By Matt Lynch
Though the 2011 NHL playoffs were extremely feisty and filled with budding rivalries, I believe that something can be done in order to make the NHL and the playoffs even better. At the moment, there is a lack of the old intense rivalries that have existed in the NHL. Rivalries are fostered through continuous play between two teams when the games matter most. Rivalries are born in the playoffs. Rivalries are based off the players and the fans pure hatred of another NHL team and its players. In fact, much of this hatred must come from fans or players loathing specific players on rival teams. Looking around the NHL today there are very few teams who new and young Rangers fans can have good reason to hate and I think something must be done to change that.
I miss the days, where the Red Wings and Avalanche despised each other leading to numerous on ice brawls, including goalie fights. My solution, as I have advocated for the past couple of years, to this problem is already starting to come to fruition. Bring back the two conference four division setup, where a team must win their division to make it to the conference finals. Bettman proposed this to the board of Governors in June and it seemed as if it went over well. Not only would this reduce travel and travel costs but it would also more importantly create great rivalries and match-ups. The NHL would be more exciting and would draw a much broader fan base. All of this can occur as long as the old playoff system was instituted again. If the eastern conference had a North and a South division, the North division should be the Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Sabres, Rangers, Islanders and Devils. While the Penguins, Flyers, Capitals, Lightning, Panthers, Hurricanes and Predators should be put into the South division. I chose the Predators over the Blue Jackets and Red Wings, who both have petitioned the league to be in the Eastern conference, due to their southern location in Nashville, TN. I realize this structure splits up the Penguins, Rangers and Flyers, but the Atlantic division must be spilt up in someway and I believe the Devils, Islanders and Rangers cannot be spilt up.
It has been rumored that the same playoff system would be used where the top 8 from each conference would make the playoffs and it would be played according to seeding. This is the wrong way for the NHL to handle this. The top 4 teams in each division should make the playoffs and from there each division plays a mini-playoff within itself to see which team wins the division and moves on to the conference finals. It would be incredible for rivalries and for creating exciting meaningful hockey, if every year the Rangers, Islanders and Devils would be fighting for a playoff spot and could potentially be playing each other in the playoffs every year as well. I can only imagine that if this system were put into place in 2012-2013, what the potential playoff match-ups could be as we watch the rise of the Islanders, Devils, Rangers and Bruins franchises over the next five years. In recent years, the Rangers rivalries have died down and I believe the new structure I propose can solve this problem.
The Islanders and the Rangers rivalries used to be great in the past. However, without great success from the two teams in the past 10 years, there does not seem to be a strong rivalry left. As both the Islanders and Rangers get better and improve over the next couple of years, this rivalry could find its feet again and perhaps the Rangers faithful can find new Islanders to hate. However, at the moment the rivalry only exists in the hearts of the elder Rangers fans who still clamor to muster up the chants of “Beat your wife Potvin, beat your wife.”
The Devils are somewhat of a Rangers rival today but nothing close to as in the early and mid 1990s. Back then, meaningful playoff match-ups were the norm between these two tri-state franchises. However, since then the rivalry has been less heated. There have been meaningful games, the shootout win last year after Drury’s last second goal and the last game of this past season propelling the Rangers into the playoffs. Furthermore, it seems that every time Henrik faces Brodeur, he seems to up his level of play, trying to best one of the greatest goalies who has ever lived. However, once again, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rivalry left between the teams and though the fans would love to hate each other there is very little animosity at present. Instead, the Rangers fans, like myself, are jealous of the devils success over the past 15 years.
So who are the most hated opposing teams and players? The Rangers and Rangers fans do love to hate the Flyers. We loved the way Dubinsky went after Mike Richards every game and the little spats that occurred between them, but with Mike Richards gone who can Dubie fight? Everyone who isn’t a Flyers fan hates Pronger, both in his on ice play and off ice antics. There have been some very meaningful games, like the two games to end the 2010 season, however there still isn’t a complete hatred for this team.
The Rangers have had many heated affairs with the Boston Bruins recently, including the epic game from the end of this year. There are very many Bruins to hate, including Lucic who as I will never forget, got kicked out of a 2009 pre-season game for spearing Michael Del Zotto. Brad Marchand is also very hate able as he involves himself in every scrum. We get it Brad Marchand, you’re a very short guy with a huge Napoleonic complex. REAL ORIGINAL. However this rivalry is not the most heated or extraordinary the Rangers have at the moment. One could even say the Capitals are a big Rangers rival after expelling the Rangers from the postseason the last two times, but there isn’t much hatred between these two teams either.
In my humble opinion, there is one player who Rangers players and Rangers fans must hate due to his on ice antics and “little baby” like nature. I’m sorry, Sidney Crosby, but you are a little b***ch. In the past two years, I don’t think there is any player who the Rangers could hate more stemming from the incident with Dubinsky to the incident with Lundqvuist and Staal. I was annoyed when Crosby was injured this year as when the Rangers play the Penguins I want Crosby to get pummeled and embarrassed as much as possible. When the Rangers beat the Penguins 5-2 and then 3-2 in both fantastic games from early this season, it was incredible. Yet, even though the Rangers hate Crosby and the Penguins, there haven’t been enough meaningful games or playoff series between the teams for this to be considered a great rivalry.
With such lackluster rivalries, I believe the two conference four division structure is the way to bring back some old rivalries, while also making the NHL much more exciting.
What teams and what players do you guys hate the most and do you agree with the new structure I have proposed?
Just a reminder that I will be accepting guest blog entries until July 31st. Please e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner will receive a home blue Derek Stepan jersey.