They say that insanity is repeating the same action or behavior and expecting a different result.
For many, being a fan of a team can be a little maddening or insane at times. Much like all relationships really. All relationships have highs and lows, ups and downs, and can be both incredibly satisfying and frustrating (sometimes both at the same time). Being a fan encompasses every range of human emotion and experience. We are there for all the glorious victories as well as all the demoralizing defeats. The names and numbers on the back of the uniforms may change, but the loyalty and devotion that are commanded by the crest at the front is what unites all manner of people to band together and identify themselves as fans.
As a Flyer fan, I have experienced the entire gauntlet of emotions while following the Philadelphia Flyers. The one constant though is that I never have thought about quitting. No matter how painful it has been at times, I keep coming back for more. No matter how badly the team struggles, I stick with them. As do all the other diehard Flyer fans out there.
With the NHL Draft in the books and the free agent period winding down, the dog days of summer are here. Another season will be upon us soon enough with the promise of a better season ahead. This new beginning has boundless optimism that every set of fans across the league has with their team dreaming of making the playoffs and hoisting the Stanley Cup. Especially in the Metropolitan Division, the struggle for playoff positioning and divisional bragging rights will be especially fierce and competitive in the 2019-2020 NHL season.
Then I came to a profound realization. Being in the same division does naturally create rivalries, but they are rivalries of necessity that have been created by the NHL. They have a sort of artificial feel to them; the emotions (positive and negative) that they generate are short lived. True rivalries that are authentic are created and maintained by the fans through an impactful shared experience. They generate emotions that carry over not only from one game to next, but rather from season to season.
Rivalries are not created equally. As a Flyers fan, here is how I believe the Flyers division competitors rank in terms of how strong of a rivalry they have with the Flyers and Flyer fans.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets
What I respect about the Blue Jackets:
How does the saying go? “If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough”. To me that is the Blue Jackets in a nutshell. GM Jarmo Kekalainen put all his chips into the middle of the table and kept all three unrestricted free agents (Matt Duchesne, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Artemi Panarin). He did so knowing that Columbus very realistically was going to lose all three for nothing, with the only prayer of keeping at least one of these assets being a long playoff run. While they did knock off the league best Tampa Bay Lightning in the biggest upset of round one (and won their first ever playoff series), they ended up losing to the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins in six games. Was it risky? Absolutely. Was it ballsy? Hell yes. Was it worth it? Hell no. Considering Columbus does not seem to be an interesting destination for NHL players, Kekalainen sure made the playoffs, the offseason, and next season much more intriguing to watch.
Also, I have to say I love John Tortorella as a coach. He will have his work cut out for him this coming season, but he tells it like it is and wears his heart on his sleeve. His epic confrontations with reporter Larry Brooks in New York, his profanity laden tirades between periods, and his legendary “Whiny Stars” commentary about the Pittsburgh Penguins is absolute gold.
What gets on my nerves about the Blue Jackets:
The trade that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus at the 2011 NHL Draft really stunned me at the time. But I think most Flyer fans today can look back and say that getting Sean Couturier (11th overall), Jake Voracek, and Nick Cousins (68th overall) was a king’s ransom (pun intended as Carter was eventually traded to Los Angeles).
On the other hand, trading future two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus for what ended up being Anthony Stolarz and Taylor Leier is enough to drive someone to the edges of insanity. Wait…they shortly afterwards signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year deal FOR HOW MUCH?!?! Pretty sure a mulligan would have been used in this instance.
The Blue Jackets and the Flyers may be rivals because they are in the same division, but that pretty much sums it up. No real memorable games spring to mind, and this coming season looks to more than likely to be more of the same. Fans looking forward to games when the NHL schedule comes out will not be circling the dates that these two teams meet, and will probably use the opportunity to binge watch past seasons of Gilmore Girls instead.
6. Carolina Hurricanes
What I respect about the Hurricanes:
They are a team that lacks true star power (other than Aho), but they know how to have fun! Their antics and wacky celebrations at the end of victories at home garnered media and fan attention to a franchise that desperately needed to get into the spotlight. The whole hockey world took notice and the Hurricane’s post-game celebrations became part of the discussion for every hockey fan around the league and routinely became part of any Carolina game’s highlight package. Love it or hate it, the postgame routine did wonders for a team that in seasons prior really seemed to lack an identity. When hockey traditionalist Don Cherry called the Hurricanes “a bunch of jerks”, the team embraced it and used it as a savvy marketing ploy that not only enhanced their bottom line but also strengthened team chemistry.
