ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The NHL seems to want to push rivalries on the fans instead of them being developed on their own. Sports fans love a good rivalry no doubt. TV ratings, ticket sales, media coverage, and general hype is all bigger when two fierce rivals battle on the ice or any playing surface.
I am noticing in the NHL that the rivalries are starting to be created by both the NHL and even those who cover the NHL. When I think of classic NHL rivalries New York Rangers/Montreal, Chicago/Detroit, Toronto/Detroit, Calgary/Edmonton all quickly come to mind. In the non-existent way-back machine, we can even throw in Quebec/Montreal and Hartford/Boston.
In the past 30 years, there have been newer rivalries that provide some actual theater. I am thinking of Chicago/St. Louis, Los Angeles/Anaheim, Ottawa/Toronto, Florida/Tampa Bay and Philadelphia/New Jersey to name a few.
The NHL is now trying to shove some new ones our way with their Wednesday night NBCSN package in the US called “Wednesday Night Rivalry” and the new divisional realignment. This season NBCSN is planning a far better rival schedule than they did last year. I am hoping that last year’s non-rival rivalries featuring St. Louis/Colorado, Colorado/Chicago, Minnesota/San Jose, Detroit/Los Angeles were due to the lockout-induced schedule. Already this year’s lineup looks to be more “rival like”.
The new divisional alignment will probably create new rivalries. They key word there is “create”, and not be pushed on the fan. If you believe some of the fodder, we already have great rivals in the Wild and Blackhawks or Detroit and Buffalo or even, yes I have read this, Columbus and Carolina.
I have no doubt some old NHL cities will become rivals again. The old Norris division showed great battles when the North Stars and Hawks would collide or the Blues would invade blustery Winnipeg and out east when the Red Wings and Sabres would knock it around. Today, they aren’t back to being true rivals in my eyes.
I am hoping we will see growth in regional rivalries in this new format. It will only help if the same new rivals meet up in the playoffs. That is when rivalries sometimes start, i.e. Colorado/Detroit, but then also can die off once they stop meeting regularly in the postseason.
I have a few ways to determine if there is a true rivalry, this can be applied to any of your favorite sports. First, do both organizations consider it to be a rivalry? Nothing is worse than having one team talk about their rivals when the other the team looks back and wonders when they became bitter rivals.
Second, there has to be a competitive balance. If one team is really good for a long time and the other is a doormat, it becomes tough to make it a rivalry. Being in the same region helps a lot. When two fan bases share many of the same values, weather, lifestyle, easy to get to the road games it helps spark a true rivalry.
The end all, be all for me though is the test of time. Time is needed to create a true rivalry. The teams have to be good at the same time, bad at the same time, one good while the other is bad, and still have that feel like it is not just your normal regular season game.
As the NHL has realigned again for the 2013-14 all I am asking is for leagues and planners to allow rivalries to be naturally created. Stop trying to force me into believing that the Coyotes and the Kings are a true battle for the fan bases. I mean who knew until a few months ago Arizona would even have the hockey team still?
The great fans in places like Nashville are begging for a rival since they entered the league. Unfortunately for them, they were placed in a division with many established rivals and their fellow new team, the Blue Jackets, didn’t compete on the ice well enough to garner a rivalry starting. Maybe now they can find one with Dallas so the Stars stop pretending that the old North Stars rivals in St. Louis and Chicago still pretend they are the same franchise. Note to Dallas, you may have the franchise records in your books but you are a long way from the Dino Ciccarelli, Don Beaupre, Neal Broten days those fan bases remember in your sweater.
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