As you have undoubtedly noticed by now, this week is Rivalry Week across SB Nation. In order to dig into the rivalries across the NHL, we talked to our NHL team sites about historic rivalries and then asked NHL fans what they thought were hockey’s biggest rivalries. Leave a comment below for yours!
There was once a time when Islanders-Rangers would be considered one of the most intense rivalries in the NHL. Judging by my colleagues’ answers and the accompanying survey (not to mention the common sense that almost no one but a very select, damaged few stragglers still care about the Islanders right now), it’s pretty clear that those days are well over. But the embers are still there. The franchises have almost 50 years of brawls and playoff series and crushing defeats and euphoric wins on both sides. The thing the Islanders and Rangers have over all other NHL rivalries is the deep familial bonds that tie them together. Families, friend groups, work places, neighborhoods, all have been split between the two for decades. It’s not unusual for, say, a mother and son to be fans of one team and a daughter and father to be fans of the other all in the same family. You might be the only Islanders fan in an office of Rangers fans or a lone Ranger on a block of blue and orange. Long Island has never truly been “Islanders Country” when a short ride on the railroad can drop you right underneath Madison Square Garden. There are a million permutations and they all boil down to a simple hatred of the other person’s choice of hockey team. It’s as primal as that. Maybe one day, it will be the single biggest rivalry in the NHL. But for now, that honor belongs to “The New York Islanders vs. A Place to Play.”
- Dan Saraceni, Lighthouse Hockey
Since my team can’t beat anybody right now, it’s hard to say they even have a current rivalry, let alone the best in hockey. I’ll drop gloves with and turtle anybody who says the old Wings vs. Avalanche rivalry wasn’t the best, but that one died years ago. Watching from the outside of all these heated matchups, I’m going to agree that Flames/Oilers is heating up nicely with both teams being good enough to be relevant again. Boston and just about everybody else because nobody likes the Bruins works well. I’ll say in all seriousness though that the current biggest rivalry in our sport is Eugene Melnyk vs. the fans. Nobody crushes dreams like the Senators’ owner.
- J.J. from Kansas, Winging it in Motown
I’m going to stick with what I know and that’s the Calgary Flames. And with me sticking with the Flames, it has to be the Flames and Oilers. Ever since the Flames moved to Calgary from Atlanta there’s been nothing but visceral hate between these two franchises and cities. And yes, Edmonton has the Cups and sure, there were some lean years on both sides, things are really heating up again. Matthew Tkachuk (you know the Oilers passed on him in the draft, right?) did a splendid job of sending this heated rivalry into the stratosphere this season with his new friendship with Edmonton’s Zack Kassian. Heck, a Calgary radio station raised enough money to put up a Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton prior to a Flames visit. All rivalries require some sort of foil and some stars that each city hates. Both Calgary and Edmonton have those and the fact that they could meet in the playoffs this season makes it that much better. Rivalries require both teams to be on equal footing, otherwise it’s no fun and this rivalry is right where it needs to be.
- Mark Parkinson, Matchsticks & Gasoline
If we’re talking teams, I’m going to have to say Flames/Oilers. Two teams that are roughly equal in talent and close geographically. It’s something that, hopefully, the Lightning and the Panthers will finally develop over the next few seasons. I’ll throw Connor McDavid vs. Auston Matthews as the player vs. player rivalry that the league will push to keep things spicy over the next decade.
- Justin G., Raw Charge
With respect to the team that matters, the New Jersey Devils, that would be the one with the New York Rangers — better known on the site as Our Hated Rivals. With respect to the league as a whole and considering NHL history, I would select Boston and Montreal.
With respect to international hockey, as tempting as it is to pick America and Canada or Sweden and Finland, I think Canada and Russia is the bigger one. The 1972 Summit Series alone was more than just the politics or the known facing the unknown; it was a series of hockey philosophies which has continued to permeate how hockey is played today. Even to this day, the international games at any age level between Canada versus Russia has this air of each country wanting to show which system is better and, as such, the games carry their own special weight.
- John Fischer, All About the Jersey
I’ll be a little bit biased here and go with the Blues and Blackhawks. There are a lot of teams that hate each other, but in many of the rivalries the two teams have overall had the same amount of success. For the Blues and Blackhawks, it was always a little brother/big brother dynamic, which I think served the double purpose of irritating the Hawks and their fans to no end and also irritating Blues fans. We know we don’t have the success of the Blackhawks, recent or not, and to a degree I think that shoulder chip is what drives the competition. At least now we’ll never have to hear that “how do they drink beer in St. Louis without cups?” joke again.
- Laura Astorian, St. Louis Game Time
There is only one answer for all of hockey: USA v Canada in women’s hockey. Only two teams have ever won Olympic gold: USA and Canada. Only two teams have ever won IIHF World Championship gold: USA and Canada. They literally play an exhibition series called “Rivalry Series.” Where else do you see such continued dominance but also a natural see-sawing over the years between which of the two teams is better?
- Michelle Jay, The Ice Garden
Michelle is correct. It’s Team USA vs Team Canada in women’s hockey. The NHL rivalry that has made the biggest impact on my life is the Rangers v. the Devils — aka the Battle of the Hudson. In just a few short years the rivalry that has literally changed NHL rules (looking at you, Sean Avery) could heat up again in a big way with both teams stockpiling young talent.
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