By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
I grew up in a golden era of the Bruins and Canadiens rivalry. The Bruins had Milan Lucic, Andrew Ference, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, Greg Campbell, and Shane Hnidy. Montreal had Mike Komisarek, Josh Gorges, Roman Hamrlík, Maxim Lapierre, and Tom Kostopoulos. Anytime that game was coming up on the schedule; we knew we had a chance to see a classic unfold right before our eyes.
I didn’t realize how spoiled I was to see the rivalry in such a great place until more recently. The Bruins against Canadiens matchup has cooled off a bit in recent years. There are many reasons for the decline of the rivalry, but to me, the biggest three are the way the schedule is made, the decline of the Montreal Canadiens, and the style of play in the NHL right now.
Style of Play
It’s no secret that the NHL is changing how the game is played. Penalties are much more sensitive, so more hooks and slashes are called than there used to be. Fighting and physical play has also taken a downturn. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be massive hits and occasional fights, but the line brawls and chaos we saw in the late 2000s and early 2010s are nearly gone.
Look no further than the recent matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild, in which we saw two goaltenders who wanted to get at each other and were stopped by the officials despite being mere feet away from each other ready to go. Stopping a goalie fight has always been possible, but it would usually happen if the situation was in control and the goalies just wanted a bit of extra fun. In this situation, the refs went out of their way to stop a fight that was all but started.
It’s not just goalie fights that are being stopped, either. Even if two players try to start a fight now, there’s a chance the refs step in and don’t allow it to happen. That change in play has meant that giant brawls like we used to see when the Canadiens and Bruins faced each other don’t happen nearly as much as they used to. Teams have also adapted to that style of play, and rosters don’t have as many “tough” guys as they used to. We don’t see fourth lines filled with guys just there to ensure nobody hurts the stars. Instead, they fill the roster with fast and skilled guys who prefer to keep their gloves on.
The Decline of the Canadiens
I will do my best not to let this just be a section of me making fun of the Canadiens. The fact of the matter is that they just aren’t as good as they were ten or 15 years ago. At the height of the Bruins and Canadiens rivalry that I knew, they were competing for playoff spots, the division, and even the Presidents’ Trophy. In fact, in 2008 and 2009, the Canadiens and Bruins were each the number one seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, respectively.
The Canadiens have struggled lately, and the one season that they did have success was in the COVID season when they were put in the all-Canadian division and didn’t play the Bruins once all season. Since 2015, the Canadiens have only made the playoffs three times. In that time, we’ve seen Gary Bettman attempt to take the creation of rivalries into his own hands for some reason, so the Bruins have been forced to play other teams like the Maple Leafs and Lightning frequently while the Canadiens sit at home and watch.
I had already decided to write this article before I found out about this piece of it. I think the current scheduling system took effect when the Seattle Kraken were introduced, so it’s relatively fresh and stinks. The Bruins and Canadiens only had three games scheduled between them this season. That is crazy! How are we supposed to believe the league wants to create rivalries when the most historic ones are barely happening unless they both make the playoffs?
This situation is caused by the regulations regarding non-conference opponents. Every team has to play each team in the league at least twice. The Bruins play every Western Conference team twice and every Metropolitan Division team three times. We don’t need to see that every year.
I understand the league wants every fan to have the chance to watch someone like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby. The reality is that just making them play one game a year in every city does not automatically allow people to see them in person. Tickets can be expensive, and especially in cities like Boston or Toronto, some families just may not be able to afford a ticket to a game against Edmonton or Colorado. Teams can play non-conference opponents once a year and alternate home games. Then, give all the open slots that will create – 16 of them – to divisional games.
The most recent Bruins and Canadiens matchup gave us a taste of what the rivalry used to be like. We got two fights simultaneously to start the game, a little bit of nastiness between A.J. Greer and Mike Hoffman, and of course, a Bruins win! Unfortunately, these games between the two historic rivals are becoming a rarity. Instead of tuning in to see what inevitable chaos will occur, we tune in to just another game, and if something extraordinary happens, it’s a pleasant surprise.