Antics aside, it must also be said that a huge portion of the credit to the Hurricane’s success this season should go to head coach Rod Brind’Amour. The former Flyer player finished 5th in Jack Adams voting (to Barry Trotz, Jon Cooper, and Craig Berube) and would have been a consensus finalist in pretty much any other year based on this year’s stiff competition. Important to note that Rod “The Bod” Brind’Amour was traded to Carolina by the Flyers in return for Keith “Supremo” Primeau. A great hockey trade that paid off for both teams.
Also, all Flyer fans love “Mr. Game Seven” Justin Williams. Even though he is playing the role of elder statesman on this young Hurricanes squad, he continues to play the game with class and would be welcomed back to Philly in a heartbeat.
What gets on my nerves about the Hurricanes:
I don’t get the love affair with the Hurricanes young defence corps. The way that hockey people rave and gush about the Hurricanes defence, you would think that they are some sort of an elite unit. Are they good? Sure, better than most. Are they great? I wouldn’t put them in the top 5 in the NHL. I would certainly rather have the defences of Nashville, Calgary, San Jose, Boston, or Dallas. Again, I think they have a good young defence. But should Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and potentially Jake Bean or Haydn Fleury be considered elite? Maybe my real issue is that the Flyers young defence was supposed to be as highly touted as Carolina’s. A little bit of bias or jealousy on my part? Perhaps, but the Hurricanes defence keeps getting a bump from the hockey community when in reality they really only took a step this past year. Let’s see what next year holds before we crown them as upper tier caliber.
Much like Columbus, the Flyers rivalry with the Carolina Hurricanes is on the low end of the rivalry scale for me. This rivalry does have the potential to ramp up considerably this season. Depending on how things continue to shape up this summer, the Hurricanes and the Flyers could be battling for playoff positioning in the Metro right through to the last weekend of the season. One of these teams having their heart broken at game 82 may just be the spark that this rivalry needs to really get going.
5. Washington Capitals
What I respect about the Capitals:
They won a Stanley Cup last season after their entire existence was basically defined by playoff disappointment and chronic underachievement. They were due, and it was a breath of fresh air to finally see Ovechkin and the Caps vanquish the Penguins in the second round that year.
I loved that Alex Ovechkin took the Stanley Cup victory personally. He wanted that cup so bad that his teammates had no choice but to roll with that emotion. Russian and European players get unfairly labeled as quitters once the Stanley Cup playoffs begin because their paycheques end upon completion of the regular season. Ovechkin totally dispelled that myth and his lack of sobriety the summer after winning the Stanley Cup pretty much proved that it is the ultimate prize for any professional hockey player. How an alcohol company hasn’t made him their spokesman yet was a real marketing faux pas in my opinion.
Oh yeah, and they had that Justin Williams character that was mentioned earlier too.
What gets on my nerves about the Capitals:
Upon writing this article, I realized that I don’t really have any major beef with the Washington Capitals. Everything that I can think of is pretty minor (but still irritates the crap out of me). For example, I really hate Kuznetsov’s flapping bird celebration when he scores a goal. I pray to the hockey gods every time I see that celebration that Tom Wilson will skate by and clothesline him WWE style…and then I remember that Tom Wilson is also a member of the Washington Capitals. ARRRRGGGGHHHH!
Speaking of ARRRRGGGGHHHH…do you remember in the classic movie Dumb and Dumber when Jim Carrey’s character claimed to know the most annoying sound in the world, and he proceeded to scream in Jeff Daniel’s ear while riding in the dog themed van? Well I have that sound beat. The most annoying sound in the hockey world is the horn that sounds after every Capitals goal. It sounds like someone broke into a car and set of the alarm that was popularized in the early 1990’s. Are we celebrating a goal or the fact that the neighbour sat on his key fob again for the third time this week?
Speaking of Jim Carrey…remember when the Capitals had a goalie named Jim Carrey (whose nickname was the ‘Net Detective’)? I still can’t believe that that guy won the Vezina and STILL faded away to obscurity with an amazingly cool nickname like that (sarcasm).
