The end of rivalry?
The Leafs invited the media out for drinks yesterday.
This "hospitality" event unfolded on the upper floor of Real Sports, the turbocharged and supersized bar and grill owned by MLSE, which was recently crowned "North America's Best Sports Bar."
Have you been to this place? It’s insane: a flat-screen TV in every dining booth, 112 beer taps, a swish deck lined with rows of leather recliners. And, oh yeah, the largest indoor HD screen on the continent.
It's always nice to see hockey people out of context. Whether it's Dave Nonis chatting about the 90 minutes it took him to reel in a 120-pound halibut or Ron Wilson waxing sweetly about his granddaughter, we sometimes forget these men lead lives beyond the rink.
Eventually, of course, the conversation returns to hockey.
We exchanged pleasantries. In advance of Thursday's home opener against Montreal, we also talked about NHL rivalries.
Hunter was a foot soldier with the Calgary Flames throughout the 80s. During this period, the Battle of Alberta thundered with a nerve-fraying intensity that's hard to replicate in the league today. When Calgary and Edmonton faced off, there always seemed to be a grudge, a looming threat, a bitter backstory.
The games were bloody battles and these bloody battles became epic wars that spanned seasons.
"We hated those guys," says Hunter. "Hated."
Don't be fooled by the past tense. To this day, given what happened on the ice many moons ago, Hunter refuses to shake a human hand if it is connected to the body of Dave Semenko or Marty McSorely.
"It seems like those days are no more," I said.
"Yeah, it's different now," he said.
Expansion, free agency and the cap system have conspired to create a fluid NHL. Players move around from team to team with a frequency that was once unfathomable. Enemy opponents of today are teammates of tomorrow. Friendships cut across dressing rooms.
In a story this week on NHL.com titled "Top rivalries highlight upcoming NHL schedule," it's sad to note that not a single Canadian team is even mentioned. So the questions become: What is the biggest rivalry in the NHL today? And is "rivalry" an endangered concept? Will future rivalries, such as they are, be short-lived and easily forgotten?
PHOTO: R.OLSEN/TORONTO STAR