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Inside the NHL: In first season, Little Caesars heads right to the top of NHL arena crop

The checklist is once again complete, from sea to shining sea and from Quebec to British Columbia. Now that this corner has been to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, every NHL arena has once again been visited.

Readers ask about the best buildings all the time and knowing this column was coming, it was time to make a count of how many places we've seen in the NHL. The number came out to 42, which is 31 current arenas as well as 11 no longer in use. That includes legendary places like The Aud, Boston Garden and Maple Leaf Gardens as well as all three arenas in Tampa Bay.

Yep, three arenas in Tampa. While in Florida for spring training in days gone by, I made it to old Expo Hall for a Lightning-Canucks game and to the Thunderdome for a Lightning-Blues battle. The Thunderdome is now Tropicana Field. Strange but true: I've seen hockey in that dome as well as the 1999 Final Four and the 2008 World Series.

So if you're thinking about a road trip, where are the best places to go and maybe a few to avoid? Here's one man's opinion:

Cream of the crop

Little Caesars Arena (Detroit): There's so many places to eat and so much to walk around and see that outsiders are stunned by the number of empty seats during the actual game. People are still checking out the building. The concourse is unmatched, with a sweeping cityscape effect under a massive roof.

The seating bowl entrances are on one side and a brick facade housing offices and multiple restaurants is on the other side. The marquee from old Olympia Stadium has been re-purposed on one wall next to a giant photo of Gordie Howe. There are statues of ex-players, interactive video, history displays like old goalie masks, the players bench from Joe Louis Arena. It's brilliant.

Inside, the bowl is designed like Montreal's Bell Centre with a massive lower level and steep pitches unlike anything we've seen since the Oranges at the Aud so that even the high seats have a great view. And you don't have to even look at the ice if you don't want to because the scoreboard is the biggest, brightest and sharpest of any arena anywhere. Not to mention the Red Wings even have a practice rink on the lower level that has the Stanley Cup banners from Joe Louis Arena and a great outdoor plaza for use come spring. At a total cost of $863 million, you really do get what you pay for.

T-Mobile Arena (Vegas): The NHL's newest team has a spectacular outdoor plaza and marquee to welcome you into its glittering new home. The Knights/castle theme is everywhere, with a large castle at one end by a mural of the Las Vegas Strip and all NHL team banners. And there are two skybars by the roof that look crazy cool. It's clean, comfortable and yet another reason to make the trip to the Strip.

United Center (Chicago): The organ is fabulous, Jim Cornelison's national anthem with the fans roaring is an attraction in itself and the roar is deafening. It really is a new "Madhouse" just like the old Chicago Stadium that was located across the street. A new office building and massive team store were completed last year, relocating the iconic Michael Jordan statue into the atrium. The old Blackhawks videos projected on the ice and the scoreboard pay tribute to the franchise's past, and every team should use them as the blueprint to honor their histories.

PPG Paints Arena (Pittsburgh): It's a place befitting a Stanley Cup champion. Great sightlines and scoreboard, great technology (video screens showing Pens Cup history), fun photo ops like the Mario Lemieux statue outside and a giant goalie mask inside. The upper concourse affords a glass wall view of downtown, rare for the nosebleeds. And you can get Primanti Brothers sandwiches, the Pittsburgh special that features the french fries and cole slaw right on the bread with the meat.

Bell Centre (Montreal): It's a cathedral-like setting that feels like it's been around for decades and not just a 21-year-old replacement for the fabled Forum. The videoboard is incredible, so are the statues outside and the Canadiens captains display on the ceiling by the box office. Huge steep pitches make every seat great and the noise when the Habs are rolling is hard to match. Seems like a place every hockey fan must go to at least once.

Madison Square Garden (New York): They spent $1 billion to make over the self-proclaimed "World's Most Famous Arena" over three recent summers and you clearly get what you pay for. The concourses are palatial with top New York City chefs providing numerous food options. The history displays and memorabilia from the building's past can keep you busy for a long time. Rangers, Knicks, boxing, college hoops, concerts, the Pope, presidents are all there. The banner display on the iconic ceiling is awesome. Go to a game and you'll hear the Rangers' goal song in your head for a week after. The fans love it.

XCel Energy Center (Minnesota): "The State of Hockey" has a rustic outdoors theme throughout. Trees line the bottom of the massive scoreboard and concession stands and gift shops have "Hockey Lodge" log cabin themes. The club level has framed jerseys of every high school team in the state, paying homage to its incredible tradition. You'd never pick this rink out as a must-visit but once you get there, you want to go back. Friendly people everywhere.

Nice places, not the best locales

Rogers Place (Edmonton): The Oilers got a big upgrade last year when they moved downtown from spartan Rexall Place, home of their '80s dynasty. This place has a massive atrium that's reminiscent of KeyBank Center, huge numbers of bars in the concourses, giant bobbleheads of the likes of Connor McDavid and others, plenty of pictures of Wayne Gretzky and a huge wall of suites on one end. Whew. Great banner collection too.

