Friday, May 26, 2017

The NHL vs The NBA Playoffs



Yes, that is Charles Barkley, who gets paid to watch and analyze NBA games, saying he would rather watch the NHL playoffs than continue to watch the dismantling of the Boston Celtics at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  This was during game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Final.  And, it's not the first time Barkley has said he would rather be watching the NHL playoffs than the NBA.

This years playoffs have been beyond exciting, with many having gone into overtime, including Thursday's Eastern Conference Final game 7, needing double overtime to decide a winner.

The unpredictability and parity of the NHL playoffs is what has made it so exciting.  Who would have thought the Ottawa Senators would have reached the Eastern Conference Final when few would have thought they would have made the playoffs when the season began.
Or, what about the Nashville Predators sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

While there will be always favourites and underdogs, it's possible for an eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup like the Los Angeles Kings did in 2012, when they captured the franchise's first title.  The Nashville Predators could  be the next, though the league has done away with seedings after switching to a divisional playoff format.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, this years NBA finalists, were basically penciled in for a third straight showdown before the playoffs began.  On their way, the two teams only lost once, Cleveland losing to Boston in game 3 of the ECF.  It will be surely as exciting of a final as any other year and will finally provide the drama that has been missing from the NBA playoffs.

The NBA playoffs have basically been blowout and blowout.  That isn't to say there haven't been any of those in the NHL.  There's been a couple of 7-0 games, but those are far and few in between.  Otherwise, the games have been close and the hockey great.

Yet, the NHL's ratings get buried by the NBA's.  It's been that way forever and unlikely to change as Americans just don't seem to gravitate to the sport as Canadians do.  Of the fans who do watch the sport, it is often said that they are more passionate about hockey, compared to fans of other sports.

In 1994, following a thrilling seven game Stanley Cup Final between the eventual champions, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, Sports Illustrated declared that the NHL was poised to pass over the NBA.




Thanks to a lockout that wiped out half of the next season and the New Jersey Devils introducing everyone to the most offensive phrase to the sport "neutral zone trap", the NHL never surpassed the NBA in popularity.  Even as the NHL has expanded to more non-traditional hockey markets, it has found growing the game hard.

Why is that?

Part of it is that the NBA's stars are recognizable compared to the NHLs.  With a few exceptions, NHL players are bland and conforming, otherwise they would be chastised by the dinosaurs of the game.  That isn't the case with the NBA.  Their personalities are allowed to blossom and then some.

Basketball is played everywhere in America and by everyone.  All one really needs is a ball and they can head down to any park or school and there will be a hoop.  They can play from sun rise to sun down if they want.

For many Americans, the only ice that they know about is the ice cubes in their drinks. In the warmer states, there may not even be a ice rink.  It would be hard for people to take up the sport and become fans if they couldn't even play it.

Hockey is also very expensive to play that could cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in equipment.  It is no surprise that many families, even in Canada, have been passing over the sport, as it is becoming unaffordable.

Hockey will always be a niche sport and while it would be great if the NHL could rival the NBA, NFL, or MLB, they may be better off trying to break into China, where even a fraction of the more than 1.38 billion people becoming NHL fans, could be a big success for the league.

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