New Rivalries Getting Better in the 2016-17 NHL Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2017

New Rivalries Getting Better in the 2016-17 NHL Season

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    When it comes to rivalries in the National Hockey League, it's all pretty clear, right?

    The Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. The Boston Bruins vs. the Montreal Canadiens. The Chicago Blackhawks vs. the St. Louis Blues. Emotions have been running high between those teams for decades. All that long-simmering hate leads to some awesome on-ice action.

    But it doesn't end there. The NHL is an ever-changing entity, with new relationships evolving all the time between various teams.

    Here's a look at some rivalries to pay attention to as we head into the second half of the 2016-17 season. The origins of these conflicts are all over the map. Some have their roots in history, and others are just getting started.

    Let us know whether you see other teams developing that certain sort of snarl when they face a particular opponent.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    What's Fueling the Rivalry?

    As the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins know that every team is gunning for them. But the Columbus Blue Jackets have become prime agitators in the past few weeks—not just passing Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division standings but also threatening the Pens' longstanding record of 17 straight wins, set by Mario Lemieux and company during the 1992-93 season.

    Add in the fact that the two teams played a fiery playoff series against each other in the first round of the 2013-14 postseason and also that Columbus coach John Tortorella and Pens boss Mike Sullivan were a longtime team—they worked together with the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

    Bottom line: These two teams will be gunning harder and harder for each other with every upcoming game.

         

    Which Team Currently Holds the Edge?

    History is on the Penguins' side. They beat the Blue Jackets in six games in that aforementioned 2014 playoff series and hold an all-time record of 17-8-3 against Columbus.

    But it's the Blue Jackets who are three points ahead in both the Metropolitan and overall NHL standings. Columbus won the teams' only head-to-head meeting so far this season—a 7-1 thrashing at Nationwide Arena on December 22.

         

    What Are the Next Moments to Watch?

    The Penguins and Blue Jackets meet three more times this season: in Pittsburgh on February 3 and April 4 and in Columbus on February 17.

Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    What's Fueling the Rivalry?

    The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have been division rivals since 1981, one year after the former relocated from Atlanta to Alberta. The two teams have shared a few epic moments over the last 35 years, including seven playoff meetings.

    One noteworthy recent moment was when then-Vancouver coach Tortorella attempted to storm the Calgary dressing room in the first intermission of a January 2014 game that started with a line brawl between the teams. One year later, after Tortorella had been replaced by Willie Desjardins, the underdog Flames upset the Canucks in six games in a fight-filled first-round playoff series.

    This season, the Canucks and Flames are both attempting to fight their way back to respectability after a year out of the playoffs. Calgary is led by head coach Glen Gulutzan, who spent his previous three seasons as an assistant in Vancouver.

        

    Which Team Currently Holds the Edge?

    The Flames hold the edge in all-time meetings between the two teams. In 267 games, Calgary is 130-90-33-14, and it has also won five of its seven playoff matchups against Vancouver.

    This term, the Flames had the stronger start and sit ahead of the Canucks in the Pacific Division. But Vancouver has ridden a six-game winning streak out of the Christmas break, narrowing the margin to a single point after Friday's 4-2 win kicked off a home-and-home series with the Flames.

    The Canucks' victory came even though the team was outshot 46-13. It gives Vancouver the 2-1 edge in the season series, though one of those wins came via a shootout.

         

    What Are the Next Moments to Watch?

    After Saturday, the two teams will meet just once more in the 2016-17 regular season—on February 18 in Vancouver.

Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    What's Fueling the Rivalry?

    Geography. The Dallas Stars have their roots in Minnesota, where they played in Bloomington as the North Stars from 1967 to 1993. The Minnesota Wild filled the void in the State of Hockey as a new franchise, debuting in 2000.

    The rivalry between the teams gained some stakes in 2016, when the Stars and Wild faced each other in the postseason for the first time. Dallas took the first-round series in six games.

    This year, they have been headed in opposite directions. The Wild recently logged a 10-game winning streak and are challenging for top spot in the Central Division under new coach Bruce Boudreau. The Stars, meanwhile, are struggling at both ends of the ice and could well miss the playoffs after finishing at the top of the Western Conference last season.

         

    Which Team Currently Holds the Edge?

    In addition to winning last year's playoff series, the Stars also hold the edge in all-time regular-season games against the Wild, with a record of 38-20-1-4.

    This season, though, the Wild are dominating. Minnesota holds a 12-point lead in the standings and is sitting pretty for a playoff spot while Dallas is in a dogfight with five other Western Conference rivals for one of the two wild-card spots.

    The Wild are 1-0-1 against the Stars so far this season, shutting out Dallas 4-0 on October 29, then losing 3-2 on Jamie Benn's overtime game-winner on November 21.

         

    What Are the Next Moments to Watch?

    The Stars and Wild meet three more times this season—January 14 and 24 in Dallas and February 16 at the Xcel Energy Center.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    What's Fueling the Rivalries?

    The three-pronged monster of California hockey is proving to be a gift that keeps on giving.

    The Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks all seem to hate each other in equal proportion, which has made for some outstanding hockey over the past few years.

