15 NHL Rivalries That Must Remain Intact After Realignment

Brad LeClairCorrespondent INovember 27, 2011

15 NHL Rivalries That Must Remain Intact After Realignment

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    With the Winnipeg Jets making their highly anticipated return to the NHL, at least here in Canada, the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to the Canadian North has forced the NHL to re-align the divisions for the 2012-13 season.

    In a previous article by yours truly, I broke down three possible re-alignments the NHL may use.

    Out of all of them, the move of the Nashville Predators to the Southeast and the Winnipeg Jets to the Central appears to be the most likely move. However, the NHL has been rumored to be considering going back to a four-division format, which may make for some wonderful rivalries, but may force some rivalries to be put on the back burner.

    In this article, I will breakdown 10 such rivalries that must stay intact when the NHL re-aligns their divisions.

The Battle of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

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    This historic matchup has been a part of Pennsylvania hockey for years, and if the NHL does re-align the divisions, both of these teams could be in different divisions, one in a "Northeast Division" the other in a "Atlantic Division."

    Not speculating that they will be, rather they could be in different divisions, so don't read too much into that.

The Western Conference Original Six: Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings

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    There's an outside chance that the Red Wings may get moved to the Eastern Conference in the event that the NHL goes full out with this re-alignment project.

    If the Wings do move to the East, the rivalry between them and the Hawks will be a thing of the past, much like their rivalries with the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs.

The Battle for the Big Apple: New York Rangers vs New York Islanders

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    With talk of a four-division set up, possibly one of these New York teams could end up in opposite divisions, thus giving them less games against one another.

    The Rangers and Islanders have always put on a good show despite both teams real lack of finding the back of the net lately. Still, though, it's one rivalry you don't want to miss.

The Superstar Battle: Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Simply put, this rivalry brings out the best in both players. Both players at one time were considered 1A and 1B in terms of the cream of the NHL crop.

    Today, Crosby is showing he hasn't lost a step. However, Ovechkin has slowed his production down considerably. Given his past history, the slow start by Ovechkin may just be that, a slow start, but some believe he may be regressing, and guys like Phil Kessel, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Claud Giroux have past him—well, at least this season.

    Although this rivalry is inter-divisional, it may be one of those rivalries that will be better served if both teams end up in the same division, which the NHL may toy with.

    But there are some believers that the NHL may want to showcase Sidney Crosby more in Canada, thus moving the Penguins to a division that includes the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, and Senators, so that may be a possible re-alignment as well.

The Battle of Band-Aids and Stitches: Philadelphia Flyers vs Boston Bruins

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    If you like old-time hockey, rough and tough, then you'll love this series. The Flyers, the highest scoring team in the East, and the Bruins, the stingiest defence in the East, doing battle.

    The question is, who wins out? Does an overpowering offence beat a stingy defence, or does a stingy defence hold the fort and help the Bruins to victory.

    So far this season the Flyers have won the first game 2-1 on opening night, and the two teams haven't played each other since then.

    With talk of re-alignment, the Flyers and Bruins will likely end up in other divisions, like they are now. The question should be, if they go back to four divisions, should the NHL just allow one game against opposite conferences to allow for these rivalries to continue?

The Battle of the Sunshine State: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers

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    With the Panthers under the diligent guidance of Dale Tallon vaulting into the Southeast Division lead, they've caught the attention of everyone around the NHL.

    With their rise from the ashes this season, Florida is back on the map in NHL circles.

    What better way to welcome them back than to help build a budding rivalry between two Florida teams that just hate each other, the Lightning and the Panthers.

    With the steady play of goalie Jose Theodore, and the timely scoring of a first line that comprises of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, the Panthers have a three-point lead ahead of the Washington Capitals.

The Battle of Western Canada: Edmonton vs Calgary vs Vancouver

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    Instead of putting three separate slides together, I've decided to lump these all into one.

    All three of these rivals put together quite a good show, with, of course, the Battle of Alberta taking center stage.

    However, the battles between Edmonton and Vancouver and Vancouver and Calgary have some merit here as well.

    The fast, uptempo Oilers against the Canucks is always a good battle, and the Flames and Canucks rivalry goes back to the late '80s and early '90s when guys like Joe Nieuwendyk, Theoren Fleury, Pavel Bure, Lanny MacDonald and Dave "Tiger" Williams dominated the television sets.

    Today, the rivalries are still going strong.

    With the addition of Winnipeg to the Western Conference next year, should the NHL explore the idea of an all Canadian division in the Western Conference?

The Battle of Interstate 5: Los Angeles Kings vs Anaheim Ducks

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    Likely a battle that won't be going away anytime soon due to their location, the Battle of Interstate 5 pits the Kings against the Ducks.

