Detroit Sucks. So Do the Blackhawks. Is the Rivalry Dead?

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Detroit Sucks. So Do the Blackhawks. Is the Rivalry Dead?

Chicago Blackhawks

I’ve been to almost every Blackhawks home game this year. And every single game — whether the Blackhawks are getting blown out, hanging in a close game or winning by a decent margin — I’ve heard someone somewhere offer up a random “Detroit Sucks!”

The rivalry between Chicago and Detroit runs deeper than just hockey. The Bears and Lions are division rivals, the White Sox and Tigers are divisional rivals. And the Bulls and Pistons are, too. But for years, that chant has been part of the rivalry whenever the Red Wings visit Chicago, from the Chicago Stadium to the United Center.

Heck, it was even part of a team-produced TV commercial years back.

There have been tough times for both franchises when the rivalry wasn’t much of a rivalry. During the “Dead Wings” era and in the early 2000s when the Blackhawks were awful, things felt awfully one-sided.

I remember sitting in 300 level sections that were as empty as they were in the commercial above, when the United Center was more Detroit fans than Blackhawks fans. When you could have heard Jeremy Piven starting the chant from his seats across the arena because nobody was there.

Older fans would tell us about watching Gordie Howe and Stan Mikita go after each other. And, now that I guess I am part of what you would call the “older fans” group, we’ll complain about the Blackhawks trading Chris Chelios up there to help the Wings win more championships while the Hawks continued to be terrible.

In my lifetime, the rivalry has seen it’s share of exciting moments. There have been fights. Lots of them. There have been great games. Bad teams against good teams. GREAT teams. Hall of Fame players. And, at the end of the day, it was always a rivalry.

I have argued that the dynasty Blackhawks’ official arrival on the league-wide stage was when they hosted the Red Wings at Wrigley Field in the Winter Classic. That event showcased a young Chicago team in a gorgeous (freezing) showing early in the history of the Winter Classic event.

Maybe the ultimate Blackhawks vs. Red Wings moment in my lifetime was Game 7 of the Western Conference Final in 2013. That Blackhawks group already had one ring; the Red Wings were still the veteran greats. The series went the distance and Game 7 required overtime for a deciding goal. After it appeared Niklas Hjalmarsson ended it, video review denied him that moment. So Brent Seabrook took the honors of sending Detroit to the golf courses.

That moment was important in the history of the rivalry because not only did Seabrook’s dramatic goal send the Red Wings to their summers, it also sent Detroit to the Eastern Conference. After years of bitching and moaning (rightfully) about their schedule in the Western Conference as a team in the eastern time zone, the NHL finally granted their wish and moved the Red Wings to the other conference.

Since then, the Red Wings have struggled to find a winning formula. The Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup with the dynasty team that year and one more time in 2015, but have fallen on hard times of their own over the past half decade.

With the teams only facing each other once in each city each season now that they aren’t division, the excitement has diminished slightly. Both teams are bad, both franchises sold at the trade deadline and neither team is winning a championship any time soon.

Looking up and down Detroit’s roster, this team isn’t even one that has a lot of unlikeable players. Dylan Larkin seems like a pretty good dude. Lots of Blackhawks fans wanted Chicago to hire now Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde this past summer. He’s a nice guy; certainly a far cry from the personalities of Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock.

For most of my life these games were circled on the calendar months in advance. This was a “honey, I’m going to the bar” night. A “gonna go to the cigar lounge and scream at the television” night. A “don’t want the kids to repeat the words I’m gonna shout at the screen” evening.

Tonight? Meh.

As the Blackhawks visit Detroit tonight, I find myself uncomfortable with the lack of excitement there is around a Blackhawks-Red Wings game. Is the rivalry dead? It sure as hell isn’t what it was. And I’m not sure it will ever be that again with the teams no longer fighting — literally — in meaningful games for the teams and the fans with division and conference implications.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab