1. Rivalries are crucial to league success
Once again, Wednesday night reminded us just how incredible the sport of hockey can be when you get two teams that absolutely hate each other going head to head for a full 60 minutes. Right from the jump, fans across the hockey universe were giddy with anticipation of another entry into the Battle of Alberta saga. Even the coaches showed off a little gamesmanship, when Geoff Ward swapped Milan Lucic onto the Tkachuk line following the pre-game skate to provide him with a little more protection. Immediately following the puck drop, players were finishing checks with intensity, jawing at each stoppage of play and mixing it up between benches at every chance they got. It made for a brand of hockey that is relatively seldom in games today. Don’t get me wrong, I am equally entertained by high speed and skill games where stars can show off their brilliant talents, but something like these high-intensity, physical games just hits different. I mean, we even got a scrap between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2 career fighting majors) and Sean Monahan (0 career fighting majors). It was a brilliant showcase of the sport from the puck drop all the way until Big Save Dave’s unreal shootout celly after coming up with a few big stops to take the W.
Overall, these games speak to the necessity of rivalries in the game of hockey. While there is certainly a case to be made for schedule changes or playoff reformatting, I believe that instances like Wednesday night show us why it’s important to keep traditional rivalries alive. The Kassian-Tkachuk feud is just one chapter in a never-ending story that keeps providing hockey fans with entertaining content at every turn. Not only does it keep the fans of these teams involved, but it draws in outside viewership from markets all around the league. We’ll get to the NHL’s hackjob in the American markets in a moment, but this game drew attention all across Canada, and it doesn’t stop there.
2. The NHL’s shitty marketing reared its ugly head yet again
One of the biggest criticisms of the NHL is their ineffective marketing and sometimes clueless approach to drawing in new fans. This was further supported Thursday night when the brilliant minds at the NHL offices decided it would be wise to broadcast the Los Angeles King’s game nationally on NBC over the much-anticipated Battle of Alberta. Ever since the initial Kassian-Tkachuk interaction, the whole hockey world was abuzz with excitement for when the two would meet again. Constant speculation of who would be dropping the mitts, questions regarding “the code” in the modern NHL and just general conversation surrounding the Flames and Oilers made it the largest talking point in hockey for close to two weeks. Even the NHL’s own pathetic excuse for an all-star event was out shined by discussion around Tkachuk’s antics and on-ice interaction with Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl.
However, not only was the highly anticipated rematch not aired for a national American audience, it was passed over in favour of the Kings – the team with the second-worst record in the entire league. How can the NHL possibly expect to grow their audience and push their product by putting massively entertaining games like this in the backseat? Some of the most appealing selling points of the sport revolve around the passion and physicality that heated games like the Battle of Alberta bring. While the argument can certainly be made for wanting to amplify non-traditional hockey markets, there is absolutely no excuse for not promoting one of the most anticipated games of the year, especially coming out of the all-star break. If the NHL is serious about growing their game, they need to start putting an emphasis on a better on-ice product.
3. We need a playoff series between these two teams
This may be in the running for the most obvious statement of the season, but we absolutely need a playoff series between these two teams ASAP. Even after the initial faceoff on January 11th, this was clear as day. Think about the storylines that could be created from a post-season meeting of these two squads. Not only do you have the underlying Kassian-Tkachuk saga, but you’ve got new secondary battles that will only be heightened over the course of a full series. Each post-game presser is filled with tons of soundbites that continue to add fuel to the fire, imagine that over a 7-game series?
Let’s not forget the level of skill that both of these teams possess, either. Sure, the Oilers and Flames don’t necessarily have the deepest of teams, but this wouldn’t be an ordinary series fought in the trenches. It would feature some of the most skilled players in the league like the two leading scorers thus far in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the reigning Norris winner in Mark Giordano and one of the most electric offensive weapons in Johnny Gaudreau.
If the season ended today, the Flames and Oilers with finish as 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division, respectively, and would end up facing off in the first round of the playoffs. I think I speak for hockey fans around the globe when I say that I would welcome that series with open arms.