Is the new NHL killing rivalries? (and entertainment?)

This morning on the Team 1200 Pierre McGuire commented that the Colorado-Detroit game last night was an entertaining game. He was then asked if that rivalry was still there and his immediate comment, almost before the question was finished being asked, was and emphatic no, not like before and that none of the players or personalites are there anymore. That got me to thinking, are any rivalries as good now as before? I can tell you that the rivalry hatred between the Senators and Leafs isn’t what it used to be pre-lockout. Sure, Sens fans still love to boo the Leafs, but it doesn’t seem the same. They don’t have the hatred for the team or the players like they did in the past. The Leafs-Habs still have a rivalry going but I am not sure it is quite the same either. Toronto has played 7 games with division rival Boston so far this season and I have a hard time saying any of the games were played with much passion or with any sense of rivalry hatred towards each other. Same for Ottawa-Boston last night. It was a complete yawner for 2 periods. Ottawa-New Jersey on Sunday wasn’t all that great either and they have had a bit of a rivalry in the past too. Detroit-Colorado, Colorado-Vancouver, Edmonton-Dallas, have all developed rivalries to some extent in the past but I can’t say any of them are really considered rivals anymore. Is the Flames-Oilers rivalry as good now as it was in the past? Have any new rivalries developed in the past year and a half?

So, I have to ask you all, is the new NHL killing rivalries? Do the teams you follow now have as big of rivalries now as they did pre-lockout? Has the strict (overly in some cases) calling of penalties caused so much of the physical play to be eliminated from the game reduce the sense of rivalry? Does not having guys like Tie Domi in the NHL crashing and banging reduce the sense of rivalry? Even Darcy Tucker is a shell of his former pesty self. Has the salary cap promoted so much mediocrity that every team is so much like every other team? Are there are no more big spenders to hate (Toronto) or small market underdog teams to cheer for (Ottawa)? Is all this killing the NHL? I have always contended that the New York Yankees are good for baseball because it gives a team for everyone to hate (if they don’t love them). Has the NHL eliminated this and is it going to hurt the league?

That’s a lot of questions, but I am curious as to what you all think. My opinion is skill and fancy goals are fun and all, but intensity and passion (for your team or against another team) in my mind is really what sells sports and what entertainment is all about and to some extent I think that is gone in this new NHL.

On a related note, Ottawa had a 40% discount night last night and didn’t sell out and still have 2000 tickets available for next weeks 40% discount night against Washington and one of the most skilled players in the game today in Ovechkin. Ticket sales are down across the NHL. The buzz from last season seems to have worn off. Is this a sign of things to come? Is this a result of the lack of intensity and passion in most NHL games now?

This article has 18 Comments

  1. I can see a diminished sense of rivalry too, but then again, with so much turnover between teams, how can any rivalries sustain themselves? Even Peca ends up on the same team as Tucker with little or no drama. Detroit doesn’t have many of the same players, particularly their most legendary in Yzerman and biggest personality in Shanahan, and Colorado is a shell of their former greatness with many of their marquee players on other teams, so it’s no surprise that the relationship between those two teams would be different.

    But I don’t know if you can say there’s no rivalries left at all. Any thread about either the Sens or the Leafs over at Sportsnet inevitably turns into Sens fans dissing the Leafs and Leafs fan dissing the Sens, regardless of what the original story was about (whcih is why Sportsnet insists on reporting every tiny little thing that happens with those two teams). There was also a bit of drama earlier in the season with the whole Tucker/Eaves fight when the teams were going to meet the next day. Ottawa and Buffalo are also quite competitive with each other, though I’d hesitate to call it a rivalry just yet.

    I think maybe the parity the league has provided has yielded a bit more focus in our teams. When there’s only five or six points seperating 14th from 5th in the East, coaches probably have their teams keeping their minds on play rather than taking a run at pesks and payback. Personally I’ve never been a big fan of fights and circus, Tucker throwing himself into the Sens bench, etc., so I’m ok with seeing teams with only two points on their minds.

  2. I think it has to do with the schedule. 8 games against division opponents is too much. Here we are half way through the season and the Leafs and Boston have already met 7 times! I get bored of seeing the same teams night after night, playoffs the obvious exception.
    Plus, if there were to be more non-divisional games maybe some non-divisional rivalries would heat up. I think 6 games against teams in your division makes better sense, with a rule of thumb you don’t play the same team more than 2 or 3 times in any given month.

