While the NHL may not garner the same attention of the NFL and NBA, it does hold something that neither of the other does; competition in the postseason. Let’s face it, when you look at an NFL match-up in the playoffs, you pretty much know who’s going to win. The exact same can be said of the NBA. But, when you take a look at the layout for the NHL, the competition in the playoffs is fierce!
In the NHL, the top seed from a conference plays against the lowest seeded wildcard team. The second best record in the conference plays the next higher wildcard team. And then you have divisional opponents pitted against one another. All of this is thanks to the NHL’s firm salary cap. Because of this, teams are forced to “wheel and deal” on a constant basis and hope their team lives through injuries. In the NHL, it’s not uncommon to have a top seeded team ousted by the lowest seeded team. The reason for this is because the teams are not too far away from one another. Take for example this year’s first round playoff match-up between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks. In the regular season, the Blackhawks defeated the Predators in all 4 regular season games they played. The Blackhawks finished at the very top of the Western Conference with a record of 50-23-9 while the Predators finished in the last wildcard spot with a record of 41-29-12. The Blackhawks had 109 points while the Predators had 94. As you can see, from the top to the bottom, there wasn’t much difference. In the playoffs, the Predators swept the Blackhawks right out of the playoffs in four straight games. Competition like this is found all over the NHL and it’s all because teams are not heavy in certain areas while others are lacking in certain areas. Thanks to the salary cap, teams can become competitive or non-competitive in a blink of an eye. Take, for instance, the Dallas Stars. One year ago, the Stars were a force to be reckoned with and bullied their way into the postseason. This season, however, the Stars fell apart because they had to get rid of players in order to work within the lines of the salary cap. In the NHL, it boils down to how well a general manager can maintain salaries, keep players happy, keep them motivated and keep them wanting to play for your team.
The NFL & NBA:
The NFL & NBA are very similar when it comes to competition in the postseason. The only major difference is that you play only 1 game in the NFL, which does leave things to chance to some degree. In my opinion, though, you can still look at a playoff match-up and know who’s going to win that game. The entire NFL season is much like this as well. For instance, if you’re a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams or Cleveland Browns, you have to already know that you’re not going to the playoffs, let alone winning or competing for a Super Bowl! If you don’t have that understanding, you are just living a pipe dream. The fact is, we know the relevant teams in the NFL and those three aforementioned teams are not it. Granted, when it gets to the postseason, one game could hypothetically be won by anybody, but if the Patriots are playing the Chiefs, do any of us really think the Chiefs have a chance?
In the NBA it’s about as diluted as it gets. In many cases, one of the conferences will even feature teams at .500 or sometimes below!!! In the NBA, like the NHL, 8 teams make it in the playoffs from each conference (16 total). But do any of us really think it’s possible for an 8 seed to beat a 1 seed? No. And if you do, you’re either lying or again, living a pipe dream. This year, the media made a huge deal because the Chicago Bulls had beaten the 1 seed, Boston Celtics during the first two games, which were played in Boston. After returning to Chicago, Boston corrected itself and tied the series. With a game to be played tonight, the series is tied 2-2 but my guess is the Celtics will win 2 more games in a row and retire the series. One of the greatest problems the NBA has is that it allows for super teams, which I have spoken about before. This is absolutely TERRIBLE for the league and for its millions of fans. While some argue that it allows for teams to hate a team, you can look at any sport and I’ll show you people whom hate certain teams. You do not need to create it. Even if you do create something like it, such as in the case with the NHL having inter-divisional opponents squaring off in the early rounds of the playoffs, you don’t need to have the likes of a super team in order to warrant a dislike or hatred. The NBA is becoming lopsided. For instance, 99.9% of us know the Cleveland Cavaliers will look to defend their title in a repeat NBA Finals match-up against the Golden State Warriors. Again, if you don’t, you’re either lying to yourself or living a pipe dream.
Ultimately, this means that nothing is left to the imagination (or very little at least). Who really wants that? If your team, no matter the team, makes it into the postseason of your sport, don’t you want to believe that your team has an actual shot at winning rather than just having a naive hope?