There is very good reason for optimism surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. They are an exciting team to watch not only because they have been successful, but also because they make plenty of mistakes. This alters those smooth carefree victories into nail biting, hair pulling and ulcer inducing finishes to games that are riveting regardless of the outcome. For the first time in years, maybe even a decade or two, I am not only looking forward to Leaf games, I am altering my schedule around them. Funny enough, I am not worried about whether or not they make the playoffs (whatever happens, happens) but I am intrigued by the fact that regular season games have meant so much this year. It dawned on me this past weekend, that not only are the Toronto Maple Leafs good, but also the teams the Leaf fans hate the most. We are in line for some great hockey over the next few months as everyone tries a little harder when they face their rival. The question for the Leafs though, is that with so much history and with so many people hating Toronto, who do you think will be their greatest rival over the next few years?
Historically, there is no other rival. These two teams have locked horns so many times in the past it goes above and beyond hockey itself. This isn’t just the Habs vs the Leafs, it is French vs English, Quebec vs Ontario and even fashion vs business. The reason why hockey has taken center stage in this rivalry is because, well… it’s one of the few times you actually get to cheer when somebody gets punched and not get arrested. As rivalries go, as much as there is still something special every time these two meet, this one does fall a little short. Since the 1970s, neither of these teams been good enough at the same time to sustain this rivalry. That falls more on how bad the Leafs were during the last few decades that calling it a rivalry was actually, just to be kind to Toronto fans. But with Carey Price in net, the Canadiens are always a dangerous team and with the Maple Leafs having turned the corner to a bright, bright future, this rivalry could be back in full swing and what a dandy it would be.
As our closest geographical opponent, there has always been some heat between the snobbish fans from Toronto and those that have survived the fires and stabbings in Tonawanda. Anybody who watched Irv Weinstein and Buffalo’s EyeWitness News in the 70s will understand that jibe. Whether Buffalonians hate us because we tried to steal their football team or whether we are jealous of their tailgate parties; the hatred has usually spilled forth on the ice. Either that or we are just sick of hearing them still complain how they were robbed of the 1999 Stanley Cup. Only between these two teams does a pre-season game turn into a brouhaha with 13 games of suspension doled out. You think Leaf fans would be glad to have this rivalry as Sabres have been chronically bad for so long. Truth of the matter is the Leafs have a poor 75-115-18 record against the Sabres and a pathetic 28-70-6 record in Buffalo. However, with the young talent that Buffalo has amassed recently with Jack Eichal, Evander Kane and Alex Nylander (Maple Leafs William Nylander’s little brother) this team is getting better at the same time the Leafs are which again should provide us with great entertainment over the next few years.
The Battle of Ontario may not have the longevity as the rivalry with the Canadiens or the proximity of that with the Sabres, but it is just as fierce. Leaf fans had to bear witness to their “little brother” being better than they were since they arrived, by nearly winning the Stanley Cup back in 2007. Ottawa fans though have never been made to forget (because Leaf fans keep telling them) that the Sens have never beaten the Leafs in a playoff series. From Alfredsson vs Sundin to now Erik Karlsson vs the rookies, there is always an extra chip on the shoulder when these two teams play. Considering that at the midway point this year these two teams are only separated by a couple of points and that 2 out of 3 games have gone into overtime, they are quite evenly matched. There is a good chance that if things stay the same, they will be facing each other in the playoffs and that will once again tear the roof our of both of these cities.
But let’s forget the playoffs for a moment and just see where things lie at the end of the season. For now, enjoy all of these games with their divisional opponents as they each mean much more than just two points. Take a moment though and ponder who do you think will be the Maple Leafs greatest opponent over the next few years and which rivalry are you most excited to see?
Which team do you think will be the Maple Leafs greatest rival over the next few years?
— frediSportsTalk (@frediscores) January 23, 2017
» Sports » Who will be the Maple Leafs...