Mazurek: NHL takes the most depth and guts
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Editor’s Note: This week, the Sports Authority columnists answer the question, “In which competition is it most difficult to win a championship?”
Look guys, let’s not make this harder than it needs to be. The toughest competition to win a championship in is clearly the NHL.
As Daniel O’Boyle mentioned in his column yesterday, hockey may be less accessible to those not born in colder climates, and, as R.J. Stempak pointed out on Monday, a middling NBA team has very little shot to win the crown.
But come on, when you get to the nitty gritty of actually playing the games to win the championship, no competition comes close to hockey in terms of the sheer amount of factors you need to win the Stanley Cup.
First and foremost, if you want to win the Stanley Cup, you need depth. That’s four solid lines and six solid defensemen. No team can win the Cup with one great line and three mediocre ones. Just ask Alex Ovechkin.
Hockey is not often a pretty sport, and in a seven-game series, the team that wins is usually the team that gets the most production from their “grinding” players on the third and fourth lines. Everyone knows Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the Blackhawks, but Chicago has won three Stanley Cups in the last six years because they have the role players to back them up. In the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, the Blackhawks had nine players with three points or more and rookie Teuvo Teravainen, not Kane or Toews, led the team with four points. For the playoffs as a whole, Chicago had 10 players put up 10 or more points, while Tampa Bay only had seven players reach the 10-point mark.
Now let’s compare that to other sports shall we? In the NBA, all you need is LeBron James on your team and you’re guaranteed a spot in the finals. I mean take away LeBron from the 2010 Cavaliers, and they don’t even make the playoffs.
The same goes for the NFL and MLB to a certain extent. Yes, defense wins championships, but an elite quarterback clinches you a spot in the conference championship game. Same with two great pitchers in baseball. The Dodgers got by with phenomenal performances from Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw and basically no one else. Kansas City fans will remember with grief how Madison Bumgarner single-handedly won the 2014 World Series for San Francisco.
It’s easy to get one or two star players — anyone with cap space can do that. But the NHL is the most difficult league to win because you need a solid roster from top to bottom.
In addition to the difficulty it takes to acquire a full roster, the Stanley Cup is hardest trophy to hoist because of how grueling the playoffs are. Sixteen wins gets you the Cup, and that’s on top of 82 regular season games. And those 16 wins are the most hard fought in all of sports. Playoff hockey is not for the faint-of-heart, and after one series, almost every player has injuries.
Yet unlike the NBA, NHL players actually play through the pain — looking at you, Stephen Curry. Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa played the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals with a broken hand. Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron suffered two fractured ribs and a punctured lung in Game 5 of that same series but was back in Game 6.
That kind of effort and toughness just aren’t evident in other sports. The NFL is physical, yes, but if you’re a top-two seed, you get a bye week to start the playoffs, and then there’s another bye week before the Super Bowl.
And if parity is your thing, the NHL has plenty of that, as well. Five of the last six Stanley Cup Finals have featured a team seeded fourth or lower, and in 2012, the No. 8-seed Los Angeles Kings won the Cup. That’s never happened in the NBA.
Every team is a threat come the playoffs and you can’t buy a championship with one or two stars. Thus, the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win hands down.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.