Other than the really annoying little things, on the whole I don’t really have any major issues with the Washington Capitals. They won their first ever cup and quite frankly deserved one with the entertainment that Alex Ovechkin provides that fanbase on a nightly basis. The cherry on top though is that they accomplished that achievement at the expense of the Penguins which is always really cool. This divisional rivalry does have a bit of added spice with the Niskanen for Gudas swap that occurred prior to July 1st. It will be really interesting to see if Gudas brings the physicality against his old team when the two sides meet next season, as well as how the Flyer players react to facing him. All I know is that Backstrom and company better watch out for him during practice drills. Just ask Sean Couturier.
4. New York Islanders
What I respect about the Islanders:
Four Stanley Cups in a row from 1979-1980 to 1982-1983 is a feat that we may not see again in any professional sport. Winning back to back titles is difficult enough with the wear and tear that professional athletes endure during a grueling season and playoff every year. With travel, injuries, and rest becoming more important to today’s athlete, this feat becomes all the more improbable that it will ever be attained again in any sport.
Barry Trotz showed that a good coach can make a HUGE impact on a hockey team. Remember, the Isles were a team that lost their captain and franchise player John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency with no compensation in return. Everyone in the hockey world had the Islanders written of as a non-playoff team at the start of this past season. Trotz came in with his systems that emphasized team defence and got all of his players to buy in. It shows that Trotz is not only a great coach from the technical and systems standpoint, but that he is also an effective communicator and motivator as well.
The Islanders not only beat the Penguins in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they swept them. I must admit that the way they dismantled Crosby and company had me rooting for them (for the first time ever).
What gets on my nerves about the Islanders:
The sheer unpredictability of this team is infuriating. When they look like the sky has fallen on them and will absolutely miss the playoffs, they end up finishing 2nd in the Metro only one point behind the division winning Washington Capitals. Everything that is left with this team ends of being right, and everything right with this team ends up being left. Robin Lehner had a tremendous season in goal after struggling through tremendous adversity and gained heaps of respect among everyone associated with the game, only to have the Isles prioritize chasing other free agents (like Bobrovsky) while simultaneously disrespecting their own player. After losing Tavares last year, Isles fans now have to deal with losing Lehner and giving Semyon Varlamov (4 years/20 million – 5 million AAV) the exact same contract that Lehner was looking for. Winning is important but fans need some consistency to build relationships with their teams.
Speaking of consistency, it is extremely important to remind people that the New York Islanders will play 21 of their home games at the Nassau Coliseum and 20 games at the Barclay’s Center in the 2019-2020 season. Nassau Coliseum is in Uniondale, New York on Long Island (hence the team name the Islanders). Barclay’s is in Brooklyn! IT IS NOT AN ISLAND! It doesn’t make any sense. There are many islands in New York: Manhattan, Ellis Island, Coney Island, Governors Island, Liberty Island…hell even Rikers Island. BROOKLYN DOESN”T MAKE ANY SENSE! AND WHAT IS WITH THE CARS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STANDS? ARE WE PLAYING IN EUROPE? ARE WE WATCHING THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS OR ZURICH? ARE MIKE MILBURY OR GARTH SNOW STILL RUNNING THIS TEAM? Sorry I got carried away with the last one there. The bottom line is that the players and fans all like Nassau Coliseum better in terms of atmosphere and attendance. More Nassau and less Barclay’s would be better for both the Isles and the NHL.
Again, this rivalry is not really as intense as it should be. The Islanders definitely have more heat with the Rangers, Devils, and Penguins than with the Flyers. The Isles whiffing on attracting free agents has not really clarified what the Islanders will be this coming season. Will they be top three in the Metro again and challenge for the division? Will they be in the wildcard hunt? Will they miss the playoffs entirely? Who knows with this unpredictable team. The only certainty seems to be that they will be in the thick of it and that this is a team that the Flyers need to vault in order to make things happen this year.
