Why the Avalanche aren’t the Wild’s biggest rival


There’s been some excitement about the Wild season opener on Thursday, and rightfully so, however, the frenzy over the start of the NHL season is enough reason for most of us, and the actual opponent being the division rival Colorado Avalanche is just icing on the cake. Some people like to think that we’re at odds with the Avalanche, and that there’s bad blood. Is it because of the playoff series we had this spring? Is it because we both have outdoorsy non-pluralized names? Are the Avs really the Wild’s most disdained foe? Are we forming a bitter rivalry with the Mile High Mountain Men? I don’t think so, and I’m going to tell you why.

1. It’s a one way street- Not to gloat, but the Wild have fared pretty well against the Avalanche, most notably in late April. Sure, we started out a little rough, posting a 2-13-3-1 record over our first four seasons, as a struggling expansion team up against a multiple Stanley Cup winning dynasty in its waning years. But since then, after the lost season, we’re a sparkling 33-19-6 against them, and an obvious 8-6 against them in the playoffs, with two road Game 7 victories. I’ve heard before that it isn’t a real rivalry until you lose to someone in the playoffs, and although the Avs snatched victory from the Wild in the final seconds of not one, but two postseason games in the which the Wild outplayed the Avs, the Wild still took the series. I can, however, understand the hard feelings on the Colorado side, especially from Patrick Roy. Roy’s last two playoff experiences in the NHL were Andrew Brunette beating him in overtime in 2003, the last time we would see Roy in an Avs sweater, and the 7 game series loss that spoiled his Jack Adams winning season in his rookie coaching campaign. Meanwhile, the Avalanche haven’t really ruined anything for the Wild of note, so it looks to be a pretty one-sided frustration.

2. The lack of physicality What really makes a rivalry in hockey exciting is the physicality. Not necessarily the fighting, although that’s a pretty definitive sign, but physicality in general. So to measure that, I looked at what else? Penalty minutes. Turns out the Avs-Wild season series last year was relatively tame by divisional standards, and incredibly tame until the final regular season game. the Avalanche and Wild combined for 48 penalty minutes and 3 major penalties over 5 games last year, third amongst divisional foes, behind Dallas(58-3), Nashville(58-3) and St. Louis(53-2). also worth noting is that the Wild and Avalanche played a rare oddity in hockey last season on November 30th- an NHL game without a single penalty. Seems more Lady Byng than Slapshot, doesn’t it? Now there’s plenty of stink to be made about Matt Cooke’s knee on knee hit of Tyson Barrie in the playoffs, and whether you approve or disapprove generally tends to go with your favorite team. However,I think it’s reasonable to say that even with that hit, the wonderful playoff series both fanbases witnessed was relatively clean, and didn’t have much for chippy play or cheap shots, and nary a fight.

3. Location, Location, Location- Sure, you can have rivals from anywhere, but the best ones are the ones that hit close to home. Think Vikings vs. Packers, Twins vs. White Sox, Timberwolves vs. The NBA Draft Lottery. Sure, the Wild had a good rivalry with the Canucks for a few years there, but that’s just it, it was only a few years. It fired up around 2002, and was almost irrelevant after the lockout in 2005. I’m not suggesting the Wild have a rough and tumble rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks yet, but I think we might be getting there, having lost to them in the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. As previously mentioned, a playoff victory by the Wild might just be the nudge that rivalry needs for these teams that are a mere 6-8 hours apart, depending on how many Wisconsin Highway Patrol cars you pass on I-94. And then there’s Winnipeg. While that may get a chuckle from you now, it’s feasible that we can stoke up a rivalry with the Jets in coming years, if their young team manages to make a little noise and get into the postseason mix eventually. I’m not saying a heated rivalry with Colorado is impossible, but the 14 hour, 900 mile drive just doesn’t seem to attract the same kind of vigor a more local tussle would.

4. The Chicago Blackhawks- Location is undoubtedly the one thing linking the Wild and the Blackhawks as rivals, but the other is the teams themselves. Right now, the Blackhawks are the class of the division, having won two Stanley Cups in the last 5 years. Sure, the Avalanche won the division last season, but the pickings for them to repeat are pretty slim, as they lost Paul Statsny to the Blues via free agency, and nobody expects Semyon Varlamov to repeat the season he had last year. Not to say that the Avalanche don’t have a chance to repeat, but it’s fairly consensus that the road to the Western Conference finals will absolutely run through Chicago. With that being said, the Hawks have a target on their back more so than the Avs do, and the Wild, wanting to go further than last season, are very focused on that bullseye. Also worth mentioning is the quality of the rest of the division outside of Chicago and Denver, as St. Louis, Dallas and Nashville are all very legitimate playoff caliber teams heading into the season, so there’s plenty of competition for the ire of Wild fans besides just the last team we beat in the playoffs.

So as you can see, we’re not quite there yet. I am in no way suggested that we can’t get all worked up into a lather against the Avalanche sometime soon, as sometimes rivalries pop up from two teams in a similar position for no reason but a few players having issues, but I’m just not sure it has any staying power. The Avalanche are a good young team, and part of what I think is the toughest division in the NHL hands down, but there’s no reason to get all worked up over this home and home this weekend above and beyond the fact that freaking hockey is finally back.