I’ve told this story so many times that it feels cliche by now, but a quick reminder for those who haven’t been around for one of those:
If it weren’t for the Colorado Avalanche, I wouldn’t be the Detroit Red Wings fan I am today.
I don’t need to rehash the old rivalry here. There’s now more than one generation of Red Wings fans who are too young to truly appreciate what the old rivalry meant or too young to have even been alive for the thing to kick off. As is useful for every generation being peer pressured by their own culture’s past, the question of “why do we hate these guys again?” is worth trying to answer and will ultimately be watered down by those of us trying to pass down the experience.
When I became a Wings fan, I needed that for the Maple Leafs. I’ve since developed my own dislike for them, but being told by older fans of the rough-and-tumble Norris division, it was always just a story and something to go along with because I spent too much time feeling sorry for those losers to add any real enmity to their story. For so many years it seemed like the universe hated them enough for me so I don’t have to.
But “The Rivalry”... oh boy. I was already a soccer-player turned hockey fan by the Russian Five’s artistry when the hit that touched everything off went down. This turned a casual “hey I like how these guys play” into a moral imperative that a fair and just world right the wrongs of forcing Dino Ciccarelli to shake that guy’s friggin’ hand.
It did, and then some.
But the rivalry is dead. It has been dead for years. It’s so dead that the two most-central players to the whole thing make media appearances together now. It’s so dead that players from when it was still alive can be welcome behind the other team’s bench.
The rivalry is a fun memory of the past. It was a fun memory of the past already in February 2016 when the teams met outdoors in Coors Field for a Stadium Series game that was so full of “remember when these teams were rivals” that among the most-memorable parts of the game itself was Alex Tanguay, who played for the Avs during the rivalry, scored one of the last five goals of his entire NHL career and the game concluded without a single fight.
Every one of the Red Wings’ five goal scorers from that game is no longer with Detroit. The last of the goals was scored by current Avalanche player Darren Helm.
It’s fitting Detroit won that game because Detroit won that rivalry and that game was the final hammer stroke on the final nail on that coffin. The next season after that was the first time in NHL history that both the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs.
While there were players on that Avalanche team from 2016 that are still around, they were already a full rebuild removed from the Avs team that Johan Franzen singlehandedly swept out of the playoffs in 2008, putting the rivalry on life support back then. Adam Foote was still on the Avs when that happened and now his son is playing for Tampa.
My fandom was forged in the fires of these two teams’ hatred for one another so I’ll always have a warm ember of hate for the Avalanche. My general fan recipe is that I root against every non-Red Wings team and when two non-red Wings teams are playing, I choose who I root against harder rather than who I root for. I don’t want to see that joyless dork Nathan MacKinnon win. I want to be able to go back to rooting against Nazem Kadri because he’s a guy with a history of questionable hits. I want Cale Makar to fall short of all the lofty comparisons thrown his way.
Honestly? Mostly I don’t want to see GM Joe Sakic win a cup with Colorado before GM Steve Yzerman wins one with Detroit, but knowing that I’ll survive seeing Sakic go before Yzerman because I’ve seen it happen before, it’s a pain I can bear.
But What about Tampa?
Yeah, Tampa is the team Yzerman built so yay them. They were always a proof that Yzerman could run an NHL club and that’s been proven. Every year Tampa wins the cup after Yzerman departed is less credit that goes to the GM who laid their blueprint. Sure, I like Steven Stamkos and sure I think Victor Hedman is good at hockey, but I don’t feel I need to write a long defense of why Tampa makes my skin crawl more. I could end at holding up a placard that says “Corey Perry” and kick my feet up knowing that’s the ace of spades for most discussions.
I have more recent and more painful memories at the hand of the Lightning. Every time I’m reminded what a monster the Detroit pick that Ken Holland traded for Kyle Quincey turned into in Tampa’s net, I have to swallow down bile. Seeing Alex Killorn ever know joy bothers me more than the idea of Nathan MacKinnon looking for it like a dog chasing a car and having no idea what to do with happiness if he ever catches it.
I know it’s been adjudicated already a million times and have read all the invitations to die mad about Tampa technically following the rules to wildly exceed the cap while a star player apparently won the lottery on his medical readiness to play competitive hockey meeting up with the exact time his return wouldn’t blow up the team’s roster. I have chosen to accept those invitations. You can die mad about me dying mad. It’ll be a healthy cycle.
Finally, if we can prevent Tampa from winning a cup without an asterisk, I can live with that forever.
Both Teams are Good. Let’s Just Enjoy the Good Hockey!
I will. I’m capable of enjoying watching highly skilled and evenly matched teams play my favorite sport at the apex of its competition while still also grumbling. It’s exactly why the word bittersweet exists. I don’t tell you not to enjoy avocado so please don’t try to tell me not to hate-enjoy these next two weeks. It’s an acquired taste.