A rivalry never dies so long as a single memory survives.
The Red Wings have been around the NHL for a long time and you don’t get to 11 cups without making a few enemies along the way, so don’t misunderstand me when I say that SB Nation’s Rivalry Week for me has been kinda tough to tackle. The Wings don’t lack for rivals, it’s just that the current iteration of the Wings as they’ve been for the last few years has fallen woefully short of being a rival to anybody.
For me, rivals have to be able to hurt one another in a meaningful way. Crushing one another’s playoff hopes, the longing for redemption, the wild screams for justice (frontier or otherwise) in the face of the evil deeds perpetrated by that cluster if irredeemable shithearts. You can get that from a variety of sources, but the easiest fuel for such flames is found in the basic definition of a rivalry: a contest for superiority.
In Detroit’s current situation, their ability to meaningfully hurt another fanbase is pretty limited. We’ve seen former rivals fall out of relevance and have experience how much that lessened the sting of losing to them (notably when Johan Franzen single-handedly swept them on the way to the Wings’ cup in 2008 and then we watched that franchise flatline over the coming seasons). I can also tell you that now Colorado is improving, the heat of a rivalry that’s basically been dormant for more than a decade now is still enough to make me root against them in any playoff series on principle.
We’ve seen the same thing happen with our team. The first three years Detroit was in the East and still relevant, the playoff series against Boston helped rekindle an old Original Six rivalry gone dormant and it helped spark what had previously been only a one-sided rivalry against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Wings fell out of things so quickly that those fanbases have bigger things to worry about than Detroit.
It’s not that other fanbases don’t hate us and it’s not that they don’t feel embarrassed losing to us (I mean, you have to suppose with Tampa, considering that franchise has earned 92.5% of the possible points against us in our two teams’ last 20 regular season games). It’s just that embarrassment is the sugar-free version of hate. It has a similar taste, but the effects aren’t as unhealthy.
That’s kind of the main point behind what makes rivalries fun. There’s some emotional gambling going on. There’s no logical reason to let the outcome of a hockey game ruin your night... or even your entire summer, but without giving the sport that permission, it’s also just as difficult to have an entire offseason’s worth of joy and smug contentment.
Hell, I’m sure there are fans out there who have figured out the trick to this, but I’m not nearly as evolved as that. I’m sure that as Detroit is able to climb back into relevance, the old rivalries can heat back up in an instant or new ones can be ignited. I’m very much looking forward to it in fact. A team lacking in relevance and rivalries is part of what loses them fans.
Until that happens though, I’ll have to warm my cold dead heart on the flames of the only rivalry that’s currently giving off any measurable heat: the Detroit Red Wings vs. the “got swept by the 2019-20 Red Wings” Montreal Canadiens.