Christopher Kelsall The Hockey Writers
Vancouver Canucks and Seattle Kraken: The Next Great NHL Rivalry
National Hockey League rivalries can be intense, highly entertaining and will fester and smoulder for decades, only to be freshly renewed during the postseason; the proverbial pulling the scab off an old wound.
Until now, the cities of Seattle and Vancouver have had a kinship that dates back more than a century. They are unofficial sister cities and harbour many similarities. Both urban centres are situated near mountains and forests and their respective downtowns backdrop stunning ocean quays. They are similar in size and are just two hours apart by car. Seattle and Vancouver are both known for hip coffee and micro-brewery culture, contemporary urban living, and eclectic culinary cuisine, especially of the seafood variety. They are both popular tourist destinations and ports of call for cruise ships and luxury yachters.
Competitively, the relationship has been passive. The rival Major League Soccer clubs the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps have less of a rivalry and more of a brotherhood. Both cities have had NBA franchises, the Supersonics in Seattle and the Grizzlies in Vancouver — neither one does now. In the Western Hockey League, the Thunderbirds and Giants are no more rivals than the Winterhawks and the Wheat Kings. But that friendly neighbour bit, that’s all about to come to a screeching halt – welcome the Kraken, the newest NHL franchise.
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The Seattle Kraken and the Vancouver Canucks will create an instant rivalry worthy of a nickname, to be sure, but what shall it be? Perhaps the Battle of the Northwest, I5 Series or something aquatic and violent, like the Gulf War?
Rivalries make for playoff-style hockey during the long regular season and better teams are often created by them. During the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers dynasty forced the Calgary Flames to be great. The battle of Alberta became legendary.
Ask anyone born before 1966 and the lore of bygone hockey of the Original Six sounds genuinely legendary. However, many NHL fans from Generations X, Y, Z and M (millennials), may debate the relevancy of the Original Six and their age-old rivalries. The last time there were just six teams in the NHL was 1966-67, the year the Canadian baby boom ended (‘64 in the US, ‘66 Canada, according to Dave K. Foot, Ph.D. and author of Boom, Bust & Echo). Modern-day rivalries are just as exciting as the “originals”.
The Original Six spanned 1942-67 and included the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
World Hockey Association Teams Absorbed Into NHL
The league grew to 12 teams by the mid-1970s. In 1979, the NHL brought in four World Hockey Association teams, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. The following season the Flames relocated to Calgary.
During the 1990s, the league added the San Jose Sharks (91), Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning (92), Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Anaheim Ducks) (93), Nashville Predators (98), Atlanta Thrashers (99), whom later moved to Winnipeg in 2011 to become the Jets revisited.
Next up was the Vegas Golden Knights in 2016 and the latest is the Kraken who will begin play in the 2021-22 season.
Currently, the Canucks are cresting a wave of potential greatness with a boatload of youthful, high-octane talent. Meanwhile, the Kraken will benefit from the same expansion draft format as the Golden Knights enjoyed. They had the greatest expansion season in NHL history, reaching the Cup Final against the Washington Capital in their inaugural season.
Rivalries of Note
Battle of Ontario: Ottawa Senators – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Battle of Ontario sees the Senators and Maple Leafs compete against each other in the Atlantic Division eight times during the regular season. During the early 2000s, they met four times in the playoffs with Toronto winning each time. Today, the Maple Leafs are a team with Stanley Cup potential whereas the Senators need to improve to get back to where they once were (Stanley Cup Final in 2007). For now, the Battle of Ontario takes a back seat to the Austin Matthews and Mitch Marner talent show.
Boston Bruins – Montreal Canadiens
The Bruins and Canadiens rivalry is considered one of the all-time great sporting battles. The two teams have played each other more than any other combination in NHL history.
The Bruins continue to self-identify as tough and hard-hitting. The big bad Bruins’ reputation harkens back to the small-size rink days (191 x 83 feet) where there was no place to hide for visiting players. Boston fans love their tough guys; hard-hitting personnel in the Cam Neely mould.
