Well, it looks like the Seattle Kraken is going to go unbeaten against the Vancouver Canucks this season. A pre-season 2-0 record while outscoring them 9-3 is a nice start for establishing a Kraken-Canucks rivalry. But surely that’s not all that goes into good, long-term hate?
What Rivalries Need
The biggest concern for the NHL is – as always – making money. Establishing loyalty is great, and obviously having team success can do that. But if a team isn’t successful to start with, what else can be done? Establishing a rival as quickly as possible is a great start! Your team can not only sell jerseys for your guys – who may or may not stick around more than one season – but shirts against your enemies, too! An “Anyone But Montreal” shirt can find customers in several different markets, after all.
Let’s look at what can get a good Kraken-Canucks rivalry going off the hop.
Okay, look. The Original Six are always going to have a leg up on the other NHL teams, here. Specifically the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. It’s certainly not the be-all, end-all of rivalries, though. Outside those two, who else are rivals? The New York Rangers have the Islanders; The Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche wars were amazing to watch, as were the battles between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. And the Toronto Maple Leafs? They have everyone else in Canada who was force-fed a steady diet of Leafs every Saturday night, so they’re set.
Thing is, only one of those Original Six matches really has a history that’s worth calling a constant rivalry. Despite the occasional outburst from Toronto, it’s Bruins-Habs. The Canucks obviously have a 50-year lead on the Kraken, so there isn’t any history there. And no, pre-season doesn’t really count.
This. Is. Gold. The Blackhawks-Blues and Wings-Avs rivalries come straight from playoff runs. Vancouver had repeated clashes with both Chicago and the Calgary Flames leading to two of the most iconic calls in their history. For the next few years, even regular-season games between these “big-moment” teams were essential viewing. Even after one or both teams dropped out of the playoff races, they would still draw viewers. The boost both teams got was short-term but they would be big! The odds of a Kraken-Canucks rivalry growing from playoff clashes? Kinda remote for now. The Magic Eight Ball says ask again later.
Okay, so there are two things they don’t have. Both of those rely on time passing, so they can show up later. What do we have to build off of now?
When the Flames moved to town, the team was, well, worth moving from Atlanta. In eight years they had won two playoff games, never mind a series. And that’s back when 75% of the league reached the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, took a couple of years to get going, but once they did the 1980s were their decade. It’s real easy to hate champions when they’re your next-door neighbour. And when you share geography, you look for the differences. No arguments are quite so violent as ones within families, and this is no exception.
Vancouver and Seattle have proximity in spades. There’s still a natural barrier in the Salish Sea, but at least it’s not a frikkin’ mountain range. Fans of both teams can get back and forth easily enough without buying plane tickets. It’s not quite a day trip unless you’re into a lot of driving, but it’s an option. It probably helps that the team mascots are both ocean-going. It certainly does for online fan art.*
It’s a bit of a cheat to have the Battle of Alberta here since they really are the ideal. Calgary won a championship themselves in the Oilers run of five in seven years, so they could battle skill-for-skill some years. Even when both teams did poorly, they met more or less as equals. And before anyone talks about the Oilers in the Hall of Fame, don’t be so quick to dismiss the Flames. Their list has a couple of ‘cheats’ like Brett Hull and Grant Fuhr but doesn’t have the ridiculously talented Kent Nilsson or 50-goal scorer Håkan Loob. There wasn’t any better hockey when these two were in their prime.
That all being said, the Canucks have not exactly been at the top of their game of late. Which is the ideal situation for the Kraken to join the Pacific division. The best Kraken-Canucks rivalry would have both teams working their way up the ladder, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Vancouver should be on the upswing now, and Seattle… well, prognosticators are a bit gun-shy about expansion teams right now. But they probably won’t be a regular in the playoffs just yet. But they do have really good goaltending, some skill up front, and a very good veteran leading the defence.
One thing the league learned, eventually, from repeated expansions is that having a good expansion team is better than having a bad expansion team. So the last few expansions have a more generous list of players to select than previously. Some players can get taken who actually have some meaning to their former teams. It’s a nice emotional hook, and for Vancouver it’s… Kole Lind.
Okay, so it’s probably not the guy who only played seven games for the Canucks. There are some fans who regret the loss, but that’s not much for impact, really. On the other hand, the Kraken did pick up someone who may be their first-line centre and carries some emotional weight among Canucks fans: Jared McCann. Yeah, they got him from Toronto, but only because that’s where he ended up.
McCann’s history of being selected by the Canucks in the first round of 2014, when the need for centres was obvious to even the most casual fans, is a real highlight locally. He interviewed angry at dropping to 24th and followed that up with a monster junior year. He went from junior to the NHL, played one year, and was moved to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson. Yes, the Canucks needed defence, but they also needed centres and Gudbranson was not exactly the hoped-for return. Especially when it included second- and fourth-round draft picks. And if you think a trade from five years ago isn’t particularly relevant now, I’d like to welcome you to Canucks fandom! It doesn’t help that the other first-round pick from that year was Jake Virtanen…
We all know that the pre-season games aren’t a good indicator of actual talent levels. This is especially true when one team is dressing their near-NHL roster because it’s their last game before they start counting and the other is auditioning fourth-line players. So long as we ignore the last expansion team to play Vancouver as their first-ever game, that is.
There’s every chance this Kraken-Canucks rivalry can establish itself this season. They have proximity, possibly equal talent, and players of interest. The home opener for Seattle is the Canucks, and even if the teams drift apart in the standings getting a win right away can really establish a team – or at least a part of the team’s mythology. Just ask the Ottawa Senators.
*We’re, uh, going to let you look that up yourselves. Safe Search on, kids!
Kraken-Canucks Rivalry Main Photo: