With the 2019–20 season on hold indefinitely, Toronto Maple Leafs fans have turned to social media as an outlet.
Hockey Twitter especially has re-sparked old rivalries but also shines the light on dead ones. As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan myself, this made me re-examine historical rivalries, current ones, and the invented ones.
As fans of an original six team can attest, one of the fun parts of being a fan is engaging in its rivalries.
However, some of the oldest rivalries among teams have been dying for a long time and the NHL has begun forcing invented rivalries down our throats.
Toronto Maple Leafs Rivalries
One of the fun parts of being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan is engaging in its rivalries. However, for a long time, people have felt that the once-thriving Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens rivalry is nearly extinguished. I believe the NHL has recognized this as well and have slowly been forcing invented rivalries onto its fans for many seasons.
These “rivalries” are often held together by single players or events, such as the Matthew–Laine storyline, or seem altogether made up. For example, at one point NBC promoted the Boston Bruins and the Minnesota Wild as a “thriving” rivalry.
Of course, as stated earlier, rivalries are not just team-based but also relevant on an individual level.
The NHL often advertises a rivalry between the first and second overall draft picks. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been fortunate enough to snatch Auston Matthews in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft over Patrik Laine, who went to Winnipeg. However, both players seem to not care about the narrative, and the latter takes more heat from the Cancucks than Toronto.
Some of the greatest rivalries are ones that develop naturally, through its players or fans.
For example, the Penguins and Flyers’ obvious geographical rivalry was rejuvenated by Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux’s dislike for each other.
Another rivalry that developed through both fans and players is the no longer relevant Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devil one. After constantly losing to the Devils in the playoffs (remember when the Devils actually qualified the post-season?), the two teams hatred for one another climaxed as a result of an elbow to the head on Scott Niedermayer.
The NHL needs to stop forcing fake rivalries down fans’ throat and allow them to develop naturally.
One of the most exciting rivalries to watch is the Battle of Alberta, which is fed through both the fans and the players. Rivalries do not come into existence because the executives at NBC wished it into the universe. They develop naturally and are bought into completely by both the fans and players alike.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs make the transition from building their team to contending with it, they will naturally develop some interesting rivalries, which, other than actually winning, is one of the most exciting parts of finally having a good team.
The Leafs and Bruins are current rivals and it will be great to see what else develops over the next couple of seasons – it just won’t necessarily be with a traditional rival like the Canadiens.