Last week, the Devils split a pair of games against the hated (and currently cellar-dwelling) Philadelphia Flyers and tonight, they play their second of the season against the even-more-hated New York Rangers at The World's Most "Constantly in Need of a Renovation" Arena. For Devils fans, no other teams that show up on the schedule inspire the level of loathing that these two opponents inspire. From the smug suits who sit in that mausoleum perched over Penn Station to the constant flow of goons and pests who take the ice in Philly, these two teams/fanbases have made themselves pretty easy to dislike over the years. But this got me to thinking: who would you consider the Devils' third biggest rival? Do they even have one? Who are the possible candidates?
Geographically, this one is the most obvious choice. The Isles current home at Nassau Coliseum is only about 40 miles away from the Prudential Center and the new one they're moving into at the Barclays Center next year will be a mere 13 miles away. In my experience, there has always been a little bit of animosity between New Jersey and Long Island, but the presence of a common enemy in the Rangers has kept those feelings in the margins.
I think this has never gained traction as a big rivalry because of the lack of simultaneous success of the two teams. When the Isles were in their glory days in the 1980s, the Devils had just moved and were mired in the "Mickey Mouse" years of their existence. Once the Devils rose to prominence in the mid-90s, the Islanders were entering a stretch of futility which includes no playoff series wins that they are still trying to extract themselves from. With the Isles starting to turn the corner last year, and the Devils maybe (hopefully?) bouncing back, perhaps this rivalry could get a kickstart in the near future?
The Penguins are a team that folks in general love to hate. It probably has something to do with them having two of the five best players in the world at the same time, which is annoying (not to mention that they were beneficiaries of the same exact scenario in the 90s). The Pens are also a good candidate for hate as they are another holdover from the now-defunct old Atlantic division. Beating the Pens is always fun because they and their fans come off as kind of whiny and because beating teams that are good is also fun. The Devils have been pretty good at beating them over the last decade-plus, too.
The issue is that hating the Pengins, frankly, feels kind of old hat. Pretty much everyone at least mildly dislikes the Penguins and, to be honest, the Devils are probably, at most, like the fifth or sixth most hated team for them. The Flyers, Caps, Bruins, and Rangers all probably have a better rivalry claim with them right now. So they are definitely hatable, but this matchup also lacks some of that rivalry feel for me.
The old saying is "familiarity breeds contempt." Well, as far as the playoffs go, it's hard to get any more familiar with a team than the Devils have with the 'Canes. Through the 2000s, New Jersey and Carolina played 4 series in a span of 8 seasons. The Devils took the first, but the Canes took the latter three, including one of the more soul-crushing losses I've endured as a sports fan in 2009. It would be immensely satisfying to deal Carolina some measure of revenge in the playoffs at some point.
The issue here is that those feelings don't last forever and the Canes success has been sporadic (as has the Devils', of late). Plus, the Canes don't exactly make a ton of sense as a geographic rival. They have now moved into the Devils division, though, so the Devils will be seeing a lot more of them in the future. Maybe it's not the sexy pick, but I think I like this one the most as a third rivalry candidate. The Canes are a team that, as far as I can tell, isn't really swimming in rivalries, and Devils fans have a reason for hating them that is uniquely theirs. Plus, they are trying to corner the market on Staals and they stole the Whalers, a team everyone pretends they gave a crap about when they existed, which are both not cool.
Bruins - I think most people are pretty sick of Boston in general at this point, so they are definitely on the radar as a hateable team. You have the always-simmering NY Metro vs. New England rivalry thing going on as well, so that adds some spice, too. Plus, they employ Brad Marchand, which is a good way to get people to root for your failure as a team.
Capitals - New division opponent; straight shot down I-95 or the Amtrak; the logistics of this matchup as a rivalry make a lot of sense. They are overexposed for their level of success, which is irritating. Plus, the whole "Rock the Red" thing they do is dumb, considering they are probably only the third-most 'red' team in their own division. It feels like they should be more of a rival, but somehow, it just lacks the heat for me. Maybe with more division matchups now, they will become more loathsome in time.
Red Wings - I know this is a bit of a weird one, but it always felt like the Devils and Wings have had a bit of a "legacy" rivalry, so to speak, for the last couple decades. Seven Cups and 11 finals appearances for the two teams over the past 18 seasons and it's hard to find another team that approaches that level of consistent success. Maybe not a real honest-to-God rivalry, but it's not nothing. The Devils also steamrolled them in the Finals back in '95, which is fun. Plus, they are now in the same conference so we could see more postseason action in the near future.
Other teams - Beyond that, who else? Maybe the Wild for the whole Parise thing? Kings for the finals loss? Not really much there for me, but if anyone has a hatred for some random team, please sound off below. Maybe you live with some annoying Canucks fans or something. Make your choice in the poll below and get to hating in the comments (keep it PG, though, of course).