Now, and only now, is this a real rivalry.
It sure wasn’t when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets regularly played at Nationwide Arena in what seemed like an 80-20 crowd split in favor of the away side.
It started to be a rivalry when the two franchises — separated by about 185 miles of Interstates 79 and 70 — engaged in an ultra-competitive six-game playoff series in late-April in which the Penguins finally won.
But on Monday afternoon, in the summer heat of June as the Penguins still didn’t have a coach, it could very well be said a rivalry with Columbus became solidified.
After all, it has been my contention you can’t have a real rivalry without a real antagonist — and now the Blue Jackets have power winger Scott Hartnell.
He’s everyone’s antagonist.
He’s everyone’s adversarial pest.
He’s a nuisance extraordinaire; the man with the hair who gets in your hair.
He’s the guy you love to hate and, it could be said is Enemy No. 1 here in Pittsburgh.
And now he will play just down the road.
Man, this should be fun, huh?
Hartnell, 32, who appeared in 517 games for the Flyers over seven seasons, recorded 157 goals and 169 assists with 908 penalty minutes was traded straight up on Monday for Plum Borough native R.J. Umberger.
Best of luck to Umberger, a true Yinzer who has to once again play in the unbearable city of Philadelphia — but this is a column about Hartnell.
In jogging through the opposition that makes their way into Pittsburgh in the three major sports, is there a player playing right now who raises our level of ire the way Hartnell does?
Undeniably, Ray Lewis used to when he used to stomp in here with the Baltimore Ravens, do that juddering dance on Heinz Field and then go out and cause Ben Roethlisberger fits. But Lewis is retired now.
Certainly Pittsburgh dislikes Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs — but not to the degree to which the detestation was emitted toward Lewis.
In baseball, we don’t like Brandon Phillips and don’t have a whole lot of love for his Reds counterpart Joey Votto.
When the Cardinals come in, Matt Holliday generally hears in from the people in left field at PNC Park.
Ryan Braun in Milwaukee is disliked by just about everyone in baseball, but that seems to be as much for him getting pinched for cheating as it does the perceived (or real) pompous way with which he carries himself.
Hartnell is probably the most hated here in Pittsburgh — and the crazy part is that, if you asked him, he’d probably wear that as a huge honor.
The abhorrence here in Pittsburgh for Hartnell came to a head in April, 2012 when he famously (and playfully) taunted the late Cy Clark — who billed himself as Malkamania — in a game late in the regular season.
A few weeks later in a fight-filled playoff series with the Flyers that the Penguins eventually lost, Hartnell spent much of his time badgering, hassling and effectively taking Sidney Crosby out of his game. At one point, Craig Adams had to take up for Crosby and, in the midst of a fight, inadvertently tugged on Hartnell’s hair.
This all forced a wry smile from Hartnell as he knew he had gotten under the Penguins’ skin. Again. For like the 572nd time.
And on Monday, he got shipped from Philadelphia to Columbus in that aforementioned trade for Umberger. So, try as the NHL might to force a geographical rivalry between the Penguins and Blue Jackets, or feed off that great playoff series played between the two organizations this past spring, there was never going to be a proper rivalry until there was a shrewd antagonist.
Columbus has one now in Hartnell.
So commence to calling this a rivalry; commence to hating the Blue Jackets.