Ranking the 10 Most Overrated NHL Rivalries

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2014

Ranking the 10 Most Overrated NHL Rivalries

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Few things excite NHL fans more than a rivalry between two well-matched teams. Notable rivalries—the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins—have contributed to some of the NHL's greatest moments.

    Over the years, the NHL has done its part by playing up these rivalries, especially for its television audience. NBC Sports' "Wednesday Night Rivalry” draws solid ratings. Last year, Forbes.com's Michael Ozanian reported the NHL's Rivalry Week was the hottest new brand in sports. CBC recently reported the 2014 Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings drew the league's largest non-playoff game audience. And games between rivals continue to draw well.

    While some rivalries maintain their excitement and high level of competition, several have failed to play up to the hype. There's several reasons for this. One or both clubs experience a decline in their on-ice fortunes. Players that contributed to the intensity of a rivalry depart via trade, free agency or retirement. Franchise relocation or divisional realignment can also take a toll.

    Here's a ranking of 10 NHL rivalries that have become overrated over time.

10. Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks

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    The Bruins-Canucks rivalry is among the NHL's newest, arising from their hotly contested 2011 Stanley Cup Final. It was the first time the two clubs locked horns in playoff competition. As the series progressed to the full seven games, the hostility between them grew to a fever pitch. By the time the Bruins won the Cup in Game 7, a new rivalry was born.

    Since that series, there's plenty of hype whenever the Bruins and Canucks meet. But as CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty recently observed, this rivalry is cooling off.

    One reason is that a continent separates the two coastal teams. Another is, they're in different conferences, offering the Bruins and Canucks rare opportunities to maintain the rivalry's intensity. Perhaps the biggest factor is that the Canucks are no longer the dominant club they once were, while the Bruins remain among the league's elite. 

9. New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Between 1995 and 2000, “The Battle of the Jersey Turnpike” was among the NHL's heated rivalries. It was a clash of the Flyers' high-scoring Legion of Doom line of Eric Lindros and John LeClair against the Devils' stifling defense, anchored by captain Scott Stevens. The rivalry peaked in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final. The Devils overcame a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Flyers in a Game 7 remembered for Stevens' thunderous hit upon Lindros.

    The Devils and Flyers still face each other regularly in regular-season and playoff action. While the rivalry continues to attract local interest, its intensity has waned in recent years. The Devils and Flyers are no longer league powerhouses and are devoid of big-name superstars to attract the interest of fans around the league.

8. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

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    Three consecutive playoff series from 2009 through 2011 fueled this rivalry. At the time, the Blackhawks and Canucks were among the best teams in the Western Conference. The respective rise of both clubs as Stanley Cup contenders correlated with a growth of animosity between them. The Blackhawks won two of the three series between the two in 2009 and 2010. The Canucks garnered redemption by finally defeating the Blackhawks in 2011.

    Since then, however, the Blackhawks' ongoing success as Cup contenders combined with the Canucks' steady decline has sapped the energy from this once-intense feud. There's now less on the line between the two teams. As a result, their recent games lack the excitement of the past. The league's recent divisional realignment could further undermine this rivalry.

7. Detroit Red Wings vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    This long-time rivalry had its heyday in the Original Six era. Save for the occasional playoff series, it faded in the post-expansion era. The last high point was their 1993 Norris Division semifinal matchup, a series in which the Leafs upset the favored Wings in seven games.

    The Maple Leafs' move to the Eastern Conference in 1998 combined with the Red Wings' feud with the Colorado Avalanche sapped their rivalry of meaning. With the Wings having recently moved to the Eastern Conference, it's possible it could be revived.

    Despite the Leafs and Wings facing off in this year's Winter Classic, their rivalry still remains a relic of a bygone era.

6. Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers

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    During the 1970s, the clashes among these two Original Six teams were among the bitterest in the league. The high point was their 1972 Stanley Cup Final series, when the Bruins defeated the Rangers in six games. Led by superstars Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Brad Park and Rod Gilbert, the Bruins-Rangers feud was as intense as any in NHL history.

    Since the late 1970s, this rivalry became eclipsed by the Bruins' ongoing duel with the Montreal Canadiens, while the Rangers developed more intense matchups against local rivals like the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. The league still hypes Bruins-Rangers games, but they've never recaptured their former fervor.

5. Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    From 1996 to 2004, there was no greater NHL rivalry than the one between the Avalanche and Red Wings. Led by superstars Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, these clubs clashed with a ferocity rarely seen before or since in NHL history.

    From Claude Lemieux's blindside hit on Kris Draper in the 1996 Western Conference Final to the memorable brawls of 1997 and 1998 involving Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy, there was no love lost between these two teams.

    The decline of the Avalanche between 2006 to 2013 cooled the intensity in this once-memorable feud. The Red Wings' recent move to the Eastern Conference has all but killed off one of hockey's greatest rivalries.

4. Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

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    During the 1980s and early 1990s, “The Battle of Alberta” was among the greatest rivalries in NHL history. Back then, the Oilers and Flames were the Western Conference's dominant teams, led by superstars like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis and Joe Nieuwendyk. The intensity and excitement of their games thrilled fans around the league.

    Since their last playoff series in 1991, this rivalry had lacked real meaning. Both clubs have experienced a significant decline in their on-ice fortunes over the past 20 years. The Edmonton Sun's Robert Tychkowski reports the rivalry still means a lot to Flames and Oilers fans. He admitted, however, fans elsewhere no longer care who wins or loses. 

3. New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers

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    From their first playoff meeting in 1975 to their last in 1994, the rivalry between the Islanders and Rangers was among the fiercest in league history. It reached a crescendo during their 1984 Patrick Division semifinal matchup, a series in which the Isles won in five games. Game 5 of that series is still considered among the NHL's greatest playoff games.

    Twenty years have passed since “The Battle of New York” had any serious meaning. It's been undermined by the culture of losing that has hung over the Islanders like a dark shroud. Apart from their recent Stadium Series contest, Islanders-Rangers games no longer garner the league-wide attention they once did.  

2. Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Canadiens-Maple Leafs rivalry is the oldest in NHL history. During the Original Six era, their games were more than intense competition between two of the NHL's best teams. Their games were also a clash of language and culture, pitting the hard-working English Leafs against Montreal's flying Frenchmen.

    Since they last met for the Stanley Cup in 1967, the significance of their rivalry has steadily eroded. A combination of expansion and decades of mismanagement by both teams has left their once-storied rivalry a shadow of its former greatness.

    It's been decades since they've played a truly meaningful game. Their last playoff series was in 1979. The Canadian media still hypes this rivalry, and it continues to draw well, but games between the Canadiens and Leafs have become much ado about nothing.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

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    This rivalry grew following the season-killing lockout of 2004-05, fueled by the rise of young superstars in Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin. It culminated in their thrilling 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal series, when the Penguins edged the Capitals in seven games. Few could have known that series was the high point.

    Thanks to Crosby and Ovechkin, the Penguins-Capitals rivalry still generates considerable hype. Sadly, though, it has lost its luster. While the Penguins won a Stanley Cup in 2009 and remain a perennial Cup contender, the Capitals have steadily declined to where they're in danger this season of missing the playoffs. Penguins-Capitals games aren't as meaningful as they once were.