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NHL vs. AHL: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Published on February 20, 2024
The NHL (National Hockey League) is a professional ice hockey league in North America featuring the highest level of competition, while the AHL (American Hockey League) serves as its primary developmental league.
NHL vs. AHL

Key Differences

The NHL is the premier professional ice hockey league in North America, showcasing top-tier talent and higher competitive standards. In contrast, the AHL primarily functions as a developmental league for players aspiring to reach the NHL, offering a blend of young prospects and seasoned professionals honing their skills.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Feb 20, 2024
Both the NHL and AHL are based in North America, but the NHL has a broader geographic footprint with teams across the United States and Canada. The AHL, while also present in both countries, is more concentrated in specific regions, primarily serving as a feeder system for NHL teams.
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In the NHL, teams consist of the most skilled players, often with international experience. The AHL, conversely, is where players develop and refine their skills, with many AHL players eventually moving up to the NHL, reflecting the developmental nature of the league.
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The NHL enjoys a larger, more global fan base and receives extensive media coverage, including major TV deals and international broadcasting. The AHL, while also popular, has a more localized fan base and receives less media attention in comparison to the NHL.
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The NHL generates significantly more revenue than the AHL, reflected in higher player salaries, larger arenas, and more lucrative commercial deals. The AHL operates with smaller budgets and tends to focus more on player development than commercial success.
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Comparison Chart

Level of Competition

Elite, professional
Developmental, semi-professional
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Geographic Reach

North America, broader coverage
North America, more localized
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Purpose

Premier competition, entertainment
Player development, NHL feeder system
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Media Coverage

Extensive, global
Limited, more regional
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Economic Scale

Higher revenue, salaries
Smaller budgets, focus on development
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NHL and AHL Definitions

NHL

A professional ice hockey league in North America.
The NHL features some of the world's best hockey players.
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AHL

Less media coverage but vital for player growth.
AHL games may not be as widely broadcasted as NHL games, but are important for player development.
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NHL

Known for its high-speed, physical gameplay.
NHL games are famous for their intensity and skill level.
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AHL

A developmental ice hockey league for NHL prospects.
Many players start their careers in the AHL before making it to the NHL.
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NHL

A mix of North American and international ice hockey talent.
The NHL drafts players from all over the world.
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AHL

A league where players refine their skills for the NHL.
In the AHL, players work hard to earn an NHL call-up.
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NHL

The pinnacle of professional ice hockey competition.
Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate dream in the NHL.
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AHL

Focuses on developing young hockey talent.
The AHL is crucial for grooming future NHL stars.
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NHL

A league of 32 teams competing for the Stanley Cup.
The NHL's regular season is a precursor to the exciting playoffs.
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AHL

A stepping stone for coaches and players to the NHL.
AHL teams are often coached by future NHL coaches.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

How many teams are in the AHL?

The AHL has 31 teams.
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What is the NHL?

The NHL is a professional ice hockey league in North America, considered the highest level of competition in the sport.
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What is the relationship between NHL and AHL teams?

Most AHL teams have affiliations with NHL teams, serving as a developmental ground for NHL prospects.
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What is the Stanley Cup?

The Stanley Cup is the championship trophy awarded annually to the NHL playoff winner.
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Can AHL players play in the NHL?

Yes, AHL players can be called up to play in the NHL.
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What is the AHL?

The AHL is the American Hockey League, serving as the primary developmental league for the NHL.
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How many teams are in the NHL?

The NHL consists of 32 teams.
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What is the average salary in the NHL?

The average salary in the NHL is significantly higher than in the AHL, reflecting the league's premier status.
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How do players get into the AHL?

Players can enter the AHL through drafts, signings, or as undrafted free agents.
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What is the average salary in the AHL?

AHL salaries are generally lower than in the NHL, as it is a developmental league.
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How long is the NHL season?

The NHL season typically runs from October to April, followed by the playoffs.
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How long is the AHL season?

The AHL season is similar in length to the NHL season but can vary slightly.
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How does the NHL draft work?

The NHL draft allows teams to select eligible players, typically from junior leagues, college, or European leagues.
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Are NHL games more popular than AHL games?

Yes, NHL games generally attract more viewers and have a larger fan base compared to AHL games.
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Do NHL and AHL teams play each other?

No, NHL and AHL teams do not compete against each other in official games.
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Shumaila Saeed
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What's the main goal of an AHL team?

The main goal of an AHL team is to develop players for the NHL.
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Is the AHL international?

The AHL is primarily a North American league with teams in the United States and Canada.
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Are the rules the same in NHL and AHL?

The rules in the NHL and AHL are mostly similar, but there can be minor differences.
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Who watches over the rules in the NHL?

The NHL has its own governing body and commissioner who oversee the rules and operations of the league.
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Can AHL teams win the Stanley Cup?

No, the Stanley Cup is exclusively for NHL teams.
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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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