Washington Capitals: It's Time To Bring Back The Patrick Division

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIFebruary 10, 2011

What a great night to sit back with a remote control and watch a couple of true great rivalries battle each other. There was Duke and North Carolina in college basketball and then there was the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins.

Watching the Habs and Bruins “duke” it out got me thinking about my own team, the Washington Capitals.I realized that this has been missing for quite some time in DC.

I concluded that either the rivalry with the Pittsburgh Penguins needs more games or the Capitals need to establish more rivalries within their own division.

Since the Pens and Caps play in separate divisions, for now, the NHL must work on adding more games for divisional opponents to play against each other.

The Caps rivals as of right now, are of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Save it Pens fans, I know you do not consider us a rival. You have reminded us repeatedly. Funny thing is, watching how many of you I infuriate when I blog about a Caps-Pens game and what a cheap shot artist Matt Cooke is, anyway, back to my point.

While I hate the Penguins and love it when the Caps beat them, their rivalry does not come close to comparing to what I witnessed in Boston last night. All of the fighting aside the game was intense and very action packed. Both teams were end-to-end only stopping to beat the hell out of each other.

I have not seen anything like that in a Caps game for a long time, hell maybe even years. Again, aside from the fighting, when the Caps and Pens play, they never bring the type of intensity I saw in the Habs and Bruins game.  

Crosby and Ovechkin have put on some classics but the Habs and Bruins play like that every time on the ice and so does many other teams in the league.

Do the Tampa Bay Lightning do it for you? What about the Carolina Hurricanes? I still get the feeling that half of the Southeast division will be relocated by 2020.

The Lightning and Caps or Caps and Canes are budding rivalries, but they have been for years. When Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson beat Matt Hendricks with his catching glove on Friday night, I was taken back to the Ron Hextall or Billy Smith days when they taunted Dale Hunter, Scott Stevens, or Alan May.  

Last night reminded me of when the Caps used to play the Flyers in the mid 80’s or the Devils in the late 80’s, when they were all a part of the Patrick Division.

The way current divisional play is set up, it is hard for teams like Washington and Tampa Bay to develop a heated rivalry playing just six games against each other per year, possibly meeting in the postseason if the seeds work out. It is boring and needs adjusting.

 In the old days, teams played each other six to eight times per year but you were guaranteed to see at least one of your divisional rivals at least four more times, if you made the playoffs. The playoffs started within the division back then and those playoffs games were intense from start to finish.

 The Capitals played their divisional rivals, the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, 13 times each during the 1987-88 seasons.

The NHL made many positive changes since the lost season of 04-05 but they need to revisit division re-alignment and the schedule. While the Habs and Bruins are a great rivalry, the NHL must build on it's growing popularity and with an impending NFL lockout this could be a golden opportunity.

They simply must find a way to create more of the games that was played last night in Boston.I know it takes time, so they need to get started now.

Being a selfish hockey fan I would love to move back into the division with the Flyers, Pens, and Rangers but I know how the real world works so here is a proposal for a basic realignmnet that makes geographical sense. 

In the east, you could have an eight-team division of the Caps, Flyers, Pens, Devils, Canes, Thrashers, Bolts, and Panthers.

In the other division, you would seven teams with four of the original six NHL teams playing each other six to eight times a year and maybe even more. This division would include the Habs, Bruins, Rangers, Isles, Leafs, Sabres, and Sens.

The West would be composed of the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Ducks, Sharks, Kings, and Coyotes. This would leave the Stars, Preds, Wings, Blues, Wild, Hawks, Jackets, and Avs in the other western division.

The NHL would have many options of what to do come playoff time but keeping the first round within the division would be nice to regenerate those regional rivalries once again.

 Many hockey snobs would complain about teams left out that deserve to be there because their team had a better record in another division but did not make the playoffs, so let us try one of these options.

The first two teams in each division would be automatic playoff qualifiers. The next four conference spots would be the teams with the next four best records. Too much you say, then take the top three in each division with two wildcards.

If you are not a fan of realignment then you could simply add more games per year against divisional opponents.You would be surprised how much more intensity two extra games between Washington and Tampa Bay could have in March or early April.

How many of you will be tuning in to watch the Capitals play the Kings at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon?

The league would sacrifice on a lot of eastern conference versus western conference opponents but other leagues survive without the east v west matchup until the finals.

Each team from each conference could play a home and home with one division from the other conference every other year. While you wouldn't play an entire division one season, you could still see them in a Stanley Cup Final, making for even more drama.

I am a huge hockey fan and rivalries are the foundation of this game, more so than any professional sport. While there are some heated rivalries in the NFL, it has become a game centered on the players in the rivalry. In baseball, the Yanks and Red Sox rivalry is now money based and the success of that rivalry is measured in recent years of whether or not they meet in the post season.

The only other comparable pro sports rivalry that is based on the teams, is the Lakers and Celtics. A rivalry that has stood the test of time no matter who is on the court playing. Yes great players build rivalries but ultimately its the name on the front of the jersey, not the back, that brings in the next generation of fans.

 I would have loved to been a hockey fan when it was just the original six. True while Ovechkin and Crosby make a game more interesting when the Pens and Caps play, they are not the rivalry like Brady v. Manning. In hockey, it is not Rex Ryan V. Bill Belichick, its Bruins v Canadians or Detroit v Chicago.

Please NHL fix this problem, give me more games against divisional foes or give me back the Flyers and Penguins.


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