Jackets / Rangers: Familiarity Breeds Contempt
With their move to the Eastern Conference, the Jackets may have a read-made rival waiting for them in the new Metropolitan Division.
With training camp right around the corner, NHL teams and their fans can dive into the process of acclimatizing themselves with the league's new realignment. For some teams the changes aren't drastic-take the Pacific Division for example; the Western Canadian teams join the California clubs and Phoenix, while Dallas moves to the more geographically appropriate Central Division. For other squads, like Winnipeg finally being able to jump to the Western Conference, realignment brings a whole new outlook. In addition to the Jets, the two other squads who are affected the most by realignment are Detroit and Columbus, who are making the jump from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference.
Prior to this upcoming season, the Jackets were of course members of the old Central Division. They were lumped in with Detroit, Chicago, Nashville and St.Louis- a meat grinder of a division which produced multiple Stanley Cups and from the Jackets' perspective, a bitter rivalry with the Predators and continued hatred for the team from Michigan.
Fast forward to today and the Jackets are members of the newly-formed Metropolitan Division. Gone are the Midwestern division rivals, the regular trips out West, and lack of national exposure. The Jackets can now look to the Penguins, Flyers, Devils, Islanders, Hurricanes, Capitals and Rangers as division rivals. Of those seven new divisional opponents, one team stands out when discussing the next bitter, hated rival of the Jackets.
First, let's make something clear- the Rangers are an original six team (for whatever that's worth), recently celebrating their 85th anniversary. They've won Cups, and play in the most historic rink in the NHL. The Blueshirts don't owe the Jackets the time of day, quite frankly, but rivalries don't develop overnight and thanks to many common links between these two squads heading into this season, the groundwork is in place for an intense rivalry.
The Rangers currently have six former Jackets players on their roster, and recently hired former Columbus head coach Scott Arniel as an assistant coach. The Jackets have six former Rangers on their current roster, while Senior Advisor Craig Patrick is a former head coach in New York and President John Davidson tended goal for the Rangers in the 1970s, and went on to be the Rangers' analyst for MSG for many years.
John Davidson (President)
Craig Patrick (Senior Advisor)
Scott Arniel (Assistant Coach)
In terms of the players on the ice, we're not talking about some bottom-six players who briefly played for either the Jackets or Rangers. Rather, we're talking about the best players on each team- Gaborik for the Jackets and Nash for the Rangers-making it easy for fans of either team to focus their support and vitriol, respectively, when the two teams play each other.
Going a few steps further, each team's core features players who suited up for the other team. For the Jackets, Anisimov and Dubinsky are essential pieces to the puzzle, and Fedor Tyutin is the team's most complete defenseman. Tim Erixon is on the cusp of becoming a regular on the back end. From the Rangers' perspective, Brassard was a huge addition to their core last year, playing out of his mind after moving to Manhattan. John Moore is going to be a very good blueliner in the NHL for a long time, and you can take that to the bank. Dorsett, Stralman and Johnson are more complimentary players, but the fact remains when the teams play each other, fans will be pulled in every direction, which is sure to directly inject fuel into the superheated exhaust that is this budding rivalry.
The teams will face off four times this season, two each in Columbus and New York. The first game will be in Columbus on November 7th, with games in New York on December 12th and January 6th, with the final meeting back in Columbus on March 21st.
The first game between the clubs will be the first time the former Jackets, most notably Nash, return to Columbus. How will he be received by the fans, and for that matter, the organization? The fact that there were truckloads of dirty laundry strewn about at or around the time of his trade to the Rangers, including the revelation that Nash had requested a trade, my thinking is that the fans may still harbor ill will toward their former captain and perennial all-star. I'll tell you one player who'll get a chorus of ovation if/when his name is called, or when he gets a hold of the puck though- Derek Dorsett.
After the initial oohs-and-aahs, it will be down to business. As these will be divisional games, both teams will be gunning hard for the win. The emotion of the crowd will go a long way as well, and while the bad blood is certainly more toxic from the Columbus angle, all four games should be wildly exciting and full of storylines.
Mark your calendars, folks.