3. New York Rangers
What I respect about the Rangers:
The Rangers sent a letter to their fanbase in February of 2018 talking about how a rebuild was going to take place and that fans should expect that the team would require roster turnover, patience from the fans, and time. Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and the rebuild is in full swing and if I were a Ranger fan I would be excited. The Rangers landed the big fish in Artemi Panarin (7 years/81.5 million – 11.68 AAV) and went out and landed Jacob Trouba for what is considered by all to be a bargain basement price from the suddenly vulnerable Winnipeg Jets. Add to that the addition of 2nd overall pick Kaapo Kakko and there is huge buzz around the Broadway Blueshirts. What usually ends up being a 4 or 5 year process has been expedited rather quickly by Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, who already has a nice crop of prospects in the Ranger’s farm system.
This next one might get me in a bit of hot water with Flyer fans but I will be completely honest here: I like the Rangers goal celebrations. From the horn to the catchy tune that encourages fan participation (“Hey, Hey, Hey”), the Rangers have something that I totally want the Flyers to have. Teams like the Rangers and the Blackhawks know how to liven up the spectator experience with awesome music that sets the tone for the hockey team. For all the naysayers that think that it doesn’t matter, look at what the “Gloria” song did for the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. The Flyers need to amp up the in-arena experience with something that totally reflects the city of Philadelphia and brings out the passion that used to make the Wells Fargo Center one of the most intimidating places to play in the league.
What gets on my nerves about the Rangers:
I was not a happy camper when the Devils won the draft lottery, but I was absolutely pissed when the Rangers got rewarded with the 2nd overall pick. I mean not only is New York pretty much on every players’ free agency destination list; now they get lucky and get rewarded when other teams that have suffered for far longer have never caught that lucky break. You could literally see the look of disgust on almost every other GM’s face when the Rangers got announced as a finalist at the draft lottery. Furniture was destroyed in my household.
Another thing about the Rangers is how everyone proudly touts their unique status as an ‘Original Six’ franchise. The Rangers love to mock other fan bases when the reality is that they have been the least successful (Stanley Cup wise) of the original six. Of four total Stanley Cup victories for the Rangers, three of them were won prior to 1941. This means that they didn’t even win one during a time when every team had a 16.67% chance of winning the Stanley Cup. I know that the Flyers have their own championship drought to worry about though, and here is hoping that the Flyers don’t have to wait 54 years like the Rangers did.
I had a lot of trouble with this ranking. I fully believe that the Rangers will be a huge rival for the Flyers (and everyone in the Metro for that matter) in the future. They have assembled talent relatively quickly and will be avoiding many of the growing pains that other franchises have gone through to build a contender. That in and of itself is annoying, but this version of the Rangers looks to have staying power. While they may not be ready for the bright lights of Broadway right now, they are going to be a major factor in this division for years to come making for some epic encounters between Broadway and Broad Street down the road.
2. New Jersey Devils
What I respect about the Devils:
The logo and the color scheme of their uniforms is pretty classic. Whether it is the old school green and red jerseys rocked by Sean Burke, or the modern home and away jerseys; the Devils uniforms are sharp and stylish. Plus the Devils were always mentioned on the classic HBO series The Sopranos.
What gets on my nerves about the Devils:
My love for the Flyers began once ‘The Big E’ Eric Lindros began lacing up his skates for the orange and black. Never before had a player merged size, finesse, speed, and physical play in a package quite like Lindros. As a teenager playing for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, he routinely used his physical tools to outmuscle opponents and change the course of hockey games on his own. After being selected 1st overall in the 1991 NHL Draft by the Quebec Nordiques (and subsequent monster trade with the Flyers) that style of play continued to pay dividends at the NHL level. Until that fateful day during the Eastern Conference Final vs. the New Jersey Devils in 2000. I remember when Scott Stevens lowered the boom on Lindros that many said it was a clean hit. I said back then and I maintain now that it was indeed a dirty hit as Stevens jumped and used his shoulder to make contact with Lindros’ head. Knocking a game changer like Lindros out of the series changed the course of the Flyers and Lindros’ career. The Devils ended up winning the Stanley Cup that year, and Lindros’ concussion(s) and subsequent injuries drastically affected how he played the game and his effectiveness on the ice. He never really regained his form as a hockey player and I have no doubt in my mind that Lindros would have hoisted a Stanley Cup as a Flyer at some point in his career. I cannot and will not ever forgive Scott Stevens for that hit (nor Ulf Samuelsson the Scott Stevens of the Pittsburgh Penguins – but more on them later).
