Ranking the 10 Best Rivalries in the 2017-18 NHL Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2017

Ranking the 10 Best Rivalries in the 2017-18 NHL Season

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    Team rivalries are a big selling point in sports at every level. In the NHL, competition between longtime rivals, such as the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, garners interest among diehard hockey fans and helps to attract new ones.

    Some rivalries, such as those between the Rangers and Islanders, have their basis in geography. Others, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, are recent ones stoked by playoff matchups between divisional rivals.

    Here's a look at this season's top 10 rivalries. Location, history, playoff races and divisional play factored into this ranking. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

10. Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

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    The simmering rivalry between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks took off in this decade thanks to several memorable playoff series. As both clubs vie for a playoff spot, their remaining games during this season should make for entertaining hockey.

    Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the Kings and Sharks clashed in four playoff series, with each club winning twice. Those series took the competitiveness between the teams to a higher level, one that can still be felt this season.

    The Kings, the Stanley Cup champions in 2012 and 2014, got off to a good start this season. They have stumbled a bit of late, winning just three of their past 10 games. With a core of respected veterans led by goalie Jonathan Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar, the Kings have the experience and leadership to remain in the playoff hunt.

    After reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 2016, the Sharks have struggled to regain that Cup-contending form. They are transitioning from aging veterans such as Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski toward younger talent such as Logan Couture, Martin Jones and Tomas Hertl.

    The Kings and Sharks can't afford to lose any ground in the tightly packed Western Conference standings this season. They have split the opening two games in their regular-season series. As they jostle for contention, their remaining meetings this season will take on additional significance.

9. New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils

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    The once-heated rivalry between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils cooled in recent years, with the latter missing the playoffs the past five seasons. But with the rebuilding Devils' promising start to 2017-18, the intensity between the two clubs could be rekindled.

    Between 1992 and 2012, the Devils and Rangers faced off in the postseason six times, with the Rangers winning four of those series. Those contests gave fans a host of memorable moments, from Mark Messier delivering on his guarantee of victory in Game 6 of the '94 Eastern Conference Final to an aging Martin Brodeur carrying the Devils to a conference title in 2012.

    After five years in the wilderness, the Devils could be a serious playoff contender this season. Powered by resurgent left wing Taylor Hall and rookies Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher, New Jersey is jockeying for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

    The Rangers, among the league's most dominant clubs in recent years, overcame a poor start this season and are rising in the standings. With a mix of aging stars in Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash and younger talent in Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and J.T. Miller, the Blueshirts hope to regain the form that made them a Stanley Cup finalist in 2014.

    With the Devils striving to make an overdue return to the postseason and the Rangers battling back into playoff contention, the stage could be set for an exciting new chapter in their rivalry.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The rivalry between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins is a recent one. With the first of their four-game regular-season series set for Dec. 27, expect these contests to be increasingly spirited.

    Since 2014, Columbus and Pittsburgh has faced each other twice in opening-round playoff contests, with the Penguins winning both. But with the Blue Jackets becoming a rising force in the Eastern Conference and the Pens hampered this season by a depleted lineup, there could be a shift in the pecking order.

    While the young Jackets surprised many opponents with their franchise-best 108-point performance in 2016-17, it wasn't a fluke. Backstopped by two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus has a solid defensive core anchored by rising stars Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. They also carry talented forwards such as Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson.

    The Penguins, meanwhile, have been hamstrung by inconsistency and injuries to key players such as Matt Murray and Evgeni Malkin. Losing Marc-Andre Fleury to league expansion and Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Trevor Daley to free agency last summer weakened their roster depth. Even with stars such as Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel, the Pens will be hard-pressed to win a third straight Stanley Cup.

    This season's series between these teams is shaping up as one of a rising young team with championship aspirations facing off against a battered, depleted defending champion. Those four games could have significant implications for both clubs, providing additional heat to their growing rivalry.

7. Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

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    Since the Anaheim Ducks' inaugural season in 1993-94, they have had a growing rivalry with the Los Angeles Kings. The competitiveness only intensified in recent years, as both clubs became dominant teams in the Western Conference.

    Their only playoff series was a second-round contest won by the Kings in 2014. However, their proximity to each other in the Los Angeles area makes them natural rivals. That's resulted in intense regular-season contests between the clubs.

    The Ducks were the first Californian team to win the Stanley Cup (2007) and since 2012-13 has finished atop the Pacific Division in five straight seasons. Injuries, however, have hampered their performance in 2017-18. Missing regulars such as Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler, they are striving to get back into the playoff chase.

    As the Ducks and Kings jostle for playoff contention in the Western Conference, their games will take on more meaning this season. The Kings won the first two contests, each by one goal. The energy and determination could reach a fever pitch in their remaining games.

6. Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

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    Few NHL rivalries match the intensity of The Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. While their last postseason matchup occurred in 1991, their regular-season contests are sometimes comparable to playoff hockey.

    While both clubs were projected as postseason contenders entering 2017-18, only the Flames are playing up to that expectation. The Oilers, after reaching the playoffs last season for the first time in a decade, are floundering near the bottom of the Western Conference.

    Despite the Oilers' early-season difficulties, they are not that far out of contention in the tightly packed Western standings. Led by young forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton still has sufficient time to rally back into the playoff race.

    The Flames, meanwhile, are riding the red-hot offense of left wing Johnny Gaudreau, who's among the league's leading scorers, and first-line center Sean Monahan. The offseason addition of Mike Smith bolstered their goaltending.

    With the Oilers striving to climb up the standings and the Flames hoping to solidify a playoff spot, the competitive heat between the two clubs should ramp up as the season progresses.

