The NHL has made an attempt recently to bring rivalries back into national prominence. Introducing what is now known as Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBC. The schedule of course, has been released for some time. With a glance at the WNR schedule for the 2015-2016, there are some bigtime misses. I understand why the NHL has made an attempt to bring Rivalries back, as it would spike viewer interest and intrigue. However, there is a lot left to be desired about these match-ups.
In my opinion there are four main qualities that signify a rivalry.
- The teams must meet when it matters most…. Yes the Playoffs. This essentially hurts the Chicago-Detroit Rivalry, due to the restructuring of conferences.
- The franchises should be regionally based, which takes a potential Dallas-Calgary rivalry completely out of the equation…. (See Anaheim-LA, Montreal-Boston, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh)
- It must be competitive match-up. Which on paper, a potential Chicago-Minnesota match-up would be great. Same Division, Relatively Close in proximity, both teams are competitive, and have made the playoffs in recent years. However Minnesota has gotten eliminated by the Hawks the past three years. So no rivalry could essentially form until Minnesota slays the dragon and takes down Chicago.
- The teams must have some sort of success in recent years. Is anyone going to take an Edmonton and Calgary game serious right now? I do know that Sir McDavid will possibly change that going forward, but Edmonton hasn’t made the playoffs in how many years?
This brings me back to what the NHL considers Rivalries that deserve the national spotlight. Scheduled on this year’s version of WNR consists of 24 games, and half of which I would not consider rivalries currently.
-New York Rangers @ Chicago 10/7/15 (Original Six Match-up and that is all)
-Chicago @ Philadelphia 10/14/15 (2010 Cup Final Meeting, and if that is the only claim for a rivalry. Then the Hawks are rivals with Boston and Tampa Bay, and the Kings are rivals with the Rangers and the Devils,
-Pittsburgh @ Washington 10/28/15 (The NHL has been pushing this for how long due to Crosby-Ovechkin? The Pens and Caps have met 8 times in the playoffs since 1991 and the Pens have won 7 of 8 series. This does not constitute a rivalry.)
-Montreal @ Pittsburgh 11/11/15 (Montreal has bigger fish to fry with the Bruins and the Leafs rather than the Pens.)
-Washington @ Detroit 11/18/18 (Is this a rivalry because Mike Green switched sweaters?)
-Pittsburgh @ Chicago 1/6/15 (Once again dating back to the early 90’s for a “Cup Rival” for the Hawks. Other than that and a Stadium Series Matchup, this is another feeble attempt to create a Toews-Crosby Rivalry
-Detroit @ Tampa Bay 2/3/15 (Crickets…….)
–Chicago @ New York Rangers 2/17/15 (See previous mention, this is still not a rivalry)
-Philadelphia @ Chicago 3/16/15 (See previous mention, again this is still not a rivalry, and another attempt to just get the Hawk fan base to tune into nationally televised games.
-Washington @ Philadelphia 3/30/15 (Maybe it is just me but pitting the Caps against someone and calling it a rivalry just to get Ovechkin on the national stage doesn’t work.)
-Philadelphia @ Detroit 4/6/15 (This is courtesy of the realignment and the NHL attempting to make something out of nothing.)
As it currently stands the NHL missed on these Rivalry Games by not adding them to the schedule:
New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils
Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs
Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings-Anaheim Ducks
And Most Notably Philadelphia Flyers- Pittsburgh Penguins
The NHL needs to recognize the top Rivalries in the sport. Yes they have dedicated a primetime spot with NBC that focuses solely on Rivalries. So there needs to be other games that don’t necessarily saturate the market with the same teams constantly playing. However they don’t need to make a mockery of the existing and actual rivalries that exist by just placing the high drawing teams nationally against each other and attempting to call it a rivalry. This is why I suggest the NHL/NBC only introduce the Rivalry games towards the end of the season.
This accomplishes a few things:
-National Spotlight Rivalry games would generate interest and viewership for the NHL heading into the playoffs.
-Teams are vying for playoff spots and are already in a playoff mindset, which would heighten the importance of the rivalry games. This would also lead to high intensity, high stake games. Just think of the Blackhawks-Blues, or Canadiens-Bruins playing with a few weeks left in the season on primetime.
-It also highlights what could potentially be playoff series on primetime. Chicago-Detroit would be the exception to the rule here unless a Cup Final is in the near future.
The NHL would win in this situation, as would the fans, and it wouldn’t leave the fans scratching their heads during a Philadelphia-Detroit match-up on April 6th. Just a few thoughts for you.