Apr 172011
Authors: Joel Hafnor

It’s playoff season in both the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association. Every spring, the two leagues decide a champion in what usually amounts into a 10-week marathon of sports bliss.

Buzzer beaters, double-overtime thrillers, monster dunks, bone-crushing hits, meltdowns, and comebacks are just a few of the terms a sports fan will get very familiar with over the next two months.

But which of these coinciding 16-team tournaments is best?

This admission won’t be received well by all, but I believe the NHL playoffs to be a far superior experience for a sports fan. For those of you who swore off the NHL after the lockout of ’04-’05, it’s time to let it go, and here’s why:

Upsets actually occur in the NHL playoffs

Okay, so the NBA does have the occasional upset, but for the most part the bracket unfolds rather predictably each season (1 and 2 seeds in the conference finals). Just watch, this year’s first round in the NBA will produce one or maybe two upsets at the very most. In the NHL, you might as well throw seeding out the window once the playoffs begin. In 2005-06, the lower seeded team won in six out of seven series in the Western Conference (and the 8th-seeded Edmonton Oilers went to the Cup Finals).

A popular rebuttal to this point goes something like this:
“I like having predictable first and second results. That way the best teams are left standing at the end, thus creating more attractive match ups when it counts.”

I can certainly see the merit of this argument, but I will never like that the first round of the NBA feels like a “throw away” round. I’ll go ahead and spoil the first round of this year’s NBA field to drive my point home. Chicago, Orlando, Boston and Miami advance in the East. San Antonio and Los Angeles advance in the West. That makes two series that could realistically go either way (Denver-OKC, Dallas-Portland). Yawn.

NBA refs have too much influence


Admit it, you’ve yelled those exact words (perhaps with a few expletives peppered in) while watching an NBA playoff game before. That’s because the referees in basketball have more to do with the outcome of their sport than perhaps any sport outside of soccer.

And the NBA doesn’t have the cleanest history when it comes to officiating. May I remind you that just a few years ago a referee admitted to fixing games: His name was Tim Donaghy.

Ever since the Denver-L.A. conference finals two years ago, I’ve lost faith in NBA officiating. The NBA had an agenda that year, and it didn’t include a smaller market like Denver making the NBA Finals. I should stop now, I could write an entire column (maybe even a book) on how the NBA is fixed.

Very rarely will an officiating crew butcher an NHL game the way they so routinely do in the NBA.

NHL has perfected the art of tradition

There is nothing more fitting than watching a Stanley Cup playoff series conclude. The two teams line up on either end of the rink and shake hands with the opposition. The very men who battled each other tirelessly for several weeks take a moment to pay respect to each other and the sport.

No matter how many punches were thrown throughout the series, how many cheap shots distributed, how many teeth lost, the tradition is always upheld. Remember when LeBron left the court in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 against Orlando? Classy.

And hockey has the playoff beard, sudden death overtime, team captains, and the much more impressive championship trophy. The Stanley Cup is the single best trophy in sports, and nothing else is close.

It’s all about the team

My final selling point regarding NHL supremacy is how heavily the sport rewards strong teams, not strong individuals. The NBA has always been the more star-studded league, built almost exclusively on the big names around the league. This is possible because of how severely one great player can affect the game of basketball. The game of hockey has produced its own group of superstars over the years, but has always been more founded in the strength of the team.

The NHL playoffs embody what sports should be about. If you haven’t warmed up to the sport, give it a try, it won’t disappoint.

Sports Editor Joel Hafnor can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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