5.Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs is perhaps the most heralded in NHL history. Recent changes in the fortunes of both clubs could provide yet another interesting episode to this long-running story.

    For most of the past decade, Montreal dominated Toronto. Entering this season, the Habs had taken 14 straight contests from the Maple Leafs. However, these teams are heading in different directions in 2017-18. The Canadiens are struggling and dropped their first two games against the Leafs, who are among the league's dominant clubs.

    Montreal's poor start to this season has the team scrambling to remain in playoff contention. Injuries to key players such as goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber, an inconsistent offense and a shaky defense have contributed to a less than stellar performance.

    After years outside the playoff picture, the Leafs' rebuilding efforts bore the first signs of improvement when they reached the 2017 postseason. Thanks to solid goaltending from Frederik Andersen and a high-octane offense led by Auston Matthews, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri, Toronto sits near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

    The Leafs want to build upon last season's promise, while the Canadiens are desperate to get back into the playoff hunt. As a result, this season's remaining games between these longtime rivals could be exciting, hard-fought contests.

4. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

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    The rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators began in earnest in 2010. Since then, it's built in magnitude, generating excitement among their fanbases and resulting in highly competitive hockey. In this regular-season series, the Preds have won two out of three games, all by one goal.

    Both clubs first faced each other in playoff action in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs, a series that Chicago won in six games. The Blackhawks prevailed again in the first round of the 2015 postseason, but the Predators garnered a measure of revenge last spring by sweeping the Hawks from the opening round.

    For years, Chicago held a significant roster depth advantage over Nashville. Since 2015, however, salary-cap limitations forced the Blackhawks to shed salary, weakening their roster. Their surprising early playoff exit last spring prompted management to bring back wingers Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, as well as inject more affordable youth into the lineup.

    The Predators, meanwhile, are a hungry club with a good mix of veterans and young talent. Pekka Rinne remains among the NHL's best goaltenders. Their blue line, anchored by Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, is perhaps the league's deepest. Young forwards Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson power their offense.

    While the Blackhawks still have a solid core of experienced talent that includes Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, they are not the powerhouse they once were. The Predators, meanwhile, got a taste of the Stanley Cup Final last spring and want more. Their tightly contested games this season could provide a preview of another thrilling playoff series between the two.

3. New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders

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    Since the New York Islanders joined the NHL in 1972-73, they have had a heated rivalry with the New York Rangers. This season could see another exciting page written in their long-running feud.

    The last time these two tangled in the playoffs was in 1993-94, but that hasn't cooled the intensity between the teams. Despite the ups and downs of both clubs over the years, their regular-season games can still feel like postseason contests.

    With four 100-plus point campaigns in the past six seasons, the Rangers have been the most dominant of the two. They have shaken off a poor start to 2017-18 and are climbing up the Eastern Conference standings. Led by veteran stars Lundqvist, Nash and Ryan McDonagh, the Blueshirts also carry some promising talent such as Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and Jimmy Vesey.

    The Islanders, meanwhile, bolted strongly from the gate this season and sit among the top clubs in the Eastern Conference. Captain John Tavares is among the league's leading scorers but he's augmented by forwards Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and rookie center Mathew Barzal. Defenseman Nick Leddy ranks among the league's top-scoring blueliners.

    With the Isles hoping to remain among the top clubs in the East and the Rangers striving to get into playoff contention, the remaining games this season could once again take on a postseason atmosphere. The Islanders took the first game 4-3 in a shootout Oct. 19. Their remaining matchups should be barn-burners.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

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    The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals dates back to their first playoff series in 1991. It only intensified after Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin made their NHL debuts in 2005-06.

    Over the course of their rivalry, the Penguins have won nine of their 10 postseason series. That includes their three meetings during the Crosby-Ovechkin era in 2009, 2016 and 2017. In each of those years, Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.

    This season, the Penguins hope to become the first team to win three consecutive championships since the 1983 New York Islanders. While Crosby and fellow Pens stars Malkin, Kessel and Letang remain in their prime, their depleted lineup faces long odds in pulling off the rare three-peat.

    For the Capitals, who are three-time winners of the Presidents' Trophy (2010, 2016 and 2017) but still seeking their first Stanley Cup, their inability to defeat the Penguins in the playoffs remains an irritant. With the 32-year-old Ovechkin getting older and their roster owning a narrowing championship window, Washington faces an extra measure of urgency this season.

    The Penguins' push for three straight championships and the Capitals' desperation to finally win their first brings an extra measure of interest to their rivalry in 2017-18. It could culminate in yet another postseason showdown, with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final potentially being on the line.

1. Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues

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    The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues have a long, sometimes heated rivalry. It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but with both clubs among the best teams in the Western Conference in recent years, the level of competitiveness between them has increased.

    In 12 playoff series dating to 1973, Chicago has won eight. The two clubs split their past two postseason meetings, with the Blackhawks winning their 2014 opening-round series in six games and St. Louis taking their 2016 first-round tilt in seven.

    This season sees the Blues sitting atop the Western Conference standings with 35 points in 25 games. First-line forwards Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko are among the league's leading scorers. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is enjoying a career year and could be in line for the James Norris Memorial Trophy at season's end.

    Three-time Stanley Cup champions since 2010, the Blackhawks' once-formidable roster has been depleted by recent cost-cutting moves. Still, they possess considerable veteran talent in core players Kane, Toews, Keith and Crawford. As a result, the Blackhawks are jockeying for a wild-card berth.

    With the Blues ascendant and the Blackhawks seemingly in decline, the dynamic between the clubs seems to have shifted this season. That could make their remaining games against each other later this season more fascinating to watch.


    Stats and standings (as of Nov. 29) via NHL.com