There’s a lot of questions that come with the Wings moving to a different division and different conference. One of the big ones is going to be who is the big bad rival the Red Wings will have? Which dates are we going to circle on the calendar? Which co-worker do we need to ostracize a bit more? Which team do we need to get a head start on having an absolute dyed-in-the-wool hate for? Essentially… who is going to replace the Colorado Avalanche?
The NHL loves it’s rivalries. They drive ratings big time, as evidence by Wednesday Night Rivalry showdown on NBC Sports Network. It was a bit of a stretch at times (When was Minnesota and Chicago a thing?) and it promises to be a bit questionable this year (Buffalo and Detroit? You’re making this up as you go.) Still, there’s no arguing that rivalries are good for the NHL and local markets too.
Let’s start by going over what exactly makes a rivalry. I’m a big believe that what ultimately makes a rivalry is meeting in the playoffs. I don’t care how big of a blood feud you think you have on your hands, there is nothing that makes a stewing hate quite like a match up in the playoffs. The 1 ½ – 2 weeks of playing each other every other day lets that hate build up. That same hate explodes out when one team sends the other team home. The winner gets to get closer to the Stanley Cup, the loser goes home to throw darts at the winner’s headshots and lick his lips in anticipation of the next time they get to play that team that eliminated them.
Another essential ingredient is both teams have to be relatively close in skill level. Pens/Caps has died down a lot since the Penguins have been consistently successful and the Caps are better known as the best of the worst in the Southleast Division (can’t wait to see how they turn out in a decent division but I digress). Both teams can be bad too. Edmonton and Calgary haven’t accomplished much the past few years but there’s no love lost there, though I’m sure geography always helps too. Nothing lets a rivalry die, however, like when one team succeeds and the other doesn’t. I don’t mean to pick on Colorado, but Detroit has stayed strong through the years, as where they haven’t. One could argue that one died in the playoffs in 2002 with Patrick Roy’s statue of liberty. Remember when that happened? Let’s relive it shall we?
Bottom line, the strong team has nothing to gain from defeating the weaker team in the rivalry. If they win, it’s expected. It they lose, it’s humiliating and everyone has to deal with that obnoxious fan who comes at you like “ HAHAHA We won, even though you’ve been significantly more successful that our team recently!” No one likes that. This is another big reason Nashville never really became a huge rival of the Red Wings. Nashville was never all that good and Detroit just got used to eliminating them. This isn’t to say Nashville couldn’t become a big rival of Detroit eventually, but switching conferences is sure to derail that.
The last essential ingredient for a big rivalry is big moments, usually involving someone getting hurt, that brings the team together in its hatred for the opposition. Remember those brawls between the Red Wings and the Avalanche? Let’s relive one shall we?
An opening salvo like this makes for a war that results in what is arguably one of the best rivalries in the history of the NHL. And this isn’t something unique to the Wings/Avalanche rivalry either. Buffalo and Boston became an intense little thing, though lacking some of the other elements listed above, when Milan Lucic took some liberties with Ryan Miller. To use Nashville as an example again, the Predators laid the foundation for a legitimate rivalry with the Red Wings in the 2012 playoffs. Remember when Shea Weber slammed Henrick Zetterberg’s head into the glass after the 3rd period had come to a close? Let’s never relive that.