With the NHL lockout fully underway and the threat of lost regular season games become more realistic with each passing hour, it's difficult to imagine at this moment how we felt back when Dallas Stars hockey was a daily part of our lives. It's understandable then, that asking fans to look ahead into the future and think of themselves as active Stars fans again would be a bit disingenous -- at least until the NHL and NHLPA come their senses and we can all leave this mess behind.
That's exactly what I am going to do, however.
The notion of a "rivalry" in modern sports is difficult, with free agency leading to roster turnover at a rate that certainly never existed even a decade ago. Certain rivalries are beholden to geographic rivalries, with fans from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh certainly hating the others' team, while other rivalries hold fast to divisional and playoff history.
For the Dallas Stars, finding a true "rival" is certainly no easy task. When the Stars first moved to Dallas from Minnesota and were still part of the Central Division, the rivalries with the Blackhawks and Red Wings carried over -- especially the Blackhawks. For some who weren't hockey fans nearly 20 years ago, it's impossible to accurately convey just how intense the games between Dallas and Chicago were those first couple of years. Just know that it was awesome, incredible and great for the sport here in Dallas.
As the Stars moved on to the Pacific Division and became a steady postseason contender, rivalries were borne from those playoff series. For a time, the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche could be seen as rivals of Dallas; the Avs, perhaps, would certainly have considered the Red Wings at the top of that list.
The past four years, ones without postseason play for the Stars, has had an interesting effect on the current rivalries between teams and fans. The San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars certainly could be considered major rivals in the division, with both teams fighting for that top spot in the division while also meeting for an epic series in 2008. Sharks fans still hold an irrational hate for Marty Turco and Mike Ribeiro.
The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, seem to have moved into that top rival position. Whether it's between the team or the fans, it seems that the Kings now hold the crown as the team that Stars fans hate the most -- whether that is because of the overall success of the team, because of how games between the two teams have gone or because of the players on the team.
What stands out, looking back to past and current rivalries, is that the most intense are built when a team is playing well and in the postseason -- and playing against other very good teams as well. Not many rivalries are created from two last-place teams facing off time and time again. Those rivalries are created when the two teams are fighting for their hockey lives, when everything is at stake and emotions run at their highest.
In 2012 and beyond, with the possibility of realignment hanging over the NHL, it is going to be interesting to see how those rivalries shift. Will the hatred Stars fans feel for teams in the Pacific Division naturally move to the new Central division teams? Will fans automatically slide back into the hatred they felt for the Red Wings and Blackhawks ten and 15 years ago?
The Nashville Predators, interestingly enough, seem to hold plenty of potential for becoming the most hated team by Dallas Stars fans. The Stars and Predators come from similar backgrounds of hockey in "non-traditional markets" and play similar styles; there have also been some historic moments between the two teams the past few years as well.
As I ask this question, however, contemplate this: Is the team that you -- and other Stars fans -- hate the most line up with the team that the Dallas Stars players themselves actually feel a rivalry with? From my perspective, the Kings certainly sit at the top of the list for the players on the ice as the team they feel the most anger and actual rivalry against. The Sharks would certainly be a very close second.
So, Dallas Stars fans...which team to do you hate the most?