We’re starting off SBNation’s Rivalry Fortnight with a staff roundtable about our least-favorite teams and the Predators’ hottest rivalries—and the places those two overlap.
It’s hard for me to pick a “rival” of Nashville that I detest. Back in the day, it was always Detroit. That’s before they reorganized the divisions, but Saturday nights in Nashville against Detroit were always absurdly rowdy, loud, and rough.
Today, it’s probably a team Nashville faces on a semi-regular basis. You can’t really say they are rivals with Pittsburgh...even after the 2017 Cup Final. You can, however, make a case for a Nashville-Chicago rivalry or a Nashville-Anaheim rivalry.
It’s easy to wonder how much of a rivalry Anaheim really is because of their recent poor performance, but in 2017, the Ducks were hated by nearly every Predators fan. No one liked Ryan Kesler. Even after sweeping the Blackhawks in the first round of 2017’s Cup Run, I’d have to place Chicago at the top of my list for an official Nashville “rival.” Hawks fans, of course, counter every argument with “but we have Cups!” It’s easy to dislike Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marián Hossa. But Kane, Keith, and Hossa (among many other Hawks) have plenty of hardware and awards to their name.
Simply put, your “rival” is going to be that team that stands in your way during your playoff run. For Nashville for many years, it was Chicago. But don’t forget about the Winnipeg Jets. They weren’t well-loved in 2018, especially after demolishing the Predators in 7 games.
Even though I attended games in person during the height of the Detroit/Nashville competition, I have to say Chicago.
At first it was an on-ice rivalry, deepening as I attended more games. Then, it grew until I actively detested the team—mostly for their traveling cadre of drunken fans. I remember attending a game that was equally Preds fans and Hawks fans. The Preds were way down and sure to lose and for the one and only time my husband and I left a game with minutes still to go. We simply didn’t want to be around that many Chicago fans at the end. Then, as we were sitting on the upper deck of Rippy’s for our post-game cocktail those fans poured out onto Broadway singing that song. Let’s just say I am a strong supporter of the “get the red out” campaign.
The worst however, was the behavior of the Chicago fans that we could see in the arena, especially after a Saturday of drinking all day. Spilling beer on children, confronting fans and ushers, being arrested—I could go on and on. I know it had nothing to do with the actual hockey being played but...well, let’s just say I don’t mind getting a beer with a Jets or Canucks fan, but don’t even approach the ones wearing red.
Oh—a last funny story. The minor league baseball team here plays a different song for every Bats home run during the season. The summer after that wonderful playoff sweep, I went to my first game. We were cheering for the team’s first home run, when that song started playing. I yelled “How can you ruin this consecutive day streak for me? That song hasn’t been heard in ages!”
A rivalry is a two-person dance; without both sides being invested, there’s nothing there. There are four keys to a successful rivalry:
- The teams and/or individuals share an intense distaste or hatred for one another.
- The teams and/or individuals are closely matched.
- The teams and/or individuals are trying to obtain something that only one of them can feasibly possess.
- There are longstanding geopolitical animosities that create an added layer of tension in games between the two regions (e.g. the Canadiens in francophone Montreal vs. the Leafs in anglophone Toronto; SC Freiburg in Baden vs. VfB Stuttgart in Württemberg).
Out of those four keys, our focus is on the first three. The fourth is not all that applicable to the Predators. The only rivalry related to the fourth key is that with the Detroit Red Wings, namely because of people in the auto industry moving to work in the auto plants here in the south, bringing their Red Wing fandom with them. However, since moving conferences, the Red Wings fell off the radar of Predators rivals.
Now, I have to sit some of you down for a talk. The Blackhawks aren’t a rival. The Predators were hot garbage during the height of the Blackhawk era, and the Blackhawks have been garbage since the Predators turned things around under Peter Laviolette. While the Blackhawks were busy winning Cups, they had actual rivalries with Vancouver, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. Nobody cared about the Predators, plain and simple.
The Predators’ playoff hopes in 2010, 2015, and 2017 were simply to make it into the second round. People forget that the Predators barely made the playoffs in 2017 and that advancing past the Blackhawks made for a successful playoffs on its own. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks were bona fide Stanley Cup contenders each season. These two franchises were never on the same wavelength.
Additionally, on the ice, the Blackhawks and Predators clearly lack a hatred for one another. There isn’t any “piss and vinegar” to their games. The only hate seems to be between Predators fans and Blackhawks fans. And sure, maybe people are annoyed by their fans, but a) every franchise has annoying fans, the Predators included, and b) the last that I checked, fans neither put pucks in the net nor cheapshot the guys on the ice.
That’s the job of the Anaheim Ducks.
