I was asked a few weeks back which teams were the natural rivals of the Colorado Avalanche. Most would agree that the rivalry between the Avs and the Detroit Red Wings had gone cold after being white hot in the 90’s, and considering the Wings are no longer in the conference, that rivalry will only live on in a Stanley Cup showdown. We can only hope that happens.
But I had to think for a bit about which team would qualify as a rival now and settled on Vancouver, Calgary with a slight nod to Edmonton. The only problem is, those teams aren’t in direct contention with the Avs as they are now in what’s considered the Pacific division. The Blackhawks, now as Central division mates, could be considered a rival and the Avs do play them close every time they meet. But it was a less familiar foe, with players we weren’t sure were villains, that hit me like slap shot to the thigh: The St. Louis Blues are now the Avs chief rival.
The rivalry opens a new chapter tonight when the Avs take on the Blues at Pepsi Center and it totally makes sense now. But if you had asked me at the beginning of the season, I would not have considered the Blues a rival. Now, they are in the same division, have history with good teams getting knocked out of the playoffs by some of those legendary Avs teams in the 90’s - early 2000’s and have players in common. The Avs were clobbered 7-3 in St. Louis during the teams first meeting this season and it wasn’t even that close. The Avs should be primed and ready for the rematch and they owe the Blues for that game, but the real heat from the rivalry comes from Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. The trade that sent those two to St. Louis for Erik Johnson (and Jay McClement) in early 2011 was seen as very lopsided at the time and pointed out some very large cracks in the weakening facade that was the Pierre Lacroix Colorado Avalanche.
Most were critical of the move at the time and until only recently it was seen as a fairly bad move. So bad in fact that Paul Stastny’s dad Peter decried the deal stating “This young team was ready to challenge, almost, for a Stanley Cup this season. They were so good. All they needed was some more chemistry, and some synergies. Instead, they destroyed the team.” (link to full quote here) Did it destroy the team? Not really. The team was already imploding due to Lacroix’s inability to navigate the salary cap and to generally pull his head out of his ass. The trade didn’t help, but now Erik Johnson is starting to play up to his potential of the number one overall pick and the team is on the upswing. The only problem is, the Blues are on an upswing too.
There were some odd stories surrounding Chris Stewart’s exit that helped explain Lacroix’s interest in moving him. No idea if they were true or not, but it seems that when a player is a problem in the dressing room, he finds his way out of town. Stewart was a rising star with the Avs and cutting him loose, even for what they got, seemed a bit odd.
But once Stewart was gone, he did what most players do: they take it out on the fans and the players instead of management they can’t get to. Stewart was a complete dill-hole during the last Blues/Avs game and you can expect that to continue. Fans will be looking for a little payback. Whether on the scoreboard or through Stewart’s head being smashed into the boards.
Combine Stewart’s newly acquired role as a villain with the fact that the Blues are a young team emerging from a downturn and having success, and you’ve got two similar clubs ready to pound each other to the get to the top of the standings. This latest clash will be great, but what we’ll see down the road this season and beyond will be even better.