Saturday night’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames brought the sport back to the 80’s. Not only was the final score 8-3, there were line brawls, goalie fights and everything in between. The Battle of Alberta has been revived and is arguably the most entertaining rivalry in hockey today. But the Battle of New York is no longer.
The Islanders used to have a similar feud with the New York Rangers. Sadly, games between the two clubs don’t draw the excitement as they used to. I’ve compiled a few of my own reasons why Isles-Rangers games have lost their prestige in recent memory.
First, both teams haven’t been good in a very long time. In the past decade, the Islanders only made the playoffs four times, while the Rangers made it every year from 2011-2017. Rivalries are best when both teams have something to play for, but recently only the Rangers were consistently in the hunt for the playoffs.
Since both teams haven’t been successful lately, Isles-Rangers games haven’t been featured on national television. Since the 2013-2014 season, NBC Sports has only featured two Islanders-Rangers games. They were the Stadium Series game played in 2014, as well as the Rangers’ first visit to Brooklyn in 2016.
Even in the Islanders final year at Nassau Coliseum, NBC neglected to air the games between the rivals. The same was true for this season when it was announced that both Islanders-Rangers games would be played in Nassau Coliseum. By not airing those games on national TV, the rivalry doesn’t get the attention that it might deserve, and less people will be interested in games between the two franchises.
To make matters worse, the Rangers are one of the most featured teams on NBCSN. Most of their national games are against the Capitals, Penguins and Devils. While these are all great games that will receive high ratings, their games against the Islanders are just as, if not more, entertaining.
Another problem is the low prestige of the Islanders in general. The Islanders, unfortunately, are not one of the more popular teams in the NHL. Again, NBCSN pushes this narrative by neglecting to feature the Islanders on Wednesday Night Hockey broadcasts.
Their only appearance was the aforementioned game against the Rangers. NBC chose to air Sabres vs. Flyers on Wednesday, November 21st 2018 instead of the Islanders-Rangers game that was played that night. In general, the Islanders are one of the fewest featured teams on national TV, while the Rangers are one of the most popular. Featuring these two teams together may shift narratives and hurt TV ratings.
It doesn’t help when the team’s arena situation is also in flux. The Islanders play in two arenas at the same time. They are the only professional sports team in all four leagues to have this kind of arena situation and people around the country likely find it laughable. Few would likely want to watch a game from a team in this precarious problem.
Even though the Islanders sit towards the top of the league standings, the Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild. It would follow that the quality of the team’s meetings would be low, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s not on the level of the Battle of Alberta, but the three contests we saw in January were close and spirited. It still lacks the bite that other prevalent rivalries have, but with both teams on the rise, there is no reason why the Battle of New York can’t regain its former glory.