For Many, Hartford Whalers Represent the Final Days of a Better NHL

1993-1994: Chris Pronger of the Hartford Whalers.

Is Hartford Whalers gear outselling a significant proportion of active NHL team merchandise?

It depends who you ask.

According to a vendor who’s a major Whaler seller, Whaler gear is in the top five nationally.

According to the NHL, Whaler gear is popular, but they won’t rank it against other NHL teams.

The Whalers are in the midst of a full-born renaissance.

This weekend was the Whalers Reunion and Fan Fest.

The Hartford Courant has created a Whalers site that includes an article archive.

It’s pretty stunning when you consider the number of papers that won’t cover an active team, let alone one that left town in 1997.

Why the Whaler nostalgia?

A lot of it is driven by people from Connecticut who miss their team.

But that’s not enough to propel Whaler gear sales as high as they seem to be.

There’s the general popularity of throwback gear. Once a celebrity is seen with it, others tend to follow suit.

But also, I think the Whalers are seeing a resurgence because they represent a simpler time in the NHL. The Whalers left Connecticut for North Carolina, part of the NHL’s sunbelt expansion that pulled teams out of cities that loved them, and placed them into cities where hockey love had to built from square one.

For hockey fans, the Whalers are a nice reminder of the days when the NHL would stick a franchise in a city not because it was a large market or an important geographic location, but because there were people in the city willing to pay to see hockey.

Of course, to be fair, part of the reason the Whalers had to leave Hartford was that there weren’t enough people willing to pay to see hockey

The fact that so many NHL fans are so interested in the Whalers should send a message to the league.

Fans obviously aren’t satisfied with the current state of the NHL and so are looking back to a time when they loved hockey. Back to a time when you could see daylight between a goalie and the goal. Back to a time when games weren’t decided by a skills competition. Back to a time when fans talked about hockey and not about contracts and cap space.

The Whalers love isn’t necessarily about the Whalers. I think it’s more about remembering one of the last moments the NHL was a league for hockey fans, not a league trying to attract more casual viewers.

And as long as we’re talking about old NHL franchises, Rich Chere has a really nice piece on the old Golden Seals.