For the longest time, it was Senators and Maple Leafs. Yes, the Senators have had the odd skirmish with the Flyers, the Sabres and the Canadiens, but none of them ever really escalated to “rivalry” status, other than the fact the Senators played certain teams more often.
That has all changed in the past few months. Now, there are a couple of new kids on the block in terms of rivals that will peak the interest of Senators fans not just because of the talent on the team they are playing against, but because the Senators and their fans want more than anything to beat them.
1. THE MONTREAL CANADIENS
Geographically speakings, the Habs are the closest competition and should have always been an intense rival. For the first 20 years, that hasn’t been the case, but that all changed with a couple of moments in the 2013 playoffs. The first moment was Eric Gryba‘s devastating hit on Montreal forward Lars Eller that resulted in Eller sustaining a concussion and Gryba getting suspended for 2 games based not on the hit, but the result of the hit. It was a polarizing moment because depending on which side of the fence you were on, it was a clean hit on a player who had his head down, or it was a head-hunting vicious attempt to injure. Either way, it set the tone for the series and Ottawa went on to manhandle the Canadiens physically.
The Second moment that will live on and helped to create the ill will towards each other was the was of words between Paul MacLean and Michel Therrien. Or, rather than a war of words, it was the complete ownership of the Canadiens coach by the Senators coach. From “Player 81″ to calling a timeout in the waning moments of a game 3 blowout by the Senators, a game during which the teams were making questionable hits on each other and MacLean wanted to settle things down in the last moments of an intense game. Therrien engaged in a shouting match (albeit one-sided) and after the game called MacLean classless and created the Sens Army catchphrase “norispect”.
Add to that the fact that P.K. Subban now holds the Norris Trophy that Erik Karlsson was unable to defend due to injury and will be looking to bring back to its rightful place, and the rivalry that was stagnant for too long is now in full force.
2. THE DETROIT RED WINGS
For two teams that have only played each other 25 times in 21 years, it would have been tough to consider the Senators and the Red Wings true “rivals” despite the fact that the new NHL alignment placed them in the same division starting this year. It should have taken some time to build up a rivalry.
That all changed on July 5, 2013. The Red Wings became an instant hated rival of the Senators without playing a single game in the conference. Signing Daniel Alfredsson, the longtime Senators captain and face of the franchise, as a free agent immediately vaulted the Wings up the list in terms of rivals. Alfredsson fanned those flames later in the day when during a conference call he indicated he thought the Red Wings had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup this season, a statement that rubbed Sens fans, and some of the players, the wrong way.
The first time Alfredsson and the Wings play in Ottawa, December 1st, will be a very interesting night. As much respect as Alfredsson built up in his 18 years in Ottawa, there was a big split in opinion of the former captain after he left, and that bitterness still exists in a lot of minds.
3. THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
With the advancement of the prior two rivals, the Leafs might have taken a step back. Both teams are now relevant once again in terms of the playoff picture, after a long postseason absence from the Leafs. It is still in full force, however, due to the influx of blue and white in the Senators home arena whenever the two meet in Ottawa. It is still a rivalry on the ice, but is getting kind of stale and another playoff matchup would be just what the doctor ordered to stoke that fire back to a roaring inferno. It wouldn’t take much, but it needs something on the ice to make it happen, as there aren’t too many players left (and none on the Leafs) who were around in the heyday prior to the 2004-05 lockout.
THE REST OF THE PACK
The Sabres, from always being in the same division and some old Lindy Ruff-Bryan Murray battles, the Lightning based on the fact that they were expansion cousins and Tampa has the Cup the Ottawa does not, the Bruins based on the number of ex-Senators on the team and in management, and the Penguins because of past playoff battles and the dislike (or is it jealousy) of Sidney Crosby are all somewhat rivals, but they always seem to need to be pumped up rather than occurring naturally.
The big three rivals (that used to be really just one) that the Senators now have will only grow in intensity this season, when all of the above factors are still very fresh in everyone’s mind.