Rivalries propel sports to a different level. They draw in a casual fan and make a diehard fan all but lose their minds. The NHL has “Rivalry Night” every Wednesday on NBC Sports Network, but few of them are actual rivalries. The NHL needs more. The Colorado Avalanche haven’t had a rival since the late 90’s and early 2000’s with the Detroit Red Wings. That rivalry deserves a 30 for 30 on ESPN. Goalie fights, coach fights, line brawls, dirty plays, but also the best and most competitive hockey games you could find. The teams hated each others guts but also had respect for the talent on the other side. Intense doesn’t begin to describe it. Sadly, the Avalanche have been largely irrelevant since then. A few years back it looked like the Minnesota Wild would be the new rival for the Avalanche. Game 7 in the opening round of the the Stanley Cup playoffs went to OT and the Wild won. (I was there, it was awesome. Better than being at World Series game at Wrigley Field.) The Wild would annually be in the playoffs despite their desire to rid themselves of head coach Mike Yeo. The Avalanche never made the playoffs after that, Roy rage quit the team, and the Avalanche won 22 games last year. On Saturday, the Avalanche beat the Wild 7-2 (with the Stanley Cup in the house,) much to everyone’s surprise during the Milan Hejduk jersey retirement ceremony. With that win, the Avalanche matched their win total of all of last season. They have half a season to play after their bye week and are in the last playoff spot now, with games in hand.
Hopefully, the game on Saturday is not only catalyst for Colorado to get back into relevancy and the playoffs, but also for the rivalry with the Wild. The dirty hit by Matt Cooke on Tyson Barrie’s knee is what ramped this rivalry up a few years ago. The loss of Barrie significantly hurt the Avalanche and could have cost them the series. They would have gone on to play the Blackhawks whom they roundly beat in the regular season. While everyone hates the Blackhawks because of the bandwagon fans, their was hatred starting to develop between the Wild and Avalanche, especially in the fans but also the players. The Wild fans still hate Gabe Landeskog.
— J.T. Nutt (@jtthenutt) January 8, 2018
The Avalanche and Red Wing rivalry WAS appointment television. They were the two best teams in the West and the winner of their series won five of seven Stanley Cubs between 1996 and 2002. 1996 was when the Avalanche moved to Denver from Quebec. Patrick Roy being traded there after rage quitting the Montreal Canadiens is the reason the Avalanche were Stanley Cup contenders. They had an incredible group of forwards and defensemen but adding the greatest goaltender of all time, put them over the top. The Detroit Red Wings were the model for consistency and depth. Led by head coach Scotty Bowman, who is definitely on the short list of best coaches in the history of the game. The amount of Hall of Famers playing in that rivalry is pretty spectacular. Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Federov, Rob Blake, Dominik Hasek, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov, Larry Murphy, and Ray Bourque. This was before the salary cap really took effect so getting people to come to Detroit or Colorado was easy. Hasek and Roy might be the greatest goalies of all time (Martin Brodeur up there as well). And they played in the same conference. The NHL had a gem in that rivalry, and they’ve been trying to create one ever since.
A large reason that THIS current rivalry never took off after Game 7 is largely due to the Avalanche not being very good. They just didn’t have the talent on the ice to win. Last season had Patrick Roy’s grinder guys in Jared Bednar’s system based on skill and speed. Cody McLeod is a beloved figure for his missing teeth and toughness, but he never fit Bednar’s system. In fact, guys like him are slowly losing their jobs in the NHL. It’s about speed and skill, not size. Now the Avs have guys like Alexander Kerfoot, Nail Yakupov, JT Compher, Tyson Jost, and Sam Girard who can skate, and skate well. Yakupov is a frustrating player but his offensive upside is far greater than a Mikal Grigorenko or Cody McLeod. With these guys on board and the Wild still having a talented and deep roster, the rivalry can be renewed. It might not be loaded with Hall of Famers but a team loaded with Hall of Famers is a thing of the past, thanks to the salary cap and league expansion.
The days of the Blackhawks dominating this conference and division is coming to an end. The Blues are there, but can never win in the playoffs. The Wild have been in the playoffs but have yet to take that next step. The Avalanche haven’t been IN the playoffs but are knocking on the door again and need to kick that sucker down. The NHL needs rivalries, it needs stars. The guy who could replace Crosby as THE guy could be from his home town, in Nathan MacKinnon. Nate the Great has yet to get the respect he deserves but those days are coming. What better way to showcase your best players than with a great rivalry. A chase to the playoffs and making it in the playoffs would be great. There is no better playoffs than the Stanley Cup playoffs. Give me any sport, any playoff, even March Madness. The Stanley Cup is better. The opening weekend of March Madness is really what people remember. The Sweet 16 is nice but it’s that opening round with upsets and buzzer beaters that make people go nuts. The Stanley Cup playoffs are like that, but EVERY day for several weeks. Much like March Madness you don’t always know the players or the teams but who cares, have a blast. Pick a team, pick a player, pick your poison. Another playoff matchup between Colorado and Minnesota? Yes please. Then give us the Avalanche vs the Red Wings in a Stanley Cup Final and you have one hell of a series to sell to the masses.
And for the love of God ESPN, give us that 30 for 30 already.