  3. I think the main reason for rivalries is playoff matchups. The reason the NHL had REAL rivalries in the past, and I don’t mean the past 5-10 years, is because of the old divisional playoff format.

    If you went back to a 4 division format, with the top 4 teams from each division qualifying for the playoffs, and then playing WITHIN those divisions to advance, you would automatically see MUCH more heated rivalries.

    Yes this would lead to people complaining that it’s easier to get into the playoffs in certain divisions than others, but yanno what? I don’t care. That alone would give people a reason to pay attention. It would also increase interest in divisional play. The current organization is stale and frankly has no real reason for it’s existence beyond geography. The 8 games against divisional opponents thing is also too much.

    I’d like to see a structure like the following:


    Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, New York, New York, New Jersey, Toronto, Buffalo


    Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville


    Detroit, Pittsburgh (or KC… whichever), Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas, St. Louis, Columbus


    Vancouver, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix, Colorado

    You’d have 1 extra team in the Pacific and NorthEast, but I don’t see that being a huge issue if only the top 4 teams from each division are getting into the playoffs anyway.

    It would be more like baseball and frankly if teams consistently made the playoffs that would become a reason for the rest of the league to “hate” them.

  4. Those divisions make much more sense than the “we want to see Crosby” proposals in the MSM.

    I have to say OTTvBUF and BUFvCAR have been terrific so far this year, both of which were forged last year.

  5. Yes, I agree that the current division/conference set up is messing things up a bit but remember i the 21 team days 4 of the 5 (or 6) teams made the playoffs so the odds of facing the same team in the playoffs multiple years in a row was very good. But if only 4 of 7 or 8 teams make the playoffs the chances of the same teams meeting up in back to back years drops dramatically.

    I will also contend that in the salary cap era there will be no elite teams for any length of time. It’ll be a league of mass mediocrity and I will suggest that that is bad for hockey. I believe it is good for hockey to have a top team in Toronto every year. I believe it is good for hockey to have a good team in Detroit and New York and Chicago (they need a good owner) and Philadelphia and Los Angeles every year. Not only will it develop more fans in those cities but they will create more fans across the country. Not only will smaller cities will relish in the opportunity to upset them in the regular season and the playoffs but those big cities are where the national media players are. Listen to the syndicated sports shows. They are based in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago, not Columbus and Nashville and Phoenix. Become players in the big markets and you will become players across the country.

  6. I’m not entirely certain that I agree that Mass Mediocrity will be ensured by the cap. It will ensure that teams are more capable of “levelling” the playing field through free-agency and drafting. But at the same time, there will be a level of parity in coaching, scouting, and management.

    Not every team can hire the best coaches, nor the best GM, etc. In the NFL, which has had a salary cap for years, there has been a general shift away from player focused team building to more generalized systems and filling slots on teams with interchangeable parts. Personally I think that to an extent that’s good, and to an extent it’s bad. It’s good in the sense that every team can compete. It’s bad in the sense that the talent level of players is less… meaningful to a team’s success or failure.

    Having Sidney Crosby on your team won’t matter if you have crap coaching, and poor systems in place. Basically every team will have 2 or 3 stars, and every team will operate the system of it’s choice. The difference will lie in which system is most successful. The new NHL will look a lot like the old NHL when teams like Detroit and New Jersey dominate as they have for years. Replaceable parts found through good scouting, and solid systems managed by quality coaching. Whether the teams that made up for their shortcomings by signing high priced older free agents can keep up will be seen over time.

  7. Well, to be honest, I think what we will end up having is a small handful of teams that have top tier goaltending and decent to good defense and forwards leading the top of the standings, followed by a whole lot of mediocre teams, followed by a few horrid teams due to bad management.

    If you look at my power rankings, that is pretty much what you see. The top 12 teams are Anaheim, San Jose, Detroit, Buffalo, Calgary, Dallas, Vancouver, Nashville, and New Jersey and one could easily argue that these 9 teams are in the top 10-12 teams in goaltending.

    A top tier goalie is far more valuable than having Sidney Crosby or any other forward on your team. If I wanted to win, I would take Brodeur over Crosby or any other forward in a heart beat.

  8. You could make the point that Marc-Andre Fleury is a top teir goaltender in development. Which is why I assume Pittsburgh took him first overall. And considering they’ve also drafted Crosby and Malkin, I think the piece they are lacking is top end D. Gonchar is too offensive to be considered a top D man, and is also too old at this stage in the game.