MTS Centre (Winnipeg): The NHL's smallest rink doesn't even hit 16,000 seats and can be easily missed from the street. Once inside, however, it's got a college-like atmosphere. The fans roar and often stand the whole game. The noise can be epic if the Jets are on a roll. And, yes, I'm partial because it might be the best press box in the league, with a view hanging right over the ice as low as any place we go these days.

Prudential Center (New Jersey): It's beautiful on the inside -- with a massive new scoreboard this season -- but not so hot on the outside, where the hardscrabble downtown of Newark remains the most sketchy area for a rink anywhere in the league. They still struggle to draw and that has to be a factor. Stay in Manhattan and take the train.

BB&T Arena (Florida): Always been fond of this place, most notable in Sabres history for the rink that hosted the draft the night the Sabres took Jack Eichel. Great views, nice concourses, sprawling club lounges, acres of parking right around the venue. Just in the wrong spot on the edge of the Everglades. Too bad they can't pick it up and put it closer to the population center of Fort Lauderdale.


There are a ton of arenas in the league built in the mid- to late '90s, just like KeyBank Center, and early 2000s. Some have already had some renovations, like Buffalo's home badly needs. Four stand out as the best in this group.

Amalie Arena (Tampa Bay): The Lightning's home was the first with the massive blue line to blue line scoreboard that every rink simply has to have now (hint-hint, Mr. & Mrs. Pegula). The nice weather provides a great backdrop for concerts on the outdoor plaza, the massive organ sets a great tone for game presentation and new club sections were built after the trip to the 2015 Cup final that add to the viewing spots. Florida is half-empty most nights but Tampa Bay's place is almost always packed.

The giant scoreboard in Tamap Bay's Amalie Arena was a first in the NHL (Mike Harrington/Buffalo News).

Bridgestone Arena (Nashville): As you saw during last year's Cup final, this place is all about country and there's a stage right in the bowl for intermission concerts. Last year's run really focused attention on the fans but they've always been into the games and their chanting simply reached new proportions, of both volume and attention garnered. Most of the seats have been replaced and there are new restaurants inside, including one named for radio announcer Pete Weber the longtime Bisons voice who has been with the Preds since day one in 1998.

Staples Center (Los Angeles): It's one of those sterile places with multiple levels of seats that pushes fans in the upper deck a long way away but there's a certain Tinseltown elegance that makes this place attractive. The statues outside featuring old Kings and Lakers are incredible, and Kareem and Magic usually have Kings jerseys over them on gameday. The Kings and Lakers banners inside are huge and you find yourself staring at the most elaborate concert rigging in the rafters anywhere. The food choices in the concourse are numerous and if you can get a club seat with in-seat service, like I did last year for a Clippers game, the food is opulent in the seats and at the buffet in the immaculate club concourses.

Air Canada Centre (Toronto): The music is too loud at times and too many fans in the rich Platinum section by the ice stay hidden eating their sushi as play is going on but the Leafs' home is good for the fan. Food choices are numerous, both inside and next door at Maple Leaf Square. Historic pictures are everywhere, starting with the "Legends Row" statues outside, with some of the best in Toronto history on the bench or hopping over the boards. One of the best photo spots in the league.

Among the highlights of Legends Row at Air Canada Centre are goalie Johnny Bower (right) and captain Darryl Sittler going over the boards at left (Mike Harrington/Buffalo News).

Others: Nationwide Arena (Columbus), American Airlines Center (Dallas), Scottrade Center (St. Louis), Capital One Arena (Washington), Honda Center (Anaheim), Rogers Arena (Vancouver), Pepsi Center (Denver), TD Garden (Boston), Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia) and Gila River Arena (Arizona) are all fine but relatively unremarkable places. The goal cannon in Columbus is cutesy the first couple times you hear it and then quickly becomes a pox upon your ears.

Bottom tier

Canadian Tire Centre (Ottawa): The arena is fine enough but it's far from downtown via a two-lane expressway. Traffic can be a disaster and seats are now being tarped over, Florida-style. The Senators need to move downtown or you wonder if they could become a candidate to shift to Quebec City.

SAP Center (San Jose): The noise is solid and the pregame entrance out of the Shark's mouth after it's lowered from the rafters is the one of the league's best. But the place is small and cramped, which makes it tough for amenities. On the other hand, the upper sections still have a good view. Not much talk of a replacement but sure seems like they need it.

PNC Arena (Carolina):  Nobody goes. No energy except from visiting fans. Even though Game 7 in 2006 with haunt Sabres fans forever and Carolina hosted a Stanley Cup celebration a couple of weeks later, this place is better known for being the home to NC State basketball.

Scotiabank Saddledome (Calgary): Plenty noisy when 19,000 people get going. And you'll never see more fans in the home team's sweater than here. But the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics is a relic now, with fans bemoaning the hopelessly clogged concourses and media fretting each time they have to traverse the knee-shaking catwalk into the press box suspended from the roof. With Edmonton getting a new place, Calgary has to get out of its political muck and deal with the arena issue.

Barclays Center (Brooklyn): A great building to watch a Nets game in. A disaster to watch NHL hockey. Seats at one end don't afford a view of the net. The scoreboard is over a blue line. There's a goofy white SUV parked right behind the glass at one corner. the upper seats are just about in Staten Island. The Islanders can't get out of this place fast enough.

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