Reviving the Rivalry: Montreal Canadiens Rebuild and its Impact on the Toronto Maple Leafs

Aug 27, 2023

The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the most storied and intense rivalries in the history of professional sports. With a rich history dating back to the first days of the NHL, this matchup has captured the hearts of fans on both sides. However, in recent years, the Canadiens have faced challenges that have somewhat dampened the flames of this historic rivalry. A successful rebuild by the Montreal Canadiens has the potential to reignite this rivalry and bring it back to its former glory. 



From 1923 to 1969, when the rivalry was at its zenith, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens met each other in the playoffs 12 times Of those meetings, five were in the Stanley Cup Finals with Toronto holding the lead in wins at that stage at 3-2. The Leafs-Canadiens rivalry is more than just a sporting rivalry, it is symbolic of the divide in Canadian history and society. The rivalry is just the sports equivalent of the rivalry that exists between English and French Canadians.  


“A rivalry of cities, a rivalry of cultures.” 

-Ken Dryden 


It is a rivalry between two of the nation’s largest cities. Toronto, the largest, is the heart of English Canada, while Montreal, the second largest, is the heart of French Canada. It is a rivalry of the two official languages. A rivalry of universities, University of Toronto vs. McGill . A rivalry of signature culinary dishes, Peameal Bacon vs. Poutine. In essence, it embodies the rivalry of every aspect of Canadian life. That doesn’t mean that the two friendly rivals never mix. Back in the days of radio and the early days of television, when families huddled around one appliance together for entertainment, most families in the two cities were predictable as to which team they would cheer on. But there are always outliers, or “black sheep” as some members of families would choose to ignore their local allegiances and root for the “other side”. Which makes the rivalry that much more fun. 



But a sporting rivalry thrives best when both teams can compete at the same level. In the 1960s, the two iconic franchises were powerhouses, winning 9 of 10 Stanley Cups between them. The 70s saw a decline as the Habs became a dynasty, winning 6 more Cups as Toronto began to dive into obscurity under the ownership of Harold Ballard. The next three decades saw the teams play in separate conferences. 

The rivalry is no longer a fiercely contested battle on the ice as it had once been. However, playing in the North Division during the Covid-19 shortened 2021 season helped to spark the flame again as the last time these two teams played each other 10 times in a single season was in the Original Six era. While the Leafs had already completed their rebuild to get to where they are now, the Canadiens 2021 season was the end of the Marc Bergevin era, and the team is now if full rebuild, making them an also-ran. But that is slowly changing.  

With new management, the Canadiens focus on strategic drafting, player development, and embracing modern coaching methods and systems is bringing some of the shine back to a franchise that has a desire to become relevant again. 


The 2021 playoffs, where the Habs came back from a 3 to 1 deficit to win the first-round matchup against Toronto, did see the rivalry regain some luster. But it is the rebuild by Montreal that will ensure the two teams keep that fire burning as the Canadiens are far behind the Leafs in terms of star talent on their rosters. With that,loudspeaker it will bring out some key impacts that can help to market the sport. 


First, heightened media attention, a successful rebuild would garner significant media attention as the Canadiens’ resurgence becomes a focal point. The media would revisit the historical rivalry narratives, analyzing how the rebuilt Canadiens measure up against the Maple Leafs, whosfirst-roundthe local media have perennially dubbed them “a contender” despite only one playoff series win in nearly two decades. 

The Canadiens’ rebuild would result in games that are closely contested and unpredictable. As division rivals, the added drama of the competition on playoff seeding can only lead to more classic matchups that can become reminiscent of the past. The next impact is more playoff battles. As both teams become more competitive, the likelihood of meeting each other in the playoffs increases. The playoffs provide a high-stakes environment that amplifies rivalry intensity. A playoff series between these two teams would captivate fans and ignite passions. Finally, fan engagement. A revitalized Habs would reinvigorate fan engagement. While social media is rife with both fan bases trolling each other, there would be a renewed sense of pride that would draw in even the most disinterested fan.  

At the end of the day, a successful Canadiens rebuild has the potential to breathe new life into their storied rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The excitement of a heated rivalry draws fans to arenas, both physically and virtually, creating an electrifying atmosphere that fuels not only the players’ performances but also the owners’ pocketbooks. As merchandise sales skyrocket, so will the need to provide fans access to the games, generating sales to sports channels, apps, streaming services, and more, all to the benefit of the finances of both sides. 


Blain Potvin

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