NHL Playoffs 2012: 10 Reasons They've Crushed the NBA Playoffs This Year
Let me be the first to say that I am not a huge fan of the NBA.
I used to follow college basketball with a fair bit of enthusiasm. However, the set of rules governing student-athletes, specifically the "one-and-done" prevalence in the sport, has hurt the competitive balance in college basketball and watered down the talent level in the NBA.
That being said, the intensity of the NBA playoffs brings out the best in these supreme athletes.
What is lost in our television sets is the freakish size and speed that the players in the NBA possess. There is literally no other sport that features athletes with the specific size, strength and speed than the Association.
Detractors of the NBA will tell you that the NBA season is too long, the players are overpaid with guaranteed contracts, most stars travel with an obnoxiously large posse and you're best served watching the three-minute highlight of the game on SportsCenter rather than watching the actual game.
The NBA unlike the NHL, is a sport that is made for television. With several high-definition cameras covering each game, there is no action missed during game coverage.
Conversely, the discussion you have with someone who isn't a fan of the NHL will tell you that the game is too hard to follow.
Fox's glowing puck and Sesame Street coverage team tried their best to explain the game and help people follow the puck. Let's be honest though; the game on TV doesn't compare to a live game. Not even close.
Both professional hockey and basketball share roughly the same months for regular and postseason. That's pretty much where the similarities end.
The NBA benefits from a better TV contract with ESPN and floods almost all of the commercial airspace come playoff time.
For its part, NBC has stepped up and put the NHL front and center this time of year, at least on the weekends. Hey, at least hockey is back on TV.
The NHL took a crippling, near-fatal blow during their lockout/cancelled season of 2004-05. They have clawed and scratched their way back from niche-sport irrelevant status and sit as the fourth major sport again.
With the NFL and MLB well beyond reach, it isn't inconceivable that the NHL can overtake the NBA in popularity.
The playoffs for each league showcase the best that each has to offer. Unfortunately for David Stern's pride and joy, the NHL enjoys a dominating edge over the NBA when it's playoff time.
For every advantage the NBA holds over the NHL in the regular season, the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most exciting, intense and nerve-wracking in all of major sports. The quest to win the Stanley Cup is a battle of attrition as much as it is a test of skill and talent.
Here are 10 reasons the NHL playoffs dominate the the NBA playoffs. Not only this year, but every year.
DON'T TOUCH IT NICKY!!!!!!!!
No sport is more superstitious than hockey. Whether it is not touching a trophy until it is won (Stanley Cup), or just not touching a trophy (respective conference trophies) at all, NHL players are creatures of often weird habit.
There are probably a pile of NBA superstitions that exist, but nothing close to the list of NHL. There are too many to list from pregame meal rituals to stick-taping to secret handshakes.
Here's a clip of some of today's stars and their superstitions.
Bodybeard by Hartnell
Save for Oklahoma City's James Harden, the NBA is follically challenged in the facial hair department.
The hockey tradition started (allegedly) by Ken Daneyko during the 1995 New Jersey Devils' Stanley Cup run. Since then, the playoff participants turn into the largest and most well-paid collection of hobos in the world.
The practice of not shaving stems from superstition more than fashion, but the playoff beard has become as ingrained in the fabric of playoff hockey as anything.
Even if you can't grow a beard, players just won't shave, in spite of the awfulness. That certainly hasn't kept the Stanley Cup from the clutches of the barely mustachioed Sidney Crosby and the mutton-chopped Jonathan Toews.
When people say that anything can happen in the playoffs, it's the absolute truth. Except for the NBA.
The 1999 New York Knicks are the only NBA team seeded seventh or lower to make it to the NBA finals. Ever. Since 2003, three NHL teams have accomplished that feat.
This year's eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings would be the fourth team if they can finish off those pesky Phoenix Coyotes. They have taken out the first and second seeds and are three-quarters of the way to finishing off the third seed on their way to the finals.
In the NHL, it's more about whose goalie is playing better than the number next to your team in the playoff bracket.
The very first Stanley Cup
When you win the Stanley Cup, your name gets engraved on it. That alone makes the Stanley Cup exponentially more awesome than the NBA equivalent.