When considering a rivalry, the players on the ice come first, and there’s zero doubt that the Ducks’ players have that undeniable chemistry of hatred with the Predators that simply does not exist whatsoever with the Blackhawks. Run the tapes back: you have a Game 7 and two six-game series in the last decade. Every series between the teams featured extreme physicality. Even before the Ryan Kesler and Ryan Johansen feud, which has lasted longer than the Ducks’ fall from grace, you had Corey Perry stealing pucks from James Neal in warmups in 2016.
Every game felt extremely close. Pekka Rinne’s best game of all time was the 2016 Game 7 where he singlehandedly carried the Predators into the second round. These were two evenly-matched teams every single time they played each other, that absolutely hated one another. No other rival of the Predators comes close to what the Ducks became over the past decade.
After the Ducks, the next best rival of the Predators is the Winnipeg Jets. They had a seven-game series and, over the past few years, the teams have had more than just a couple scraps out on the ice. Looking at the players, the Predators clearly dislike the Jets, and that feeling is reciprocated by Winnipeg.
Fans don’t dictate a rivalry; the players on the ice do. Therefore, the Anaheim Ducks and the Winnipeg Jets are the clear-cut rivals for the Nashville Predators, due to how evenly the teams play when competing against one another and because of the mutual hatred between the players.
This is going to be a personal answer, but to me, the Predators-Red Wings rivalry is always going to hold a special place in my heart. That’s simply because both teams played such a pivotal role in my love for hockey.
My parents are native Michiganders who grew up going to games at Olympia. It just so happened that the age I really started understanding sports (being able to know the key players, how good the rest of the league was, etc.) was during the Red Wings’ back-to-back Cup streak. I got to know the game by watching guys like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Nick Lidstrom, and Sergei Fedorov.
At that same time, lo and behold the NHL puts a team in my hometown, and sure enough, the games always circled on my family’s calendars were...you guessed it...Detroit.
My first ever NHL game was the “Ice Storm” game in 1998, where Tomas Vokoun made 50 saves for the Preds’ first major upset in the league. I can remember those early crowds that were 50% red and 50% blue, and how badly I wanted to silence that other half. I remember bragging rights being on the line every game in my family. I can remember Cell Block 303 turning Chris Chelios into a pariah, and all the chants that went with that. When the Predators finally made the playoffs and found out Detroit would be the first matchup, I remember the feeling of “lol...of course it is” around the fanbase. And I remember the feeling of a massive weight being lifted off when the Preds FINALLY knocked out the Red Wings in 2012.
For almost 15 years, it always felt like Detroit was the standard to which the Predators needed to achieve. That’s always why each one of those games—playoff or regular season—seemed so important and so critical, and why there was always that extra “something” in the air whenever Detroit rolled into town.
Now clearly, the Red Wings aren’t close to the Preds’ circle of top rivals today. That being said, I still circle their matchups on my calendar. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, maybe it’s the fact that there are still bragging rights on the line each game for me. But whatever the reason, these are still “can’t-miss” games for me personally.
When I think of rivalry relative to the Predators, I have two responses—one purely personal and emotional and one more professional and logical. Let’s deal with the personal rivalry right off the bat.
This Pennsylvania native has a genetically predisposed animosity towards the Pittsburgh Penguins. My aversion isn’t based solely on the Stanley Cup finals of the 2016-17 season, although that experience didn’t help. (The 2017 family reunion in Pennsylvania was perhaps the least fun one of late.) Having been surrounded by Penguins fans at a time in my life before I discovered the joy of hockey for myself, there was an arrogance (albeit a somewhat justified one) to the fans of Lemieux and Jagr’s team. Penguins fans hockey at 120 miles an hour, and you are either in or you are out.
It also did not make the Penguins more endearing to be at a Pens game and hear a fan refer to PK Subban as a “jagoff”. Yes, you can get a Primanti Brothers sandwich at PPG Paints Arena and honestly Pittsburgh is a fantastic city, but anytime I see the Penguins on the schedule I inwardly groan knowing I’m going to have to listen to national NHL commentators and my dear cousins wax poetic about Sidney Crosby…again.
My more practical, hockey based pick for a Preds rivalry is a team that the Preds have matched up well against of late, but have also proved to be a thorn in Predators’ flesh one time too many. I had given the Dallas Stars very little thought up until recently, but two factors have moved this team up on my list of Nashville rivalries.
The Predators headed into the playoffs in 2018-19 with serious ambition after winning the Presidents’ Trophy and coming off of the historic Stanley Cup run the year prior. Maybe it was overconfidence or maybe it was the solid statistical matchup against the Stars in the first round that led to a shocking early playoff exit. The abrupt season end at the hands of the Stars left many in Nashville loathing the green jerseys.
After that disappointing series elimination, the Predators had a chance for national redemption at the Winter Classic on January 1, 2020. Knowing what we know now, Preds fans should have guessed that 2020 would kick us in the teeth (or should I say hit us in the head with a cheap shot) from day one.
