The NHL is a multi-billion dollar business in part due to the staggering successes of its regional rivalries. Showdowns between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, Flames and Oilers and other natural rivals are guaranteed to have a heightened degree of drama, simply because of the history and hate involved.
The NHL’s Canadian rivalries are among the most passionate in any sport, but the battles between American teams also lead to some fantastic results. What are the best U.S. rivalries? Here are my picks for the top five:
5. Islanders/Rangers. No list of American archrivals would be complete without arguably the greatest one in league history. The Blueshirts and Isles have a geographic-based hatred for one another no amount of time or losing by one side (ahem) will change. And when the Islanders move to Brooklyn in 2015, the enmity will ramp up all the more.
4. Hawks/Blues. The Blackhawks’ rivalry with the Red Wings has been excellent, but takes a big hit with Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference. That leaves an opening for the Blues to supplant the Wings as the chief target for loathing among Chicago fans. The fact both squads are terrifically talented, bona fide Stanley Cup contenders will boost the impact of this clash to the levels once seen when they faced each other five times in the playoffs from 1988-93.
3. Bruins/Penguins. Boston and Pittsburgh have had memorable clashes for decades, but this feud has heated up in recent years with help from some awful actions from both sides, including Matt Cooke’s infamous assault on Marc Savard, and Shawn Thornton’s vicious punch-out of Brooks Orpik. The franchises are seen by many as the Eastern Conference’s top two teams and if they square off in the playoffs again as they did in last year’s conference final, there will be more fuel added to this fire.
2. Any combination of the three California teams. Some people prefer the Ducks and Kings as the top NHL rivalry in California; others believe the Sharks and Kings fit that bill. But when you have three hugely skilled teams that have the ability to beat up on each other, it doesn’t matter which two of the three are playing. It’s all about phenomenal hockey and fans who want intrastate bragging rights.
1. Penguins/Flyers. Whenever Pittsburgh and Philadelphia meet, there’s going to be fireworks. Seething resentment and anger are never far from the surface among players and fans. The game matters in both cities and both teams are usually competitive, which makes this rivalry consistently the best American hockey has to offer.