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Duck U: RIV 101 - Rivalry Theory


In an effort to keep you, the faithful reader, up-to-date on everything Anaheim Ducks, I find myself needing to add one more writer to make our team complete for the season. Let me introduce to you our newest writer, Chris. Chris has been blogging about the Ducks on his own, and I think he's going to be a great addition to our site. Don't believe me? Check out the Duck U story he submitted as a try-out. Without further ado, here's Chris!


Hello Class, I'm Professor Chris Kober. In this class we'll be discussing what makes an NHL rivalry and a general overview of how that can be applied to the past, present and future of the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks franchise. If the course is allowed to continue, the rest of the syllabus will consist of breaking down the Ducks' top rivalries.

Before we begin, its important to note that Rivalry Theory is an extremely subjective course, based in opinion and couched in emotion. There are no right or wrong answers per se, only effective and ineffective arguments. Also, the rivalry discussion isn't black and white. To paraphrase Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters 2, we have more than two grades of opponents there aren't just rivals and non-rivals, there are many subtle levels.

Generally speaking there are two types of rivalries. First is the rivalry between the teams on the ice. If the players seem to have feelings ranging from a genuine dislike to hatred for each other there is a foundation for a rivalry.

It isn't the type of hate that existed back in the Original Six days when teams played each other about 857 times per year and nobody ever got traded from one team to another, but when Corey Perry can goad four-time Lady Byng winner Pavel Datsyuk into dropping the gloves there's something there. Sometimes you can just feel the tension on the ice, and other times the tension is in the stands.

The second type is the rivalry among the fans. Trash talk and bragging rights are the main battle fields for this type of rivalry. Think of our good friends over at the Battle of California. Friendly rivalry and one-upsmanship is, for some, what being a fan is all about. This is where you get that feeling of wanting your team to score just so you can shut the opposing fans up. Unfortunately, as Ducks fans we're all too familiar with that feeling at The Pond.

The best rivalries come when player hatred feeds fan distain. The latter type of rivalry can exist on its own, though it will probably be less intense without some snarl between the boards. On the other hand, you'd be hard pressed to find a player on player rivalry that isn't swimming in a pool of fan vitriol.

Within just about every rivalry there is a mixture of these two concepts, whether it's fans hating on each other, on their rivals' players or the rare occasion of players giving it back to opposing fans (See: Andrew Ference). You can like a team's players and despise its fans but more likely than not, abhorrence of the fans will color your view of the team in general. The reverse, hating a player or players while liking their fans, is almost unimaginable.

There isn't really, such a thing as a natural rivalry. Rivalries are built, most effectively in the playoffs. This is why I am of the belief that the Ducks' biggest rival is not LA, as the uninitiated may assume, but Detroit. The concept of a cross town rivalry is fine, there is plenty of animosity in the crowd at Ducks/Kings games but it pretty much stops there and is relatively superficial. The Kings/Ducks rivalry on ice is heating up, as is evidenced by the season ending mini-series last year where even Teemu Selanne ended up in a fight with Brad Richardson, however it's got a ways to go.

The way that the NHL is structured today devalues divisional play and in effect devalues geographic rivalries. The only thing at stake in the regular season among the teams in a division is the division title, and with it a spot in the top three in the conference. However, that isn't even a competition at times. If one team runs away with the division lead, their division "rivals" most important games suddenly become those with the teams on the bubble that they are fighting with for a playoff spot. Maybe, by chance, one of them is in the division but it's not likely that there will be more than that.

This is why next season's realignment is intriguing, especially if it means a possible return to a divisional playoff structure. I can't say that I have any recollection of divisional playoffs in the NHL, and I can see the down side of an easier road to the playoffs (and even the second round) for teams in less competitive divisions. However in terms of building rivalries and creating juicy early round matchups, I salivate at the prospect of divisional playoffs.

Not only would teams be battling within their division to make the playoffs, the teams that do make it would have to play each other to get out of the first round. This limits options of teams that you could play in the first round and therefore means more repeat first round matchups and therefore more intense rivalries within the division.

The way it is now, divisional play is based on an unbalanced schedule. It's quantity over quality. This is why all Ducks fan vs. Kings fan arguments always come down to "We won a Cup!" vs. "At least we aren't named after a kids' movie!" The teams play a lot but it doesn't necessarily mean anything when they do. Making matters worse, the Kings and Ducks don't happen to be good in the same years very often, if ever.

When it comes to Detroit there is a different hurdle to jump in building a rivalry. The two teams have met five times in the playoffs and for now the Wings have the lead 3-2. The problem with having a rivalry against the Red Wings is that everyone does, or at least they think they do. Due to Detroit's success (20 straight playoff seasons 6 finals appearances and 4 Stanley Cups in that span) nobody likes them, but a rivalry has to be mutual. The "they hate us way more than we hate them" thing is not really fun for anyone.

The first 2 playoff series against the Wings were Detroit sweeps, which made game one of the series in 2003 exhilarating for Mighty Ducks fans and Game 4 almost unfathomable. The two more recent series were just epic battles between two great teams. During the playoffs this year, on this very blog, Daniel argued that the Ducks stopped the Red Wings from winning the cup in '03 and '09. I would add that the Ducks were the only reason Detroit didn't win the Cup in 2007 as well. So in theory, the Ducks were one of the main stumbling blocks, if not the main stumbling block standing in the way of Detroit winning three cups in a row and four in five seasons from 2003-2009. Early on the Mighty Ducks were but the buzzing of flies to the Red Wings (another Ghostbusters 2 reference? You Bet!) but now that they've held their ground there is a real rivalry.

The Ducks/Sharks rivalry falls somewhere in between that which the Ducks have with the Kings and Red Wings. San Jose may have our number in the regular season, but we got them when it counted, not to mention in a sore spot for them: the playoffs. The Ducks/Sharks rivalry is on the right track, it just doesn't have the history built up yet that the Ducks have with Detroit.

So, in closing I give you my basic rankings of the Ducks' top four rivals:

1) Detroit
2) San Jose
3) LA
4) Dallas

After that it gets pretty murky. Discuss!