  9. funny how huet who is second in save% and 11 in GAA while leading montreal to 4th in the east, 8th overall isnt in your list. did u buy the book on huet as well? its been out for so long u would think it would provide some decent information on how to beat him.

    in any event rivalries to me are dead because theres 30 teams in the league. pre lockout i think the rivalries that were there were solely on post season encounters. dallas edmonton met in the postseason 6 years in a row i believe, or something close to that. montreal boston 2 years in a row, ottawa toronto 3 or 4 times, colorado detroit and colorado vancouver were the same. i guess its just bad luck. in the past with fewer teams its easier to play the same team in the post season, now its much harder, with expansion and all these new teams have to form their rivalries, its tough. i would suspect in a few year the rivalries will be back once teams play a few postseason series. im sure it will happen.

  10. Fleury has improved a bit this year but is still a ways away from being a top tier goalie. He is still young enough to develop so not all is lost yet but Pittsburgh didn’t do him any good rushing him to the NHL.

    Gonchar is not that old yet but he is a one-dimensional player. Ryan Whitney has played much better this year and looks like he is developing into a #1 or #2 defenseman. He was drafted 5th overall in 2002. If they could get a solid defensive defenseman to go along with Whitney and Gonchar and the other defensemen they have they could be in pretty good shape on defense for the next few years.

  11. I don’t think the Blues are capable of being a playoff team. Maybe in a year or two when they get some of their prospects in their lineup. They need a goalie as well. If I were them I would try and go after one of the goalies that are potentially available on the trade market: Toskala, Biron, etc. and they have some guys those teams might be interested in. Brewer in particular. But I think with the new management the organization has stabalized and they will begin to move forward from here.

  12. Just out of curiosity… what do others on here think Darcy Tucker would fetch on the Trade Market. As far as toughness, leadership, scoring, ability go he’s pretty valuable. Admittedly his defensive skills are a huge liability. Who do you think could use him, and what do you think he’s worth in exchange?

    Just wondering.

  13. There are probably a number of teams that would be interested in Tucker. There have been rumours in the past that the Oilers really like Tucker (and may have tried to acquire him before). The Oilers prime concern is to get an experienced defenseman (will Eric Brewer return?) but they could use some offense as well. I could definitely see Dallas showing some interest. Maybe Calgary. Possibly Anaheim but like Edmonton would likely want a defenseman as their first priority. Vancouver could use some more offensive punch. Nashville could use his feistyness and experience.

    There probably aren’t as many teams in the east that would really need Tucker and I am not sure the Leafs, should they choose to trade Tucker, would trade him to someone they are fighting for a playoff spot with. I could see Tucker and his experience being a good fit in Atlanta. Montreal could use his offense but Toronto isn’t going to trade him to Montreal.

    If I had to put my money I would say if the Leafs trade Tucker it will be to a western conference team and the most likely destinations would be Dallas, Edmonton or Vanvouver, in that order. If the Leafs do trade Tucker they would be looking for a quality forward prospect with some offensive upside in return.

  14. Ok so basically it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that Tucker might go to Edmonton in exchange for a non-producer (this season) like Lupul, Stoll, or Torres? Personally I would prefer Torres or Lupul to Stoll, and I understand if this is a “high” price for Tucker, but considering the output of all 3, would it really be surprising?

  15. Yeah, that would be possible though I suspect if Edmonton was going to trade one of those 3 guys (particularly Lupul or Stoll) they would want more than Tucker back. Maybe if the Leafs included a Brendan Bell or one of the Leafs other young defensemen they might go for it.

    That said, I don’t think the Oilers will trade Stoll and it would be tough for them to trade Lupul for a rental considering he was the key component of the Pronger deal and it would be kind of like admitting a mistake.

  16. I think the problem with all 3 is they lack foot speed… which may or may not be a problem with the Leafs trying to play an up tempo game.

    I’d take torres straight up for Tucker.. especially considering we could still resign him in the summer if we REALLY wanted to… not that I personally think they should.

  17. Tucker isn’t exactly a speed demon either which combined with his agressive play is what makes him a defensive liability. He gets most of standing 10 feet around the net. His attributes has a quick shot and tenacious on the forecheck and never takes a shift off.

    Torres for Tucker might work but if the Leafs decide to trade Tucker but I suspect other teams might be willing to trade a less proven player with more upside potential and that might be more interesting to the Leafs. I guess it depends on whether they completely give up on this season or not.

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