It was clear that in order to make a compressed 48 game NHL season work this year league organizers were going to be in tough. Their solution was simple: no games outside of the team’s respective conferences. For the most part, this will limit extensive travel and allow for teams to deal better with a more condensed schedule. But sadly it also means that unless a team makes to it to the Stanley Cup final they will only play half of the teams in the league. Here are some of the key match-ups that hockey fans will miss during the 2013 NHL season.
Toronto – Detroit
Two of the most historic and successful teams in hockey history. Although only the latter has the colour photographs to prove it. This game is usually preceded by some sort of historic pre game show. Usually as part of the NHL’s Hall of Fame night. This adds a beneficial aura that surrounds the game from puck drop. It is well documented that the Leafs have certain games that they step it up for. This would include games against Montreal, Ottawa, early on in the season and once they are eliminated from the playoffs. However, Detroit is also one of those teams and therefore this game is always competitive and entertaining. It is the kind of game that does the players honoured in the pre-game ceremonies proud.
Vancouver – Boston
It has been two years since these two teams faced off for hockey’s ultimate prize. But between these two teams the mantra of “forgive and forget” has certainly not been adopted by either of these team. It is rendered evident by the way that these games play out that neither of these teams want to lose, whether it is a meaningless regular season battle or not. While it is unclear whether this rivalry would have had the same lustre as it did last season with two years separating its inception. However, it is very possible that this rivalry will endure until none of few of the players on each current roster remain. This is the kind of rivalry but that not only has bark, but if you ask Alex Burrows it has a little bite as well.
New Jersey – Minnesota
To say Zach Parise has meant a lot to the New Jersey Devil’s organization would be an understatement. Last year at this time he was the Captain of a Devils team that would eventually go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. However, when Minnesota dumped boat loads of money at him this offseason it only made sense for Parise to return to his hometown. While the game will grow in Minnesota this will be a tough pill for the Devils, and their market, to swallow. Should this game have happened this year it would be interesting to see what reaction the Devils, and their fanbase, have towards Parise.
New York Islanders – Edmonton
Two teams who have been as of late some of the worst in the entire league. Both have struggled to string together a solid season for some time now. In fact Last Word writer Russel “Big Mick” Mackenzie recently listed the Islanders and number one in teams we feel most sorry for in the NHL. So why then, might you ask, is this listed as one of the top games we will be missing out on with no cross-conference games? The future. Both teams, the Oilers especially, have a solid crop of dynamic young players. In the 1980’s these two teams were the best around and their battles for hockey’s ultimate prize established a resounding rivalry. It will not happen in the near future, but someday these two teams could once again be hockey’s elite. This game would have been a preview.
New York Rangers – Columbus
Since being drafted into the Columbus Blue Jacket’s organization, Rick Nash has been the face of the franchise. For years Nash was a shining light in the darkness that was a mismanaged Blue Jackets hockey club. Simply sticking around for as long has he did was exemplary. However, with age starting to become a factor Nash was intelligent enough to realize that he wasn’t going to get anywhere near a championship with the Jackets. The New York Rangers were the most promising option for Nash and he will soon find himself in a new shade of red white and blue. This season a return to play the only organisation he had ever known will not happen. This is a shame as it would have been intriguing to see how Brandon Dubinsky reacted when playing his former teammates.
Montreal – Minnesota
For many this will be the biggest surprise on this list. However, its addition is certainly warranted even if it isn’t the most recognizable. This game the last two seasons has become the weirdest game on the NHL schedule, hands down. Two years ago Montreal beat the Wild 8-1 in a game that included PK Subban’s only NHL hat trick. One of the goals included Subban harnessing his inner Mo Farrah as he did laps around the Wild zone before putting the puck in off the skate of a Minnesota defender. Last years game was even more bizarre, the two teams jawed and scraped like old rivals. Ryan White was at the centre of it all, the smallest contact with Price saw White fight with an unsuspecting Wild player. Furthermore, with the game on the line in the shootout Devin Setoguchi slipped on an imaginary banana peal. It would have been interesting to see how these two teams could have done to make this years game ever more obscure.
Overall, the majority of the rivalries in the NHL have are created based on proximity. However, especially among teams who have Stanley Cup familiarities there is certainly some animosity. History, especially when the league only had 6 teams, also contribute to the importance of East versus West games. While this is the correct move for the NHL scheduling staff, although the Jets will certainly argue, it will be difficult for fans. More then ever fans of the NHL will feel isolated from one half of the league. This will be most applicable among fans who are exclusive to one NHL team. One things for certain, fans won’t be forced to suffer through another Islanders- Jackets game this upcoming season. For that we can all be thankful.
Be sure to join Max Vasilyev and Ben Kerr on Wednesday Nights at 11:00pm when they host the hockey radio show, “Puckheads”, on the Last Word Radio Network. You can listen in live or to our past podcasts by clicking here, or by searching for us on iTunes.