DETROIT -- Realignment has restored geographic sanity to the NHL, but it came at a heavy cost.
The Sharks' long-standing rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings is about to be seriously diminished. Familiarity breeds contempt -- an essential element of any rivalry -- and the teams will be squaring off only twice per season now that Detroit has moved to the Eastern Conference.
Monday night, San Jose makes its only appearance of the season at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings come to the SAP Center on Jan. 9. And that's it. Two meetings when there had always been four.
More importantly, the odds drop drastically that the teams will meet in the postseason, where rivalries are forged. The Sharks and Red Wings have played five playoff series -- three won by the Sharks -- but there won't be a sixth unless they meet in the Stanley Cup finals.
"That's the whole thing about Detroit and San Jose," said Jamie Baker, the Sharks radio analyst and former player who helped give birth to the rivalry. "For the last decade, they were the only two teams that have been in the playoffs every year. They were both in the West, so ultimately the Sharks have played Detroit more than anyone."
Baker has the credentials to talk as an authority on the San Jose-Detroit matchup. His goal in Game 7 of the 1994 playoff series enabled the eighth-seeded Sharks to upset the Red Wings. He was also on the ice one year later when Detroit swept San Jose in what became known as the tennis series because of the scores: 6-0, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.
Baker said what also made games against Detroit special was the quality of the opposition, which has won four Stanley Cups since the Sharks entered the league.
"Great players," Baker said, rattling off names such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Steve Yzerman.
Among fans, the rivalry never seemed as big in Detroit as it was in San Jose, where the situation was aggravated by the legion of Red Wings fans who always show up to support their team.
"Detroit has 29 rivals, and they have a very deep, loyal following around the country," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who was an assistant for the Red Wings before coming to San Jose in June 2008. "I don't know if they get too wound up against any individual team."
McLellan's hiring definitely improved San Jose's fortunes against the Red Wings.
Before his arrival, the Sharks were 16-40-3 against Detroit with four ties; since the 2008-09 season, San Jose has held an 11-6-2 edge. In the playoffs, the Sharks have won both series between the teams since McLellan switched benches.
"San Jose has done a pretty good job since Todd got here of neutralizing Detroit's strengths," said defenseman Brad Stuart, who also knows the rivalry from both sides.
Stuart, 33, started his career with the Sharks and later spent four-plus seasons in Detroit before returning to San Jose in June 2012. Looking back, he said, Red Wings players did get up for games against the Sharks.
"And," he added, "you knew that San Jose ramped it up a level as well playing against Detroit."
Postseason memories are the strongest.
In 2007, the Sharks came within 34 seconds of taking a 3-1 series lead only to see Detroit score late in Game 4 to force overtime. The Sharks blew the series.
In 2011, San Jose took a 3-0 series lead, then watched Detroit come back to force a Game 7. San Jose won that one.
But the regular season has had its moments, too, such as Jan. 4, 2007 when San Jose, trailing 3-0, scored nine consecutive goals -- six on the power play -- to shock Detroit 9-4.
In some ways, the playoff rivalry with Detroit already has been losing its intensity because other teams have been the ones crushing San Jose's Stanley Cup dreams as of late. The Los Angeles Kings now might be the least liked team at SAP Center.
"There's going to be other rivalries that the fans are going to follow," Baker said. "It's part of history."
Sharks (7-0-1) at Detroit (6-3-0), 4:30 p.m., CSNCA