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In the playoffs, the two teams have met in 34 series for a total of 171 games. They have faced each other nine times in a Game 7; more than any other matchup in NHL history.
Battle of New York: New York Rangers – New York Islanders
This rivalry waxes and wanes, like many. The Battle of New York games were once coloured by more fights in the stands than on the ice. Like the Penguins and the Oilers after them, the Islanders iced dynastic teams in their early years. They won four consecutive Stanley Cups during the 1980s to set off a jealous rivalry that flares up from time to time to this day.
Although the Rangers hadn’t won a Cup since 1940, the 1971–72 and 1978–79 teams made the Final. In 1994, led by Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, and goaltender Mike Richter, the Rangers captured their first Stanley Cup in 54 seasons, defeating the Canucks in seven games.
Battle of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Flyers – Pittsburgh Penguins
The Battle of Pennsylvania began in 1967 when the teams were added to the NHL’s “Next Six” expansion. The Flyers got the early start in the 1970s when they won back-to-back Cups in 1974 and 1975 with an always tough and competitive team. The Penguins didn’t see much playoff action until Mario Lemieux arrived in 1984, and it has been domination ever since. The city of brotherly love shows anything but love towards their cross-state rivals, who have steel in their veins and have oozed talent since the early 1990s.
Battle of Alberta: Calgary Flames – Edmonton Oilers
The Battle of Alberta is a deep and bitter rivalry. The team’s caustic discord peaked during the mid-to-late 1980s. From 1983-1990 the Western Conference saw just two different champions. It was either Calgary or Edmonton. They frequently played each other in the playoffs, with three of the series going seven games. Edmonton won the Stanley Cup five times in seven years and went to the Final two other times.
Calgary won the Cup in 1989 and reached the final against the Lightning for the Florida-based team’s only Cup win in 2004. Calgary leads the all-time regular-season series with a record of 127–118–18; however, Edmonton leads the postseason with a 19–11 record.
ICECHIPS: The Flames have also had a bitter rivalry with the Canucks that has perked up randomly over the years. This may soon rear its ugly head as both teams are stacked with young talent.
Freeway Battle: Anaheim Ducks – Los Angeles Kings
This was more media hype than reality, but there’s been no love lost between these teams over the years. The term Freeway Face-Off refers to a series of games played between the Ducks and Kings during their only post-season matchup in 2014; the Kings won in seven.
Chicago Blackhawks – Vancouver Canucks
This rivalry was intense but has since calmed as both teams have re-tooled. Historically, they had great battles during the old Smythe Division era. The regular season races during the 1970s resulted in either the Canucks or Blackhawks typically winning the division. But, there were three straight seasons of fierce playoff action between them during the 2009-11 stretch.
The Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in the playoffs during the second round in back-to-back postseasons in 2009 and 2010 — The Blackhawks would go on to win the Cup in 2010.
In 2011, they met for the third straight year, this time in the first round. The Canucks finally defeated the Blackhawks in seven games, but ultimately lost in seven to the Bruins in the Final. The cross-continent rivals could erupt into an emotional battle all over again, but first, there is the taming of the Kraken.
Taming the Kraken
The Canucks will lose some market share to the Kraken as Washington State fans may be more likely to stay home than commute the two hours as they have done for 50 years. On the other hand, the dollar exchange may also attract fans along for the ride to Vancouver.
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Historically, Canucks season ticket holders have sold their tickets for games when the Canadiens and Maple Leafs come to town. Rogers Arena can be chock-a-block of raving and loud Canucks supporters, but when Toronto or Montreal fans want to pay top dollar for a seat to the show, who is going to argue about profiting up to 10-times the value?
Expect Seattle fans to invade Rogers Arena eight times per year, starting two seasons from now.
Whatever the name of the season-long battles and potential playoff series matchups happens to be coined, The Gulf War, The I5 Series or Sea City Slug-out, anticipate the intense rivalry between the Canucks and Kraken to begin in their first game of the 2021-22 season.
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