Also, it doesn’t matter what kind of season the Flyers are having, for some reason the New Jersey Devils always find a way to be a thorn in their side. If the Flyers are on a 6 game winning streak and the Devils are among the basement dwellers in the Eastern Conference, you can rest assured that it will be the Devils that will end that winning streak. Year in and year out the Devils always seem to give the Flyers fits even if there is a large discrepancy in the talent level of the two respective teams. Well I am to turn those lemons into lemonade this year: if the Flyers have a solid winning streak and are well above the Devils in the Metro standings, I plan on betting the house that the Devils will win because it seems that that is always what ends up happening.
The Devils are a massive rival for the Flyers. So much has gone on in terms of history between the two teams, geographic proximity and memorable moments that is impossible for these two sets of fans to not loathe each other. The Devils are almost the perfect foil for the Flyers: the Broad Street Bullies changed the way hockey was played in the 1970’s, the Devils changed the game by introducing the ‘Neutral Zone Trap’ in the mid 1990’s. The Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups since 1995, while the Flyers have not won a cup since 1975. God I hate the Devils. But not as much as…
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
What I respect about the Penguins:
Mario Lemieux the player. Any guy that can battle through cancer as a player and continue to play at an elite level is truly one of the all-time greats. Without the injuries and illness, one can’t help but wonder if some of Wayne Gretzky’s records would have fallen and if there would be a stronger case for ‘Super Mario’ to be considered the greatest of all time.
That’s it. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing else.
What gets on my nerves about the Penguins:
Crosby. He was the most talented player in the NHL for the post-lockout era and maintains his superstar status to this day. The other thing that has never changed about Sid over the years is the incessant whining, crying, and moaning to referees about calls and non-calls. The guy is super talented yet still feels the need to get an edge from the officials every single time. Other players face harassment from pesky checkers and agitators all the time but let their play do the talking. Yet, Sid needs to not only be the star of the modern NHL, but he also feels the need to be the quality control department for the officials and their interpretation of the NHL rulebook. He has the reputation of being a whiner and a crybaby around the league, but maybe it affects me so much because Sid has been an absolute Flyer killer over the years. In his career, Sid has played 63 games against the orange and black and has amassed an unreal 93 points (38 goals and 55 assists). The thing that gets me though is that these goals and points always seem to either turn the momentum of a game or be of the game winner variety. It is so irritating that a guy can be that talented when literally 14 year olds can grow better facial hair. I don’t know if he genuinely hates the fans in Philadelphia (on HBO’s 24/7 he admitted that it is the place where he hates to play the most) but he seems to always save his best for those epic games.
Speaking of Crosby, another thing that pisses me off about the Penguins are their fans. Check that, only one fan: my wife. That’s right, my wife is not only a Penguins fan but her favorite player is the aforementioned Sidney Crosby. So I have had to suffer through 3 Stanley Cup championships with her gloating and taunting me non-stop. In no way should this unholy alliance ever be allowed to continue. Any judge in the land should see this as valid grounds for divorce right?
There is absolutely no doubt that the Flyers greatest rivals are indeed the Pittsburgh Penguins. Every time these two teams meet, it seems like there is a tension and pressure there that is not present at any other games. Geography definitely plays a role as both teams want to claim bragging rights in the Battle of Pennsylvania. But as someone who doesn’t live in Pennsylvania I can tell you that this rivalry goes way beyond geographic proximity. There is a genuine hatred between these two hockey clubs. You can see it in the stickwork after each whistle, the chirping between players, the arguments between coaches, and the back and forth mudslinging amongst the fans. For me, the 2012 meeting between these teams in the playoffs was the most insane, unpredictable and entertaining series that I have ever seen. The back and forth nature of the lead changes, the scrums and facewashes after the whistle, the hits, the fights, the goals, and the fan intensity (on both sides) really made this tilt stand out. Every time the Flyers and the Penguins meet the stakes are high and the rivalry shines through. It is required viewing for all fans and are games that are eagerly anticipated each and every season.
Those are my rankings of the Flyers rivalries within the Metro division. Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on Brotherly Puck, I remain
photo credit: hookedonhockeymagazine.com