Patrick Division 2.0 we’re calling it. Our collective heads are still spinning over the dream-like developments of the past 72 hours. It was just this past Saturday night that word broke — exploded, really — that the NHL’s Board of Governors would consider a proposal brought to them by the commissioner that would reunite the Capitals with their natural rivals in the Mid-Atlantic and obliterate — forever — the Southeast division. Not long after we in Washington got home from school and work Monday night it was a reality.
The Governors’ vote was a landslide 26-4. We don’t quite know who the dissenters were (we have educated guesses), but we’re confident our guy wasn’t among them. To Ted Leonsis (and Dick Patrick), the OFB team says, from the bottom of our collective hockey heart, Thank you! With your vote you helped make Washington a better hockey town.
We are keenly aware that so small number of hockey fans in this region have no attachment to the Capitals’ Patrick affiliation of the past. And yet many of those same fans have stepped into Verizon Center on the nights of visits from the Flyers and Penguins and Rangers and felt, acutely, the different atmosphere. Ready yourselves for an entire season of it. And God willing, another generation of one of the fiercest rivalry atmospheres in all of professional sports. Our blogging team reflects individually on the moment:
Empty Maybe: I suppose it’s odd to be so excited to see more of something you really don’t like — in this case, however, it seems perfectly natural.
I do not like the following teams: the Flyers, the Penguins, the Rangers, the Devils and the Islanders. And I’m going to be seeing a lot more of them. And not just in the regular season but in the playoffs, where true hockey hatred is forged and purified.
I get tense during the playoffs because I’m a Caps fan, and as such I know there are no sure things, no ‘easy’ match-ups. During a series against the Penguins or Flyers, however, I become positively mental. Blood-pressure raising-type mental. “Buy flowers and make reservations for a nice apologetic dinner pre-emptively” type mental.
And now I’m going to get that worked up more often.
I’m glad that the plan includes a home-and-home with every team in the league, and I’m surprised that such a radical re-shifting happened so quickly, but most of all I’m bracing myself for the playoffs. Gleefully.
Gary: I could not be more excited about the announced realignment. It’s a welcomed homecoming. More recent Caps fans probably don’t think twice about the New York Islanders. Yes they’ve been horrible for a number of years now — in no small part to ‘Genius’ Milbury — but I still hate them. Why? The playoffs in the ’80s. Similar feelings for the Penguins. Why? Playoffs.
This realignment brings us back to our close neighbors. Short and frequent trips to the hated lands in Pennsylvania and New York. Playoff triumphs and failures intensify with repetition with divisional playoffs. Those intense feelings carry over to regular season games. One never really felt that with games against Atlanta or Florida.
Now the NHL needs to complete this realignment properly with the four conference names. They already know how to spell them and where they should be.
Patrick. Adams. Norris. Smythe.
Elisabeth Meinecke: One of the themes which emerged at last Thursday’s Caps-Pens battle from journalists both paid and unpaid to watch hockey games was that more games should be like the one developing below us that night: two teams that had a solid history of disliking each other elevating their level of play. Ken Dryden once said that by the time you retire, you are grateful for a good opponent, because they have only forced you to play your best. With the Caps’ new conference opponents, they’re going to be playing their best a lot more frequently.
DC SportsChick: Admittedly, I’ve only been a fan since the Southeast Division alignment, but this is a great development. It’s really hard to get excited about games with Tampa. Now, playing New York or Philly is a different story. Those are great cities to visit for an away game, and the rivalry is intense. That’s something you don’t see with Florida or Winnipeg. The realignment bring much-needed enthusiasm and excitement to the NHL.
Mike Rucki: Getting an extra home game each season against Philly, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and the New York Rangers is a boon to both fans and owners alike. More intensity in the arena, more fans in the seats, more Ted-pleasing sold-out games. It also makes sense to keep Carolina in the division while jettisoning the Florida teams; the ‘Canes and Caps have developed a healthy dislike for each other over the years.
But perhaps most exciting is that the Capitals will have a better chance to judge their postseason chances during the regular season. With more intense play during the year, the Caps will no longer be able to finesse themselves to a division title. Now the Caps will have to succeed against bitter, physical rivals all season, and therefore should be better prepared for the inevitable postseason shift toward bruising, grind-it-out confrontations. It may be a somewhat painful transition at first, but it will improve the Capitals’ chances for playoff success by forcing the team to build the right roster — and the right attitude — to flourish in May and June.
pucksandbooks: I’m not sure I can identify a moment of greater pride being affiliated with this blog. At our inception we planted the flag of Patrick Division Reunification in the e-ground. We listened attentively to all dissent (“Atlanta’s a Top 10 market — the Thrash aren’t going anywhere!”), but ours was a position of principle and passion. So maybe this moment ought to be instructive: if you love a sport dearly, and believe rigorous reform imperative for its overall health, champion it — spiritedly, with unwavering resolve. The fight for reform may take years, but when it arrives, it’s oh so sweet — and the sweeter for the duration of the battle waged.
It’s seldom trumpeted, but hatred is part of the plasma of our sport, and the Washington Capitals have known no hatred quite like that which boiled over in the Patrick division years. And now it’s back. Seemingly miraculously!
I can’t help but think that the genesis for this amazing moment might just date back to New Years weekend, in Pittsburgh, when the Red Army made so spirited a showing at Heinz Field. Capitals’ officials forecasted 20,000 in Red marking the pilgrimage; instead, the figure was closer to 30,000, and the Army, with all of hockey watching, made the national anthem theirs and were never silenced thereafter. How could anyone have left that stadium and that atmosphere and not wondered: what if these two teams, with their iconic stars, could battle again for division titles, and in divisional playoffs?
It’s true: Chinatown today is transformed on hockey nights. It is ablaze in Red. As a Washington native I walk among the throng and have yet to grow accustomed to the spectacle, even years later. But it’s about to be transformed again. What lies ahead with Patrick Division 2.0 is the formation of elite hockey culture in a fledgling hockey town. Redskins, beware.