Rivalries are one of the things that makes watching sports fun. Cheering on a team through an 82-game season can become a grind, especially in the middle of the season when there's a string of games against teams no one cares about.
But even the regular season can be exciting when certain teams show up on the schedule. For every meaningless game against the Blue Jackets that turns into a 7-1 borefest, the Wings take on a team that causes them to elevate their game and provides some quality entertainment.
It's not just the teams that we want to watch. Those rivals usually contain players that we have strong feelings about, and we "get up" for those games more than we do most. The term "playoff atmosphere" is seen to describe these games, and when the Wings win we puff our chests and act even more arrogant than we normally are (as if that's possible), and when they lose we are crushed and gorge ourselves on pizza (LC, of course).
In the last 21 years, rivals of the Red Wings have come and gone, but some have remained on the list of players we hate. However, there have also been rival players who, while they played for a team we despised, we couldn't help but respect the guy as an individual.
So today, we take a look at 2 guys on opposite ends of the spectrum. One is an all-around class act who I always wished played for a different team, while the other is someone who recently said he was "good" with Detroit fans, and has apparently never met any of them in person.
RESPECTED: Joe Sakic
What can be said about Joe Sakic that hasn't been said already this week? His induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is well-deserved for a player who was a superstar on the ice and a gentleman off it.
As the captain of the Wings' biggest rival of the last 21 years, you'd think that he would receive the scorn and hatred that players like Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy got. Unlike the "tough guys" who were a part of the rivalry, those players were the stars, the elite talent who truly made this rivalry as good as it was.
Yet Sakic, at least in my eyes, never was deserving of any backlash save for the fact he played for the Avalanche. There was no specific incident that made you say "what a jerk"; no quote from him that made you say "he's lost his mind".
Truthfully, Sakic was always the Avalanche version of Steve Yzerman; the player that was part of and yet beyond the rivalry. Their only contribution to the back-and-forth that was Wings-Avs was their play. They never did anything (beyond score a good goal or make a defensive play) that made you want to rip their hearts out. They didn't exhibit the cockiness that wasn't backed up.
Simply put, Sakic, like Yzerman, was a leader who went out and did his job and did it well, and handled himself with class (the most overused word in sports, but these 2 deserve it). I may have hated the team he played for, but I will always respect Sakic as a player and as a man.
VILLAIN: Claude Lemieux
Really, could it be anyone else?
We know what he did. The hit on Draper. The retaliation where he turtled like a baby when actually confronted for what he did. The fact he didn't express any remorse for what he did to Draper, despite it being deemed such a bad hit he was suspended for 2 SCF games (which would likely be the equivalent of at least 15 regular season games).
When it comes to rivals, usually the feeling about the players is hate rather than respect. And no one is hated more in Detroit than Lemieux.
Rather than blather on for another 400 words about what a terrible person he is, here's video evidence of his jerkiness.
Let the hate flow through you.