrison Ford blockbuster.

    The background and the offer

    In August 1997 the Rangers signed Joe Sakic to a three-year, $21 million restricted free agent offer sheet that would have brought the Avalanche superstar to the Big Apple. At the time, the Rangers were coming off of a trip to the Eastern Conference Final and had advanced in the playoffs four years in a row, winning eight playoff series during that time. But they also had a major hole at center due to the departure of Mark Messier to the Canucks earlier that offseason.

    They still clearly saw themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, had a bottomless pit of money to spend from, and felt an in-his-prime superstar like Sakic was just what they needed. It would have given them a 1-2 punch of Wayne Gretzky and Sakic down the middle, which would have been a significant upgrade over what Messier was at that stage of his career.

    It was a bold move, and one that seemed likely to work given the financials involved.

    [Related: Hurricanes tender offer sheet to Canadiens’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi]

    Despite the Avalanche’s on-ice success during their first two years in Colorado, they were losing money playing in an aging arena that lacked luxury suites and corporate dollars that could make them players in free agency. They were also a sitting duck for an offer sheet to their best player.

    They had lost $8 million the previous season, had not yet moved into their new arena, and were projected to continue to lose money until the arena move at the start of the 2000 season.

    It was not just the $21 million price tag over three years that was problematic for the Avalanche. It was the way the Rangers structured the offer. Sakic’s annual salary was only $2 million per season while the contract included a $15 million signing bonus up front. That meant Colorado had to find a way to spend $17 million on Sakic for the 1997-98 season. That was money they simply did not have at the time.

    Sakic wanted to be in New York, the Rangers wanted him in New York, and the Avalanche seemed powerless to stop it.

    Not matching the offer for the then-27-year-old Sakic would have netted the Avalanche the Rangers’ next five first-round draft picks.

    Harrison Ford saves the day

    At the time the Avalanche were owned by cash-strapped Ascent Entertainment. One of its subsidiaries, Beacon Entertainment, helped finance the 1997 blockbuster movie Air Force One in which Harrison Ford played the President of the United States and successfully fought off a group of terrorists that hijacked the President’s plane.

    Beacon, and by extension, Ascent Entertainment, was in line to take 10 percent of the profits from the movie. The movie eventually made $315 million at the box office including more than $37 million during its first week in theaters.

    That cut of the profits was enough for Ascent to find the money to pay Sakic’s contract, match the Rangers’ offer, and keep the superstar in Denver.

    If the movie had flopped? Sakic probably ends up in New York.

    The aftermath

    By matching the offer sheet for Sakic the Avalanche kept one of their cornerstone players and remained one of the league’s best teams. They reached the conference final in four of the next five seasons (as part of a larger run that saw them do so in six out of seven years) and won a second Cup during the 2000-01 season with Sakic playing a central role in all of it.

    Things did not go as well for the Rangers.

    [Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

    Still needing another center, the Rangers eventually traded for Sabres star Pat LaFontaine. The problem was that LaFontaine’s career was starting to crumble due to concussion issues that started the previous season when he was on the receiving end of a high hit to the head from Penguins defenseman Francois Leroux. He had played just 13 games during the 1996-97 season but was determined to return the following year.

    The Sabres traded him to the Rangers for a second-round pick just before the start of the 1997-98 season.

    He would play 67 game for the Rangers that year, scoring 23 goals (tied for the team lead) and 62 total points (second on the team). But in March of that season he suffered another concussion in a collision with teammate Mike Keane, sidelining him for the remainder of the season and the entire 1998-99 season. He would ultimately retire as a result.

    The Rangers missed the playoffs that season, starting a seven-year run outside of the postseason despite acquiring several big-name, big-money players during that stretch.

    PHT Time Machine: NHL brother vs. brother edition

    NHL Brother

    We like to take an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we take a look back at some famous brother vs. brother incidents in NHL history. 

    Brother scoring against brother

    NHL history is loaded with sibling rivalries and brother vs. brother matchups.

    Sometimes it is getting the opportunity to play on the same team (and the same line!) like Henrik and Daniel Sedin did for so many years in Vancouver.

    Usually it involves brothers just playing head-to-head in a game.

    On rare occasions it can be a brother actually scoring a goal against their brother goaltender.

    In NHL history there are only four players that have scored a goal against their goaltending brother, with the most recent incident taking place 17 years ago this week.

    It was on November 24, 2003, when then-Florida Panthers defenseman Mathieu Biron scored a game-winning goal against his older brother Martin Biron, at that point the starting goalie for the Buffalo Sabres.

    The wildest part of that goal is that Biron (the defenseman) scored only three goals that season and only 12 in his six-year, 253-game career. It just so happened that one of them was against his brother.

    It nearly happened one year earlier, prompting Martin to joke that if his brother had scored he would have retired on the spot.

    More from the Nov. 25, 2003 Florida Sentinel:

    Last February, when Panthers defenseman Mathieu Biron nearly batted a puck out of midair in overtime to beat his older brother, Martin, the Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender said, “If he would have gotten that goal, I probably would have retired right on the spot.”

    With their parents, Rejean and Celine, on hand, the sibling rivalry that originated in Lac St. Charles, Quebec, continued at Office Depot Center on Monday night, and Mathieu got his goal.

    It turned out to be the winner in a 2-1 Panthers’ victory, and Mathieu, as far as we know, didn’t send Martin into retirement.

    “I hope he doesn’t quit now,” Mathieu, three years younger than Martin, joked. “I’ll be sure to hear his press conference, but I knew it would happen sooner or later. If I don’t see him, I’ll be sure to call him [today].”

    The only players to score a goal against their brother in an NHL game are…

    Paul Thompson scored 13 goals against Tiny Thompson between the 1926 and 1931 seasons.
    Brian Smith scored two goals (in the same game!) against his brother Gary Smith during the 1967-68 season. Smith played just two seasons in the NHL and scored only 10 goals.
    Phil Esposito scored 25 goals in 18 games against Tony Esposito. Two of those goals came in Tony’s first career start. That game ended in a 2-2 tie.

    There is only one set of brothers active in the NHL today that could produce a similar result, and that would be P.K. Subban scoring a goal against his brother, Malcolm Subban. They have played four games against each other with Malcolm stopping all seven of P.K.’s shots against him.

    Fighting Like Brothers

    The wildest brother vs. brother incident took place April 7, 1997, in an otherwise forgettable Hartford Whalers vs. Buffalo Sabres game.

    It was then that Buffalo’s Wayne Primeau dropped the gloves and fought his brother, Keith.

    It all started during a net-front scramble and resulted in the two brothers dropping the gloves because they just so happened to be the closest to each other.

    Keith admitted after the game that he rushed into the locker room and called his parents to apologize.

    From the Hartford Courant:

    “It’s not just another player [Wayne] was scuffling with. It was the goaltender,” Keith said via the Hartford Courant. “When I came into the [locker] room [right after the fight], I was real upset. I called my parents right away. My dad was laughing, actually. I was looking for someone to settle me down, and my dad did that. My mom said, ‘Go out there and see what you can do to tie the game up.’”

    Even though they would play against each other a few more times in their careers they would never fight again, keeping a promise they made to their parents.

    For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.