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Fun with the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NBA analogies

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English: Alex Ovechkin, warmups.

English: Alex Ovechkin, warmups. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usually I write one NHL article a year, right before the playoffs start. I don’t have great NHL expertise, so I usually buckle and write a “NHL from the NBA fan’s perspective” article in some way.

So for fun this year, I will rank the 16 teams from most likely to least likely Stanley Cup Champion, but by comparing them to something about the NBA.

1. Chicago Blackhawks (1st seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Kevin Durant era Oklahoma City Thunder

The Blackhawks have a great team culture. Headlined by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who are surefire lifers for the franchise, they play with the effort and team unity in addition to their talent all franchises should strive for. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hold the reigns of the Thunder franchise and the expectations to contend year in and year out for a decade and a half, in the similar way.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (1st seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Jerry West and Elgin Baylor era Lakers

The Penguins landing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two generational talents in back to back drafts has made them the star franchise of the league since they arrived. Of the great star duos in NBA history, West and Baylor stand out the most. Crosby and West is a great comparison. Like West, the respect for Crosby as a leader and professional from fans and the league is off the charts and the league leans on him as their star. Malkin slides in as the team’s second, super talented star.

3. New York Rangers (6th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Present day Indiana Pacers

The Rangers and Pacers both play a defensive, fundamentally sound style that turns off some fans. The Rangers have done a great job building a homegrown talent base lately, like the Pacers. Like the Pacers the Rangers do everything right, but are they dynamic enough? Rick Nash as an X factor forward will help. The Rangers came into this season as a title favorite with offensive and defensive depth and the best goaltender on the planet. They should still be at the top of favorites.

4. Los Angeles Kings (5th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook himself gets his own team. Like Westbrook, the Kings combination of power, speed, talent and swagger make a ton to handle. The Kings won the title last year as an 8th seed, but leading up to that season their contention had been expected for years. The Kings are one of the most talented teams and right at the top of contenders.

5. Washington Capitals (3rd seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Steve Nash era Phoenix Suns

Washington has long been an explosive offensive team who struggles to get over the hump in the playoffs. As a 2-time MVP who may be the frontrunner for a 3rd this season, Alex Ovechkin is one of the great title-less players, like Steve Nash.

6 Vancouver Canucks (3rd seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: John Stockton/Karl Malone era Utah Jazz

The Canucks have strong seasons year in and year out and have a fundamentally strong style of play. But they are questionable in pressure situations and can get beat. The Canucks do everything right, but a lot of champion teams need a greater X factor.

7. St Louis Blues (4th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Memphis Grizzlies

This one is easy. Like the Grizzlies, the Blues play in the mud. They are big, mean and hang their hat on tight defense. But like them, the Blues lack of dynamic offensive skill and gamebreakers make people doubt them.

8. Boston Bruins (4th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Patrick Ewing era Knicks

The Bruins are a signature defense and physicality team. They’re the “don’t face them in a back alley” team. Although the Bruins got a title, I’ll compare them to the Ewing and Pat Riley Knicks, who made their games a brawl.

9. Anaheim Ducks (2nd seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Carmelo Anthony era New York Knicks

The Ducks had a surprisingly big season thanks to their top end offensive firepower. The Knicks combination of Carmelo Anthony and a 3pt barrage, give them a similar dynamism. The Ducks’ strengths seem too weighted towards top line offense, instead of defense and depth, so they are likely pretenders.

10. Montreal Canadiens (2nd seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Paul Millsap

Millsap’s skill, intelligence and toughness is terrific, but he lacks the athletic explosiveness to be a game breaker at a higher level. The Canadiens are skilled, deep and tough, but seem to play the NHL’s equivalent to “below the rim”.

11. San Jose Sharks (6th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Pre 2011 Dallas Mavericks

As with the Mavericks before their title run, the Sharks are a half decade past dominant regular seasons and playoff letdowns and are hoping for a surprise run. Joe Thornton fits the NHL Dirk profile, peaking as a superstar and MVP but below contention for THE best player of this generation.

12. Detroit Red Wings (7th, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Boston Celtics

The Red Wings franchise’s eerie doppelganger has long been the Spurs. For this particular team however I’ll compare them to the Celtics, an older former champion who admirably squeezes into the playoffs, but don’t have the gas.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs (5th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: James Harden

The Maple Leafs had a breakout season with a nice combination of offensive skill and physical grit. But is their game too predictable? Do they defend enough? Like Harden there’s hairs to pick at before calling them truly competing with the greats.

14. Minnesota Wild (8th seed, Western Conference)

NBA Comparison: Houston Rockets

Like Houston, Minnesota made a big leap last summer by signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Minnesota just snuck in as the 8th seed and will be feed to the 1st seed Blackhawks, however a strong future lies ahead.

15. New York Islanders (8th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Golden State Warriors

A long tortured franchise who made it back the playoffs this year. As a young team with a tough first round playoff matchup, this will be an experience trip, not a long one. John Tavares leads the way like Stephen Curry.

16. Ottawa Senators (7th seed, Eastern Conference)

NBA Comparison: Chicago Bulls

The Senators lost their biggest offensive stars in Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza most of the year, but somehow scraped a playoff spot out with defensive team-play, effort and strong coaching, similar to this year’s Bulls. In the playoffs grit will give way to lack of talent.

