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Historic rivalry? December 27, 2007

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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We’ve got Pittsburgh tonight, and I was on the game-day thread getting ready to wax eloquent about the teams’ historic rivalry.  But then I thought a second time.  I’ll grant that it’s a rivalry–the teams hate each other, and the all-time series isn’t exactly lopsided in favor of the tuxedoed terrors.  But how can Caps-Pens be considered historic when the Caps first started playing after Richard Nixon got re-elected?

Habs-Leafs, THAT is historic.  Rangers-Bruins, THAT is historic.  Wings-Hawks, THAT is historic.  Heck, the Leafs last won the Cup before the Caps even entered the league–do the Caps have any right to the word “historic” when they haven’t exactly been around that long?

I will grant, Caps faithful, that the Original Six shouldn’t have sole claim to historic this or historic that.  But when even the first set of expansion teams are “only” 40 years old–and that’s not even 40 seasons played when labor stoppages are considered–how historic is historic in the sport of hockey?  Is there one “historic” for the Original Six, and another “historic” for, say, the Flyers and the Penguins?  Put another way, how historic can any NHL rivalry be when 5/6th of the current league didn’t exist prior to 1967, and the teams that did, had all been playing together since 1932, some before even THAT? 

 I’m fond of snarking at football junkies that the Montreal Canadiens won their first Stanley Cup when Vince Lombardi was in diapers.  All well and good, but none of the other teams in that day’s league exist anymore.  So we can certainly say, without qualification, that the Canadiens are a historic team, by virtue of being the oldest team in the game.  We can say the same for the Bruins, who are the oldest American club in the NHL.  And in terms of time in existence, the historic value of the rest of the Original Six is, I think, beyond debate.

What, then, to make of the Class of ’67, of which the Penguins are a part?  Well, ’67 also saw the introduction of the Oakland Seals, who no longer exist.  And when you consider the success of other ’67 teams–the Blues, the Flyers–you have to extend the word “historic” to this class, as well.  This is the class that began hockey’s expansion into the game it is today; I think it does rise to the level of a historic class.

Gramatically, there is a technical distinction between “historic” and “historical.”  “Historical” means anything belonging to the past; “historic” generally means something in the past that’s important.  And, Caps fans, let’s be objective and brutally honest here: how “important” is our team, as a whole, to hockey history?  We’ve only been in the Stanley Cup finals once, where we got swept by the Red Wings.  We don’t have a lot of division championships.  As a team, we’ve got a long way to go before we can stake any claim to the word “historic.”

Yes, there are a lot of good players who’ve played in Washington who are in the Hall of Fame.  Yes, the late Dave Fay is a Hall of Fame scribe.  But team rivalries, such as Caps-Pens, are between TEAMS, not individual players, so that point is, I think, moot.  Until our team can be correctly be described as a historic team, I don’t think it’s accurate to say we have any historic rivalries.  We certainly have a long-running HISTORICAL rivalry with the Pens; there’s a lot of bad blood between our teams; the all-time series is very close; and the games always mean a lot more for the Caps. 

However, we haven’t exactly had a lot of playoff success against the yellow and black.  THAT series isn’t pretty.  Our playoff history is more a footnote to the Penguins’ playoff successes than it is the rousing story of successes of our own.

So, if you really want to get technical, we don’t have a “historic” rivalry with Pittsburgh.  We certainly have a “historical” rivalry; we certainly have a heated rivalry; and passions run deep for both clubs and their fans.  But if you have to be important to be “historic,” then, objectively, I don’t think our own history is enough to qualify this rivalry as historic.

I know this will not go over well with some long-time fans.  Keep your disagreements civil, folks, that’s all I’m asking.  Debate and discussion are welcome; ad hominem arguments are not.



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