    The warm California sun, the massive amounts of great waves and surf and, of course, UCLA vs USC college sports battles, the Battle in the NHL between these two teams usually gets sent to the back of the line.

    For the sport to grow down in Southern California, this rivalry must grow into something special for hockey to survive in Southern California long term.

The Battle of the QEW: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres

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    This rivalry has always been a treat for Leafs fans who don't have the patience to wait for tickets for home games. Instead, a band of Leaf fans make the two-hour trip down the Queen Elizabeth Way to Buffalo and take in a game.

    These aren't your normal Leaf fans who sit on their hands, eat their sushi in the private boxes, and don't return to their seats after the intermission until midway through the next period.

    These are the fans who tailgate outside the arena, have a few drinks and a few laughs, and get loud and obnoxious during the game.

    It only adds to the background noise in the Buffalo arena.

    With talk of re-alignment, could the NHL explore an Empire State Division in which a division featuring Buffalo, the Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Flyers all played one another? If so, that may put an end to the Leafs and Sabres rivalry.

The Playoff Battle: Chicago Blackhawks vs Vancouver Canucks

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    Easily one of, if not the best playoff rivalry in the past three years. These teams, much like the Leafs and Senators about eight years ago, always seem to play each other in the playoffs year after year.

    The Blackhawks for the first two years beat the Canucks in 2008-09 and 2009-10 in the second round, with 2009-10 being the year the Hawks brought the Cup back to the Windy City on the strength of a bad-angle goal by Patrick Kane.

    However, last season the Canucks exercised some demons and finally came away victors, eventually losing out in the Cup Final to the Boston Bruins in seven hard fought games.

    This rivalry is inter-divisional, so they aren't in the same division thus only play a limited amount of games. Could the NHL explore the idea of a Northern and a Southern Western Conference Division set up with Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Columbus all in one division?

The Battle of the Hudson River: New York Rangers vs New Jersey Devils

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    The Cross river Rivals sit about a 10-minute car ride apart from one another. In the past, these games were always close affairs featuring hard hitting, guys chucking knuckles and, of course, great goaltending.

    From the days when Mike Richter and Martin Brodeur went head to head, today Henrik Lundqvist takes the place of Richter, and the Rangers have just rode Lundqvist the entire way since.

    One of, if not the best goalies in the entire league, Lundqvist always gives the Rangers a chance to win when he's between the pipes.

    The rivalry has not lost its luster in recent years, so I doubt the NHL risks losing it.

The Battle of Ontario: Ottawa Senators vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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    This battle has really lost its wow factor lately, mostly because both teams before this season have sucked terribly.

    With both teams appearing to be on the rise again, this rivalry could be renewed again, bringing back the days of Alexei Yashin against Mats Sundin, or Gary Roberts battling in front of the net against then-Senator Zdeno Chara.

    The Leafs, who are led by Captain Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and James Reimer, have a firm hold of the second spot currently in the Northeast Division with Jason Spezza and the Ottawa Senators not too far away.

The Battle of Canada: Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The classic battle of Toronto vs. Montreal dates back almost 100 years.

    The rivalry between the Leafs and Canadiens is the oldest rivalry in the history of the NHL.

    From 1944 to 1978, the two teams met each other in the playoffs 15 times, and faced off in five Stanley Cup Finals.

    Toronto and Montreal will never faceoff in a Stanley Cup Final ever again, but the possibility always remains of the Leafs moving back to the Western Conference, although that will likely never happen. But the possibility is still there.

Battle of the Broads, Broad Street Against Broadway: Flyers vs Rangers

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    The division rivals have been in the same division since 1974-75, and have appeared in 10 playoff series since. The Flyers have a 6-4 record all-time in the playoffs against the Rangers. (Record is amount of series wins, not the amount of playoff wins total.)

    The two cities are separated by car by only a couple of hours, so not only is the hockey rivalry strong, but the rivalry in other sports is strong as well. From football to basketball to baseball, there really isn't a rivalry between the two cities that doesn't captivate an audience.

    Easily one of the better rivalries in the entire league.

The Classic Battle: Montreal Canadiens vs Boston Bruins

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    One of the best rivalries in all of sports, this rivalry is the best the NHL has right now. No two teams have faced each other more than these two, both in season and in the playoffs.

    In the playoffs, the two teams have met 33 times, with eight of those series going to a Game 7, more than any other rivalry in the entire league.

    Today, the rivalry is still going strong. After a controversial hit by Zdeno Chara to the head of Max Pacioretty last season, this rivalry took on a whole new level of hatred.

    Needless to say, this rivalry is still the best the NHL has to offer. It's essentially the Red Sox vs. the Yankees of the NHL. Nothing gets better.

    Thanks for reading.