Friday, October 06, 2006

Rivalries

I'm glad the Leafs won G2 in Ottawa and not for the simple reason that I'm a leaf fan - the reason I'm glad the Leafs won goes a little deeper than that.

You see, I don't think the Leafs and Sens have much of a rivalry - despite what the media files to sell industrial fasteners.

With all this talk of the Leafs Sens "rivalry" and with the Habs coming to town on Saturday night, my brain served up an age old quote from Ken Dryden's seminal book The Game.

Over 28 pages in the middle of the book, Dryden beautifully describes a road trip to Toronto to play the Leafs near the end of the 1979 season.

He concludes:

There is no Leafs-Canadiens rivalry. It's dead: the Leafs killed it.
I remember being shocked as a 12 year old hockey nut when I read it and I’ve never forgotten those two simple sentences.

Not to put words in his mouth (he certainly has enough of his own) Dryden’s take on rivalry is that you need to have legitimate competition between rivals or else it dies.

The rise and fall of the Leafs in the late 70s is well known: management's failure to find adequate support for the promising core of Palmateer, Salming, MacDonald and Sittler; their inability to draft and develop talent coupled with a bad string of short-sighted trades, led to the decline of what could have been a very good team.

This decline in the Leafs came at a time when the Habs were losing about 12 games a season and racking up Cup after Cup. To Dryden’s point: not much competition in that – not much of a rivalry.

It’s not much different from the Leafs and Sens (not to say the Sens are anywhere near the level of that Habs dynasty, despite what Muckler might want us to believe). The Leafs may own the Sens in the post-season, but they’ve had their asses handed to them by the Sens in the regular season for years. Having your club go 1-7 in the regular season makes it hard to get up for a mid-February match against the skaters from the 613.

But never mind the media or my yapping, what about the perspective of Leafs Nation?

Offer a Leaf fan a choice of any games to attend at the ACC and hands down the Habs would be number one. Leafs tickets are hard enough to come by at the best of times, but just try to get a ticket to a Saturday night Habs match-up in this town.

I'd wager the Wings come in at #2 – partly because of the history between these two clubs and partly because they play so few games against each other these days. The third ticket goes to the Flyers. The fourth ticket? I think the average fan is going to chose to see Crosby or Ovechkin. That puts the Sens no higher than 5th on the hit list and they might just be neck and neck with the Sabres.

Think about that for a minute. Our great rival is a fifth or sixth choice ticket? This is what great rivalries are made of? Would a Red Sox fan pick four teams ahead of a chance to see the Yankees? Oilers and Flames fans pass each other by? I don’t think so…

Then there’s the history or rather, the lack of it.

The Habs and Leafs have been going at it for more than 75 years, never mind the whole French Canada/ English Canada divide.

The Leafs and Wings have been throwing elbows and lighting the lamp longer than Kanata's had paved roads.

The Leafs and Flyers had the crazy battles of the 70s and the Flyers have pulled the plug on the Leafs last few post-season plans.

The Sens have been around for what, 14 years? For the first five of those the Leafs were facing off against guys like Sylvain Turgeon, Peter Sidorkiweicz and Randy Cunneyworth. Throw in a year of labour stoppage, a year of role reversal with Jason Alison cast as your choice of Laurie Boschman, Gary Dineen or Dave Archibald and you've got maybe seven years of competitive hockey between these two clubs. Maybe.

Sorry, it's just not enough.

What about geography? Please. Ottawa as a town isn't even on the average Torontonian's radar. The Town-That-Fun-Forgot is further away than both Buffalo and Detroit and is only about 80 clicks closer than Montreal. To give it a bit more perspective Pittsburgh is just a shade further away than Ottawa. Steel-Town is likely a lot more fun too.

So we share the same Premier, big deal.

Reciprocity? Might be nice if both sides got as worked up about this. Ottawa fans may froth at the mouth over Toronto, but it's a one-way gig and it will likely be lessened now that the cap has eliminated the Leafs economic advantage.

Sure, the Leafs may have knocked the Sens out of the post-season 4 times, but Buffalo has now delivered the death blow three times, so it's not like the Leafs are unique in this regard.

One team has dominated the regular season series and the other the post-season match-ups. There’s not much fun in that.

A chance that these two-teams might actually give each other a run for the money? Now, that’s got some potential…

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:56 pm

    I agree, any pairing in which one side owns a 30-16 edge in that past few years (regular season obviously) isn't much of a rivalry.

    8 games a year is no way to create a rivalry either. You barely have time to let one game sink in before you have 3 more.

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  2. Anonymous11:58 pm

    Great stream of conscience there... kudos on the great post.

    I think that given the parity, the Leafs/Habs has a real chance of getting back to that magical era... the key difference being that they are now battling for 8th vs the Cup.

    I really REALLY dislike the Sens, but not for their fans petty antics. I have disliked the Sens since the beginning, simply because they are from Ottawa (the town that literally sucks the life-blood out of the rest of Canada. Given this stance, I would have to rank the teams as follows:

    1. Habs
    2. Sens
    3. Flyers
    4. Wings
    5. Canucks
    6. Flames
    7. Oilers
    8. Devils
    9. Rangers
    10. Sabres

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  3. hebsie9911:10 am

    I would much rather see a Sens game over the Flyers. Who cares about the Flyers anymore. I think much of the rivalry is the connection between the two cities. We all know fans in Ottawa who hate the Leafs so that makes it fun to beat them. Flyers are not anymore special then the rest of the East.

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  4. I'll tell you what, though. With Quinn and Domi out of town, this rivalry isn't what it used to be.

    I disagree that the 8-game season series doesn't build tension, though. Other than playoff series, how else do you get the hate going? I love the new schedule.

    -Wardo

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