When the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings opened their seasons against each other two years ago today, their rivalry was in a much different place.
Then, the teams were the apples of the league’s eye. As one of its best rivalries. Sharks-Kings was a season-opening lock, and big enough to draw the NHL’s first outdoor game in Northern California in 2015.
Things were also decidedly in the Kings’ favor.
They won those aforementioned postseason series, including an unforgettable comeback down three games to none in the first round in 2014. In fact, from 2013-2015, the Sharks won just 12 of their 28 regular season and playoff games against their Southern California rivals.
But since Peter DeBoer’s debut as head coach two years ago, it’s been all Sharks. Over the regular season and playoffs, San Jose is 10-2-3 since then, with a +13 goal differential to boot. The Sharks finished higher in the standings each of the last two seasons, too, and plowed through the Kings in a five game, first round triumph en route to San Jose’s first Stanley Cup appearance in 2016.
There isn’t the same national allure, either.
The teams aren’t scheduled to play on national television for the first time in five seasons. After three straight years on the opening night marquee, the Sharks and Kings are now not even on the main stage.
Perhaps that’s because the rivalry doesn’t feel as personal. Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi are no longer behind the bench and leading the front office, replaced by John Stevens and Rob Blake. Blake maintains the ex-Sharks ties, but the former San Jose captain is hardly hateable. He may have tried to sign Joe Thornton this summer, but he’s the same guy that endeared himself to Sharks fans with his…“dislike” of Corey Perry.
Plus, who knows how much longer the players that do have history with one another will be a part of it all? Drew Doughty’s set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and there are already rumblings he’s bound to leave Tinseltown. If he does stay, the Kings’ salary cap crunch will undoubtedly necessitate the departure of other core pieces. Not to mention potential changes in San Jose, where Joe Thornton is on the downswing of his career and Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski can become free agents themselves in 2019.
Hearing the boos, jeers, and “Beat L.A.” chants at SAP Center tonight in the teams' first matchup of the season will probably be enough to forget about the changing nature of the rivalry. But once the final horn sounds, those will just be another reminder of what once was.