(the enemy's domain)
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets have shared the NHL since 2000, but never like this. The 2013-2014 season will mark the first occasion that these teams will be in the same division. Heck, the same conference even. When the NHL brass decided to shuffle the realignment deck, they made the wise decision of coupling these two cities together in the Metropolitan Division. It took nearly a decade and a half, but the rivalry that always should have been . . . now is.
Let’s dish out some perceptive, huh?
Columbus is in Ohio (duh) and most major Pittsburgh sports nemeses are in the Buckeye State. The Steelers have the Browns. The Pirates have the Reds. Penn State has Ohio State. Plus, Columbus is only two hundred miles away. That's a four hour car ride (you can take 70 and avoid tolls). When Columbus was awarded a franchise, it brought back a PA-OH hockey rivalry that ended when the Cleveland Barons folded in 1978.
But not all at once. The Blue Jackets were placed in the Western Conference which made about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine. Columbus joined the Detroit Red Wings (also saddled in the West) in begging for a move to the East. Sure, it took thirteen years, but the timing could not be better. For the Penguins-Blue Jackets rivalry that is.
Columbus has been a terrible hockey team. Historically, fundamentally, any-which-way-ally just plain terrible. Until now. The team hired Jarmo Kekalainen as their general manger on February 13th, 2013 and the team has not been better (which isn’t saying much). The Blue Jackets were painfully close to the playoffs last year (finishing ninth with 55 points) and that was not the real story. They made smart trades and played a non-gimmick defensive system that won them close games and Sergei Bobrovsky the Vezina.
Yes, they’ve stumbled out of the gate this year (5-6, 10 points), but these Blue Jackets can give the Penguins a challenge. There’s big name matchups in Marian Gaborik and Sidney Crosby or Fleury and Bobrovsky. Local boy R.J. Umberger plays for them and both teams can be very physical (which helps the whole bitterness aspect). The Blue Jackets are in the beginning stages of a turnaround and having a hated foe will help build interest in the club, which will have a positive trickledown effect. The Penguins make a prime candidate for the hated foe. Maybe this home-and-home series will spark some bad blood.
It’s nice to be hated once in while.
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