The Stanley Cup has a Facebook page, a Twitter page and literally tours the globe for countless photo ops and caresses from adoring fans.
The Stanley Cup bears the names of the past 60 cup winners, and traditionally is used as the world's largest champagne glass after it is awarded to the winning team.
The NBA's trophy looks like a high school art project from 1987 that was then spray-painted gold. The Larry O'Brien trophy, as it has been named, has been around since 1977.
No comparison in tradition here.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
In the NHL playoffs, a tie game is decided by sudden-death overtime, with the overtime periods are 20 minutes in length. The NBA overtime periods are five minutes in length.
There is no sudden death in the NBA, and therefore decidedly less intensity and drama. In the NHL, overtime is observed by fans on the edge of their seats if they aren't already on their feet.
In the NBA, the extra five minutes is another opportunity to hit the restroom, snack guy or souvenir stand. You absolutely won't miss anything until there are about 30 seconds left...just like in regulation.
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
This argument can work either way depending on how you feel about the presence of a dynasty in sports. While successful, polarizing teams evoke hatred and envy at equally venomous rates, the NHL has managed to create a league with more parity than ever before.
While there are teams like Detroit, Vancouver and Pittsburgh who typically are at or near the top of the standings, all three were zapped in the first round. Two of the three were defeated by teams with lower seeds.
No NHL team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings, and this year will be no different as the defending champs from Boston were gone in Round 1 as well.
I'm not going to pretend like the NBA doesn't have its share of wacky and passionate fans, but you just don't see this kind of stuff at basketball games.
Basketball generally doesn't have the build-up that hockey has. A fluid, effective offense can be as exciting to watch as paint drying. A breakaway dunk or an alley-oop slam dunk is about all that is going to bring NBA fans up from their seats.
Combine the passion of the NFL and European soccer and you get some sort of twisted hybrid that is the NHL playoff hockey fan. Live crowds, particularly in Canadian venues, are as loud as you will hear at any arena in the world.
The drama and excitement of the game can send the decibels and the roof skyward with a goal from the home team. The goal horn and song that plays send the crowd into a rabid frenzy that is non-existent in the NBA.
4th Quarter/3rd Period
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Have you ever seen the last minute of an NBA game? It actually gets longer in the playoffs. With a seemingly endless pile of timeouts to burn, the NBA has more stops and starts than Los Angeles gridlock traffic.
In the NHL the last minute of play in the playoffs can be the most dramatic.
If the game is within two goals the losing team pulls the goalie for an extra man advantage. The natural instinct of the team defending the lead is to shoot on the open net, but selfless play usually prevails with a neutral zone dump or clear.
Playoffs aren't a time to pad stats, and the last minute is about sacrifice. The win is the most important thing, and the last 60 seconds in playoff hockey are as frantic as anything you will ever see in organized sports.
Money Doesn't Equal Success
Harry How/Getty Images
The team with the highest payroll in the NHL almost never lifts the cup. This year's big spenders were the Washington Capitals, a loser in the second round.
Rarely is the NHL associated with the formula of money = success. Free agency exists as with every other league, but with a fairly frugal salary cap, teams must spend responsibly or risk blowing up their roster for a non-guaranteed short-term gain.
The NBA has a "salary cap" too, and guaranteed contracts. Owners have been held hostage with bad contracts for years. The "soft cap" in the NBA has a list of exceptions for the salary cap that is actually named after players.
With so many exceptions, there is a top-heavy league that features the same teams from the larger media markets. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz...are we to the finals yet? Is it the Lakers and Celtics again?
No "I" in Team
The NHL playoffs, more than any other sport, require a team-first philosophy.
Every player in the locker room is held accountable by the player in the next stall. Insert every "team" cliche you have ever heard, multiply it times 100 to sniff the level of commitment.
Never before has the term sacrifice been more appropriate than in the 2010 playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers' Ian Laperriere took a slap shot to the face in a game against New Jersey in the first round. After missing the remainder of Round 1 and all of Round 2, Laperriere returned to the lineup for the conference finals against Montreal.
Laperriere may never play hockey again as a result of the shot, but he would probably dive in front of that shot again to help his get his team closer to the cup.
There is nothing remotely close to this kind of effort in the NBA, where the latest headlines debate whether "flopping" should be banned.