Considering the Most Natural, Hated Rivals for Vegas NHL Team

Unmentioned in all the low-level hoopdeblah over the National Hockey League's expansion into Las Vegas to create a demand where none actually exists is which team the Inside Straights will consider their most natural and hated rivals.

The Craps will be presumably be put in the Pacific Division with Anaheim, Arizona, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver, but nothing really precludes any of the other 21 teams from claiming its share of what could be either a spectacularly lucrative or utterly contrived rivalry. And let's face it, the NHL is keen these days on any rivalry, contrived or otherwise.

[KURZ: New Las Vegas NHL team will play in Sharks' division]

So let's start with the cities that are right out, which means:

ARIZONA: The Coyotes have been hemorrhaging money and defeats since relocating from Winnipeg, when their most natural rivals were . . . well, the Brandon Wheat Kings, I guess. They have never had enough success to get anyone else to be annoyed by them, and it would seem that their only true natural rivals are the members of the Glendale City Council. So, no.

CALGARY, EDMONTON AND VANCOUVER: Maybe Edmonton, if only because the Tumbling Dice could break up the Oilers' monopoly of the annual first draft pick, but the Flames and Canucks are like the Oilers in that they have their own problems, which are just as significant as Vegas'.

COLORADO: When the Raiders join the Battling Baccarats as Vegas' newest diversions, Denver will care about that rivalry. There are no others.

MINNESOTA: Nobody hates the Wild. Nobody pays much notice to the Wild. Bruce Boudreau is their big summer signing. I rest my case.

SAINT LOUIS: Locked into a one-sided rivalry with Chicago. Those are generally unfulfilling, but they cause the locals to be mildly delusional.

BOSTON, BUFFALO, DETROIT, MONTREAL, OTTAWA AND TORONTO: They all hate each other. They don't need Vegas.

CAROLINA: The Hurricanes are probably going to be relocated, maybe to Quebec City, because of money problems, owner/family problems and popularity problems. Quebec and Las Vegas are not natural rivals, starting with geography, language and culture and ending in "Oh, who gives a damn?"

COLUMBUS: Are you kidding? Columbus' only natural rival is Ann Arbor. Everyone else is just low-level tourism.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS, NEW YORK RANGERS, PHILADELPHIA, PITTSBURGH AND WASHINGTON: Barely aware of Carolina or Columbus, and those two teams are in their own division.

Now, the possibles:

SAN JOSE: The Sharks have some interested table players, and nobody ever rejected a free drink even at the cost of their wallets.

ANAHEIM, LOS ANGELES: This seems possible but unlikely because Vegas is a place people in Anaheim and L.A. go to, not the other way around.

CHICAGO: Where illegal gambling thrived before Bugsy Siegel got his marching orders. I suppose nostalgia, plus transplants, could make this a thing, though there are lots of Chicago-based snowbirds in and around Phoenix, and none of them ever seemed to take their love of hockey with them.

DALLAS: Texans are nuts. They'll pick a fight with anyone for no apparent reason.

DETROIT: You can gamble in Detroit, but unless you own a casino there, you're not all that concerned about degenerates' business going to Nevada.

FLORIDA, NASHVILLE, TAMPA BAY: Regional vacation spots fighting for the disposable dollar, and otherwise unworthy of note. Two of these may be relocated within the next decade anyway, but unless one goes to Reno, or worse, Laughlin, not much of a factor.

Which leaves . . .

NEW JERSEY: But only if the mob makes a comeback at both ends and tries to relive The Godfather Saga just for nostalgia's sake. It could give new meaning to the time-honored hockey phrase first coined by Rocket Richard in 1952, "Laissez le pistolet, prendre le cannoli."

If you have to ask, you're not a real fan.

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