    What's more, the balance of power between the teams keeps shifting. The Ducks were the first California-based team to win a Stanley Cup back in 2007. The Kings are the most recent superpower, with wins in 2012 and 2014. The Sharks are the upstarts who reached their first Stanley Cup Final last spring.

    The Ducks and Sharks are sitting pretty at the top of the Pacific Division while the Kings have been bumped just below wild-card contention. All three teams have their strengths and weaknesses, and it's too early to count out Los Angeles.

    It's anybody's guess as to which Californian team will be the last one left standing in the playoffs this year.

         

    Which Team Currently Holds the Edge?

    Here are the all-time records among the three teams:

    • The Sharks hold the edge over the Kings, with a 74-55-79 record in 145 games.
    • The Sharks also hold the edge over the Ducks, with a 67-52-4-8 record in 131 games.
    • The Ducks hold the edge over the Kings, with a 61-44-11-13 record in 129 games.

    In the playoffs, the Ducks are 1-0 against the Sharks and 0-1 against the Kings. Los Angeles and San Jose have each won twice against the other.

    Anaheim is 1-1 against the Kings and 2-0-2 against the Sharks. San Jose is 2-0-1 against Los Angeles.

        

    What Are the Next Moments to Watch?

    The Kings and Sharks conclude their season series in Los Angeles on January 18, while the Sharks and Ducks will play one last game in Anaheim on March 18. The Kings and Ducks have three games left on the schedule—February 19 at the Honda Center, six days later in Los Angeles and on the last day of the regular season, April 9, back in Anaheim.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Nashville Predators

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    What's Fueling the Rivalry?

    Teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences play each other just twice a year, and the only time they can meet in the playoffs is during the Stanley Cup Final. As a result, it's unusual to see any kind of lasting cross-conference rivalry.

    But last summer's blockbuster swap of blueliners P.K. Subban and Shea Weber has bound together the fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators for the foreseeable future.

    Each was the most important defensemen on his old team, but they both bring wildly different skill sets to the ice.

        

    Which Team Currently Holds the Edge?

    At first glance, it appeared that the Predators had gotten the better of the deal when the trade went down last June. Subban, 27, is younger and more dynamic. He looked like he'd spark the Nashville blue line for years to come.

    So far, though, the early edge goes to the Canadiens. Montreal boasts the better record, leading the Atlantic Division with 54 points. The Predators are struggling for a playoff spot and sit fourth in the Central.

    Individually, the 31-year-old Weber also comes out on top. He has 10 goals, 24 points and is a plus-16 while Subban has seven goals, 17 points and is a minus-11. Weber has also been the more durable of the two defensemen, playing in all 39 games to date and averaging 25:57 of ice time. Subban's averaging 25:04 per game but has missed Nashville's last 10 games with what's believed to be a herniated disc in his back.

    Montreal also holds the edge in the head-to-head matchup. Weber scored his team's only goal in regulation as the Canadiens beat the Predators 2-1 in overtime on January 3 in Nashville.

         

    What Are the Next Moments to Watch?

    On January 2, Predators general manager David Poile told Adam Vingan of The Tennessean that he expected Subban to be sidelined for about another two to three weeks. 

    It's questionable whether he'll be ready to get back into his skates in time to captain the Central Division team at the All-Star Game on January 29 after winning the fan vote. His All-Star performance as a member of the Canadians in the host city of Nashville was a huge hit in 2016.

    Fans will also be hopeful that Subban is back in action for his scheduled homecoming to the Bell Center. The Preds visit Montreal on March 2.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    What's Fueling the Rivalry?

    Just 100 miles separate the Toronto Maple Leafs' home arena, the Air Canada Centre, from the KeyBank Center, which the Buffalo Sabres call home.

    Geographical proximity has fueled plenty of animosity between the Leafs and Sabres fanbases over the years, but these days, the rivalry is based on the race to rebuild. After years of frustration, will it be the Sabres or the Leafs that will be first to pull themselves back to respectability?

         

    Which Team Currently Holds the Edge?

    This year, there's no doubt Toronto is offering its fans a more pleasing on-ice product. Led by super-rookies Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the Leafs have climbed from their 30th-place finish in 2015-16 to a respectable 18-12-4 record this season—good for 44 points, which puts them in the thick of the Atlantic Division playoff race. Lately, they're on a hot streak—7-1-2 in their past 10 games.

    The Sabres took big strides last season, showcasing a superstar rookie of their own in Jack Eichel and finishing 23rd overall with 81 points. But an early-season injury to Eichel is one of the many things that have slowed Buffalo down this year. They've sunk back to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, with a 14-15-9 record for 37 points.

    Head-to-head, the Sabres are 111-65-18-8 against the Leafs. 

    This season, the teams have played just once—a 2-1 win for Toronto back on November 3, with Marner scoring the winning goal.

        

    What Are the Next Moments to Watch?

    Divisional rivals, the Leafs and Sabres have four more meetings on the schedule this season. They'll play January 17 and February 11 in Toronto and meet in Buffalo on March 25 and April 3.

         

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games complete Friday, January 6.