Here are my personal predictions:

1 Chicago over 8 Minnesota (6 games)
7 Detroit over 2 Anaheim (7 games)
3 Vancouver over 6 San Jose (6 games)
5 LA Kings over 4 St Louis (6 games)

1 Chicago over 7 Detroit (5 games)
5 LA Kings over 3 Vancouver (6 games)

1 Chicago over 5 LA Kings (7 games)

1 Pittsburgh over 8 NY Islanders (5 games)
2 Montreal over 7 Ottawa (7 games)
6 NY Rangers over 3 Washington (7 games)
4 Boston over 5 Toronto (7 games)

6 NY Rangers over 1 Pittsburgh (6 games)
4 Boston over 2 Montreal (5 games)

6 NY Rangers over 4 Boston (7 games)

Stanley Cup Final:

1 Chicago over 6 NY Rangers (6 games)

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Written by jr.

April 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Why I prefer the 1st round of the NHL playoffs to the NBA’s – and a mini preview

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San Jose Sharks defenceman Christian Ehrhoff b...

Image via Wikipedia

For those with hockey blinders on, the NHL playoffs start Wednesday. The NBA is by far my favorite sport – But if talking strictly of the 1st round, I actually prefer the NHL’s – mainly due to the parity and “anything can happen” factor of it. My issue with the NBA’s 1st round is that there is only a few favorites who matter – Chicago, Miami, Boston, the LA Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, etc. – and these teams are too good to play each other or lose in round 1. For me the NBA playoffs really start in Round 2 and 3 when teams who can win a title start squaring off, like when Boston presumably plays Miami and LA or San Antonio play Oklahoma City. But Round 1 is full of both foregone conclusions like the Chicago vs Indiana, or series like Orlando vs Atlanta that may be competitive but will ultimately be meaningless as it contains no true contenders. There will be some good series and one of the contenders may get a scare, but for the majority of them the 1st round is a warm up. Of the 8 series, there’ll be luck if 2 or 3 have real stakes.

But in the NHL playoffs the gap between the top and bottom seeds is smaller – and all 8 series can go either way. Read the rest of this entry »

American Playoff Systems: Closure or Chaos?

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Created by Jason R Remy (Jayron32)

Image via Wikipedia

Last week we saw the two #1 seeds in NFL lose in their first (and thus only) playoff game of the season.  Just a few weeks ago I wrote a post talking about just how good one of them, the New England Patriots, was compared with history.  Am I shocked they lost?  Not really given what I know about the NFL playoffs – it’s not uncommon for favorites to lose in the playoffs.

This event though has made a few people start thinking about the system we have and its pros and cons.  Joe Posnanski over at SI writes a great thought provoking article on the matter, its implications to the BCS, and on what playoffs mean in general.  In one line he asks:  “Is a playoff really MORE FAIR? What does fair even mean?”

Fairness in Competition = Removing Bias while Minimizing Randomness

Read the rest of this entry »

The fall of Evgeni Malkin and drive in sports

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I know a lot of people don’t follow the NHL. But what we can learn from the story of Evgeni Malkin‘s career applies to most sports.

A brief recap of his career is as follows. After the lockout in 2004, 3 superstar talents emerged: Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the last two of course terrifyingly on the same team. The first two racked up more fame and traded MVP awards early, but the latter caught up to an equal level of dominance. In 07-08 Malkin finished 2nd in both the points race (with 115) and MVP voting behind Ovechkin. In 08-09 he finished 1st in points (with 117) and 2nd in MVP voting to Ovechkin again, then dominated the playoffs and won the playoffs MVP (Conn Smythe trophy) as the driving force behind the Penguins’ Stanley Cup win. This made him the unofficial “player of the year” and arguably the league’s alpha dog. After this dominant display you could call him no less than a generational, all-time talent. Nobody in the league had a more complete package of size, speed, skill, and hockey IQ. That summer he signed a contract as rich as any the NHL has had (only 9 million a year, but hey, it’s the NHL).

And then it fell apart. Last year he scored 77 points in 67 games (adjusted for 82 games: 94) which would still be good for top 6 or 7 in the league, but a clear dropoff from before, to go along with shockingly bad +/- stats. This year it’s gotten much worse – with 30 points in 29 games, he’s on pace for about 84 over an 82 game schedule which would make him barely top 20. He’s also posting a negative +/- score on a team sporting the best point differential in the league. This is nowhere near his previous pace. What looked like the an all-time great player is now a merely pretty good one who might have a bad contract. The first off year there were rumors of fatigue and soreness, but it appears this has gone on too long for it to be body related alone. It appears this is a matter of effort on and off the ice.

But even in his dominant seasons you could see signs. He never seemed the natural fit leader of Crosby and Ovechkin, never had the aura of full effort, never seemed as possessed by the game. At the time it seemed like Malkin simply had more in common with the rest of the league and it was the other two who were the outliers.  But perhaps this is why the fame and respect always seemed to follow them and not Malkin. He played like a superstar, but didn’t carry himself like a franchise leader. Put it this way: If you went back two years ago and asked which of the three was likely to fall off and seemingly lose his heart for the game, everyone would’ve chosen Malkin.

Perhaps this is a blip in his career and he’ll go back to the superstar he was only a year and a half ago. But with this going on for a season and a half, there’s a realistic chance he won’t. And if so, it’s one of the biggest non injury related shames in a while. The equivalent would be Dwyane Wade losing his body and falling off a cliff 4 or 5 years into his career for the NBA.

Ultimately this ties into the importance of drive in sports. The truly great players are the one who want it more than everyone else. The ones who give it all. Crosby and Ovechkin are possessed with being the best players of their generation both on and off the ice. In other sports we’ve seen players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant live for nothing else. Malkin is not built this way, and it may be the difference between an all-time great career and a borderline HOF one stained by “what ifs?” The truly great players in sports are the ones who push themselves to grab it. And this is part of what makes the comparison of sports careers so fascinating.