With the newly proposed NHL divisional realignment, teams and fans will have to deal with facing a few new franchises regularly.
Some of the matchups will be new, but others will reignite historic rivalries. As of this writing, the NHL is planning on playing every game in home arenas instead of hub cities. So, if you look at the map, you’ll see that travel will play a huge factor in the upcoming season. Between travel, the pandemic, and new foes, players will be playing in a pressure cooker. So, with all that said, here are the top five matchups fans should look forward to in 2020-21:
5. Detroit Red Wings vs. Minnesota Wild
There really isn’t any existing bad blood between these two clubs, but there should be. I don’t know if those from the area are too nice, but these teams should, in theory, hate each other. This is Hockeytown vs. The State of Hockey, for crying out loud.
No two states have produced more active NHL players than these two. In college hockey, both Minnesota and Michigan usually sit atop the standings: Minnesota Golden Gophers, Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, etc., etc. Outside of Massachusetts, no two states have contributed more to USA hockey.
This must-see matchup is mostly wishful thinking. The Red Wings and Wild have yet to be division rivals, but the Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars were. Both teams are in need of a competitive new rivalry and this should be it. If we really wanted to spice things up, we could throw the Chicago Blackhawks into the mix, then we could have the battle of the Great Lakes.
4. Nashville Predators vs. Southern Hockey
Why hasn’t this happened yet?
Southern hockey is more than just a novelty. The Tampa Bay Lightning have won two Stanley Cups and the Carolina Hurricanes took home the trophy in 2006. Yes, the Atlanta Flames and Atlanta Thrashers were mistakes, but Atlanta is the exception, not the rule. Southern hockey is thriving. Heck, the Nashville Predators were once ranked the top franchise in all of sports by ESPN.
It was always a bit odd for the Predators to be in the west. Yes, geographically it made sense for them to be in the Central Division, but Nashville is as southern as it gets. They’re known for country music and southern cooking. Now they’ll have an opportunity to compete against the Hurricanes, the Lightning, and the Florida Panthers as divisional rivals for the first time since their 1998 nativity.
Smashville in the south just feels right. Can you imagine a Predators vs. Lightning series?
3. Vancouver Canucks vs. Montreal Canadiens
No two teams will have to travel further this season to play one another. No two teams in the same division have ever had to travel this far to play one another. The Winnipeg Jets had it rough when they were still in the Southeast Division, but Vancouver to Montreal is more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) further than Winnipeg to Miami.
Even during the Stanley Cup, the furthest distance between two teams in Stanley Cup history was the Boston Bruins and Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Well, Boston is only 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Montreal. The distance isn’t that different.
Unless the league opts to do a three or four-game series, as they do in baseball, these teams will not only be battling each other but travel fatigue as well. Things are bound to get testy in this Canadian East vs. West showdown.
2. NY Rangers vs. Boston Bruins
As two original six franchises, the Bruins and New York Rangers have a long and bloodied history. The hate, HATE, between these teams peaked during the early to mid-70s.
After multiple playoff battles, and the Bruins mostly getting the better of the Rangers, the rivalry took a turn when Emile Francis butchered the Rangers organization by trading Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, and Joe Zanussi to the Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. Fans on both sides were forced to root for players they had loathed for years.
The only moment that eclipses this in rivalry history is the far more memorable and horrific night of Dec. 23, 1979. In the waning seconds before a pre-Christmas break, the shouldn’t be Ranger, Phil Espositio, missed on a breakaway and the final buzzer sounded. The game was over, the Bruins won, and then all hell broke loose.
What’s wild is that the Rangers haven’t been in the same division with an original six franchise since 1974, and Boston is the perfect original-six foe to go toe-to-toe with the Rangers. This will be a matchup worth seeing.
1. Winnipeg Jets vs. All of Canada
The Jets have not been division rivals with another Canadian franchise since they were the Jets of old. The last time was in 1996, before their departure to Phoenix. I’m not sure who drew the lines on this one, but somehow both the Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the Western Conference…
How the Leafs were in the west is beyond me, but, regardless, the Jets will be squaring off with not just the Leafs, but the Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers, the Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, and the other former Atlanta franchise, the Calgary Flames.
It’ll be a challenge for the Jets. However, it’s safe to say, that of all the proposed divisions, the Canadian one will be the most exciting. Thanks to COVID, the 2020-21 season will be the Battle of Canada.
What do you think? What matchups are you most looking forward to?
Comment your picks below.
Daniel Blanda, a Journalist, Playwright, and Screenwriter based in Boston, MA covers the Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. He has previously contributed work to “Snipetown: The Voice of Hockey” magazine and the “Hockey Addict’s Guide New York City.” He was a youth hockey coach and a professional skate sharpener for Westside Skate & Stick while living in Queens. Daniel also writes for BlueLineStation.com covering the New York Rangers.