Sports Hockey

Closer look shows vast differences in NHL, NBA playoffs

By Torben Rolfsen

Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) skates for the puck against Senators' Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) during Game One of the NHL's Eastern Conference Final at PPG PAINTS Arena in Pittsburgh on Saturday, May 13, 2017. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) skates for the puck against Senators' Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) during Game One of the NHL's Eastern Conference Final at PPG PAINTS Arena in Pittsburgh on Saturday, May 13, 2017. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“Thank God for the NHL Playoffs, that’s what I would be watching.” – Charles Barkley

Voices are howling in the annual critique and analysis regarding the relative merits and flaws of the NHL and NBA playoffs.

What NESN summarized as “one-sided NBA blowouts versus tension-filled NHL games” has once again emerged as a major theme during post-seasons that have seen lopsided basketball games while 25 hockey games go to overtime.

How do the two leagues actually compare in playoff series predictability?

From 2010-2017 (so far), favourites (higher seeds and/or more regular season points) won 54% of NHL series.

During the same time span (through Sunday), 76% of NBA favourites won.

But it’s not just who is winning the series, it’s how, and the competitive nature of the individual games.

While Cleveland and Golden State both swept their opening round series 4-0, the challenges for top hockey seeds began immediately.

Sure, the NHL had a first-round wipeout as well, but it was the de facto No. 16-seed Nashville Predators upsetting West No. 1 Chicago.

The biggest critics of the NHL’s playoffs think the results resemble its draft lottery.

Random bounces and a hot goalie even out any strengths displayed over the interminable 82-game regular season.

Ottawa had a negative goal differential during the season (212-214) and below average Corsi, two things no Stanley Cup winner has ever posted.

Yet here they are, knocking on the door of the finals. Indeed, they are the best story of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Warriors are expected to meet in the NBA finals for the third straight year.

With a soft salary cap – that just went way up – NBA teams can overspend and pay a luxury tax when free agent friends gather on virtual all-star teams.

Not so with the NHL’s hard cap.

The two leagues do share some similar format problems.

The NHL is in its fourth year of the divisional, bracket-style setup designed to create rivalries, a system which came under extra fire this year due to a stacked Metropolitan division.

The NBA is suffering through its own 17-year conference imbalance, with the endless flailing of would-be Eastern powers like the Knicks and 76ers.

The overall effect makes one wonder what the 82-game regular seasons are for.

Expect eventual tweaking to add more incentive and value to regular season games, hopefully resulting in fairer – and better – playoff systems for both leagues.