By Kyle Larkin
10. Staal vs. Staals
Eric and Jordan will be seeing a lot more of their defensive “staal”wart brother Marc over the next few seasons, as Carolina moves into the Metropolitan Division with New York. The Hurricanes will be in tough against the Rangers, who will be looking to make a statement after a disappointing 2012-13. Marc will surely be saving his best efforts for these particular contests so that not only do the Rangers pick up some necessary points against a weaker team, but also to save face at the dinner table during holidays.
9. Blue Jackets vs. Blue Shirts
In Columbus’ short NHL history, their only rivalry has been with the Red Wings and Detroit holds the advantage with a 50-16-8 record. Now that the Blue Jackets have packed their things and are hitchhiking to the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division, they’ll be in search of a new rival to get those fan base gears grinding. And where better to place themselves than directly in the line of fire against their old captain’s new team? Fans are still sour after Rick Nash asked for a trade in order to have a better chance at a championship. This could get ugly.
8. Bears vs. Papa Bear
Thirty-nine-year-old Tim Thomas won two Vezinas, a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup in seven years with the Boston Bruins before failing to report to camp at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. The Bruins suspended Thomas and traded him to the Islanders for a conditional second-round pick. Thomas never ended up playing, but Boston’s new divisional opponent Florida Panthers have signed him to a PTO. What will surely result in a contract should make for an exciting matchup when these two teams clash, as there is rumored to be some bad blood between Thomas and his old squad.
7. Taylor vs. Tyler
Back in 2010, the biggest debate during the off-season was whether Edmonton would choose Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin with the first overall pick. The comparisons between the two were ubiquitous for months leading up to the draft and traces of arguments remain to this day. Taylor has been superior statistically on a subpar team, but Tyler had his fair share of success on a much better Boston team, including a Stanley Cup ring in his rookie year. The two have only met twice (Seguin has the edge with two points to one) so it will be interesting to watch them compete three times this season after Seguin’s unexpected trade to Dallas.
6. Suter vs. Predators
Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were possibly the greatest defensive duo this side of the millennium – that is until Suter decided to take his talents to the Twin Cities. Preds GM David Poile did everything in his power to keep what he considered to be a franchise player, even offering a 13-year $90-million contract. In the end, Suter chose the free agency route and signed in Minnesota. Poile and the organization were so distraught they removed many of Suter’s photos from the arena and fans were left bitter. Just one season later, the Wild and Predators are suddenly division adversaries. Though a second- and third-place finish is unlikely, it would make for an intriguing first round tilt.
5. Stamkos vs. Atlantic
Stamkos has been shredding the NHL over the past four seasons with 185 goals, 33 more than second-place Ovechkin and 56 more than third-place Corey Perry. The Lightning center has secured two Rocket Richards over that span, which may have been partially boosted by playing in the weaker Southeast. Now that Tampa has made the switch into the new Atlantic Division, Stamkos will be in tough against the likes of Tuukka Rask, Ryan Miller, Carey Price, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, (potentially) Tim Thomas, and the James Reimer/Jonathan Bernier combo. That, or the star-studded goalie lineup of the Atlantic is in for a rude awakening.
4. Winn vs. Minn
After Detroit, Winnipeg benefits the most from the NHL’s new alignment with their switch from the East to the West. Though travel will still be a deteriorating factor for players due to Winnipeg’s remote location, it is definitely an improvement. What players do have to look forward to is a new division opponent: the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota is a whopping 519 km closer than any other NHL city and is a manageable seven-hour drive or 90-minute flight for those hardcore Jets fans. And let’s face it: Jets fans are still ravenous for any hockey they can get and will pounce on whatever opportunity they have to spark some sort of rivalry.
3. Whales vs. Sharks
Back in 2011, Vancouver and San Jose met in the playoffs for the first time in the Conference final and Vancouver proved triumphant after scoring the double-overtime winner in Game 5. Two years later, the Sharks exacted revenge in glorious fashion by sweeping the Canucks in the first round. Now suddenly division opponents, all four tilts this season should prove to be nail-biters between these two contending Western Conference squads. Interestingly enough, THN predicts a second consecutive first round series between them – a most exciting rubber match indeed.
2. Sid the Kid vs. The Great Eight
As arguably the two best players in the NHL over the past eight years, fans and media alike have reveled at the chance to argue who is top dog: Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. With a slew of accomplishments and trophies to their names, the two seem to have an added spark or a chip on their shoulder when their respective teams meet on the ice. And though the rivalry has seemingly fizzled as of late, it will surely be renewed with a sense of vigor as Washington and Pittsburgh become division foes in the new Metropolitan Division.
1. Battle of the Great Lakes
Detroit finally got what it wanted: a move back to the Eastern Conference – and for the third time since the NHL’s inception, they will be sharing a division with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs and Red Wings sit second and third on the all-time Stanley Cup list respectively and there’s no shortage of bad blood in the history of these two Original Six teams. 2013 will feature four matchups highlighted by the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and a decent chance at a first round playoff series if they manage to come second and third in the Atlantic (or possibly at first and fourth). This rivalry is rich in history and fans from both sides will be at each other’s throats, cementing this duel as the top rivalry to look forward to in the upcoming season.