When I made the transition from Atlanta Thrashers fan to Chicago Blackhawks fan, one of the first things I learned was that I wasn’t supposed to like the Detroit Red Wings. It just wasn’t done. The bitterness that came from their long-standing rivalry is almost palpable. You get to chant “Detroit sucks” six times a year and listen to long-time fans recall how downright nasty their meetings got in the old days. I’ve enjoyed disliking the Red Wings, though Niklas Lidstrom made that very, very difficult.
This new realignment plan threatens to make things very difficult for all Blackhawks fans. Instead of having the Red Wings in the same conference and division, they would be in the Eastern Conference. What does that mean? It means the Blackhawks would only play them twice a season as opposed to the four or five times they’d play them as division rivals. If familiarity breeds contempt, then the Blackhawks have an abundance of it, stretching back to the days of James E. Norris and Major McLaughlin. Absence won’t make the rivalry less important, but it’ll dilute the intensity.
Think about the Boston Bruins’ rivalries with the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens. Both rivalries are strong, but the one with the Canadiens is stronger because of the familiarity and frequency of their meetings. There was a big buildup to the one meeting between the Canucks and Bruins last season, but that game was forgotten in the pile of other games played. That doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal, it’s just that compared to the Canadiens, the Canucks seem to be on the back burner in fans’ minds due to games not happening as often.
More optimistic people will argue that fewer games will make the rivalry more special, but I can’t see that. This rivalry is a small part of what makes being a Chicago Blackhawks fan fun. I’d miss the fun I have watching those games so often. And hey, I like chanting “Detroit sucks,” so don’t take that away from me.