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NHL Winter Classic Proves That Anticipation Is Key When It Comes to Rivalries

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 02:  Anton Stralman #32 of the New York Rangers handles the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 2, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Adam GrahamAnalyst IIJanuary 4, 2012

With the 2012 NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers in the books, one thing that’s now clear is that these two teams have a fierce rivalry.

From the game itself to the weeks leading up to the big event, the bad blood between the Flyers and Rangers was evident and the NHL loved it.

With that being said, perhaps the league should reconsider its stance on how to ignite rivalries.

Ever since the lockout, Gary Bettman has maintained that the best way to fuel a rivalry between two teams is to get them playing as much as possible. It was his reasoning for the lopsided schedule coming out of the lockout, and he’s using the same logic for his proposed realignment plan that could possibly be implemented next season.

However, the recent Winter Classic along with a highly anticipated matchup this weekend between the Stanley Cup finalists from last year remind us that perhaps the anticipation of a big game should be valued as much as the game itself.

In addition to the excitement leading up to the Winter Classic, this Saturday’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins is certainly being billed as the most anticipated game of the regular season.

What do these two games have in common?

They both take place just once this season.

As nasty as the Stanley Cup Finals series between the Canucks and Bruins was, would there really be as much anticipation for the game this weekend if it were the fourth or fifth meeting of the season between the two teams?

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Roberto Luongo (L) #1 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulates Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver,
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Not a chance.

The players would become accustomed to facing each other in what would amount to just another midseason game between two teams near the top of the standings.

Take the two best rivalries in today’s NHL as examples.

Despite the vitriolic history between the Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks over the past few years, their first two meetings of the season were rather forgettable. The teams split the two games with the losers looking rather uninspired on both occasions.

As for the other great rivalry, the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens play in the same division and have faced each other four times already, most of which haven’t come close to the bloodbaths we saw on multiple occasions between these teams last season.

In fact, the two most recent games between the Bruins and the Habs resulted in a combined 20 minutes of penalties, which makes you wonder if the rivalry is starting to lose its luster.

As wonderful as a grueling playoff series is between two great rivals, the NHL might be better off if it didn’t try to force the same two teams into these grueling battles five or six times during the regular season, because it’s only setting itself up for disappointment. After all, it’s been proven in many different aspects of life that too much of a good thing can sometimes be harmful in the long run.

All rivalries and great events have their limits, so perhaps Gary Bettman should think about the beauty of the buildup to the annual Winter Classic and use that same logic when thinking about the NHL’s great rivalries.

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