The Winter Classic was a microcosm of the 2019-20 season—the Predators showed glimpses of brilliant, playoff hockey only to be picked apart and the team’s weaknesses capitalized on by the Stars in a third period too difficult to revisit in detail. No one likes the guy who reveals hidden weaknesses publicly, and at the Winter Classic the Dallas Stars revealed and exploited Nashville’s.
Despite a suspended season, the Predators did have the chance to repay the Stars for the New Years Day undressing in an early March home-and-home against the Stars. While the Predators took both victories (thanks in large part to outstanding goalie play by Juuse Saros and a very satisfying goal from returning Ryan Ellis—so take that, Corey Perry), Dallas and Nashville showed that they are two evenly matched Division rivals whose recent history requires both respect and dislike.
While there are a handful of teams that have become Nashville’s staple rivals, I will make the case for a team that is often left out of these discussions. This team, almost 2,000 miles away from Bridgestone Arena, is not in the Central Division, making it easier for fans to forget about them up until the time for the two teams to face off. It is at this point when all of those memories of dirty hits, post-whistle scuffles and uncalled penalties come flooding back, and you remember what a group of scumbags these guys are. The team I am referring to is the Anaheim Ducks.
There are plenty of memorable moments from the Ducks-Preds games over the past decade. From Mike Fisher relocating Kevin Bieksa’s tooth from his mouth to the ice in 2015, to Paul Gaustad improbably scoring the game winning goal in the Preds first Game 7 win in franchise history back in 2016, to Ryan Johansen and Ryan Kesler carrying their 2017 Western Conference Finals feud onto Twitter, Anaheim and Nashville clearly have history.
The team is incredibly easy to hate; they play a rough, “Bad Boy Pistons” style of hockey where they just grind you down for three periods and get some goals along the way. The Preds almost always come out victorious when they play the Ducks, which is the main reason I believe the hostility for Anaheim isn’t as severe as it could be, but villains like Corey Perry and Kesler have made that team the absolute worst to play against in a playoff series.
There’s a big difference between “team I hate the most” (the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues) and “biggest rival.” For me, the Predators have no better on-ice rivalry in recent years than their matchups with the Anaheim Ducks.
Featuring nasty players and personalities like Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, the Ducks were a pretty naturally unlikeable team from the get-go, and Nashville’s playoff history with them has only added fuel to the fire. Despite Anaheim’s recent fall from grace, the teams still play physically and clearly don’t like each other. The fans are pretty distant geographically but still frequently duke it out over social media.
I’d be hard pressed to say a moment more painful for Ducks fans and more joyous for Preds fans than Colton Sissons’ Game 6 performance, and I think that dichotomy of emotion is the crux of this rivalry: a constant contender that could never get it done frequently losing in historic fashion to an upstart Nashville team.
Another team I wouldn’t want to discount is the San Jose Sharks, though that one is a pretty one-sided rivalry (we got obliterated by Joe Thornton and co. every year in the playoffs).
I have to agree with all the people listing the Ducks as the Predators’ biggest true rival (and also everyone who just personally hates the Blackhawks and never wants to hear, as Laura says, that song ever again). There’s a lot of mutual animosity, and a lot of ugliness between the teams. To be fair to the Preds, I think the Ducks bring the worst out in all their opponents—goodness knows their fans seem to think every team in the league is as dirty as theirs is—but it’s definitely true that any Preds-Ducks game is no model of sportsmanship on either side. They’ve had several playoff encounters, they’ve gotten in each other’s way a lot, all that. Sure. It is by pretty much any definition of the word a rivalry.
That said, I have to give a shoutout to the Tampa Bay Lightning for sheer, shocking (pun not intended), mutual on-ice hostility. The Lightning and the Predators hate each other. There wasn’t some big inciting incident, or if there was it was both before my time and subtle enough that people on either side don’t bring it up (yes, I do remember the J.T. Brown – Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis incident from 2016, but the hostilities were ongoing before that). The teams have obviously never met in the playoffs—every so often people mention the possibility of a Preds-Bolts Stanley Cup Final and, well, that feels like a great way to have a Final with a bodycount; I’m against it. These two rosters hate each other enough without Lord Stanley’s Cup in the building.
I’ve never really been able to figure out why. They’re a pair of 90s expansion teams in Sunbelt markets with passionate fans, who’ve recently impressed on the national stage with their fans’ dedication during the SCF only to ultimately lose in six to a modern dynasty. Maybe because of all the similarities plus the lack of playoff history, Predators fans get along fine with Lightning fans in general—not something that can be said of every two fanbases.
What about you, OTF? Any obvious team we missed? Teams you just hate? Rivalry stories? A solution to the Tampa Bay mystery? Best way to get that song out of your head?