Monday, April 21, 2008

Which to Watch?

Every year, the NBA and NHL playoffs begin and end around the same time. One with SportsCenter specials, hour long previews, and player-by-player match ups. The other, a 2 minute segment here, a quick blurb there, far from the national attention as the other. (In case you can't figure it out, the NBA is the attention getter, the NHL is the forgotten step-child.) There are many, many reason why this is. Hockey has long been the 4th, if not the 5th sport in this country behind the NFL, MLB, NBA, and now probably NASCAR. The canceled 2004-2005 season certainly didn't help. The NHL's banishment to the cable nether-regions of the Versus network is another reason for the sport's decline. But is this all deserved? The NHL set attendance-records this season. People are going to the games more than ever. Let's discuss why (and hopefully by the end of this, you'll be able to tell on what side of the center ice line I stand).

Now related to Florida sports, as this blog clearly is, only the Orlando Magic are competing in the 2008 Spring Playoff season. But for discussion's sake, let's pretend the Panthers and\or Lightning qualified for the postseason.

Let's begin with the pure adrenaline pumping, action packed, heart stopping excitement factor. Everyone knows NBA games don't begin until there are 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Both teams generally will score at least 70 points, so why bother watching them get there? The last 5 minutes of the game then take, on average, 30 minutes to complete. In hockey, the play easily continues for 3 to 4 minutes at a time, and then once the whistle does blow, there is an actual rule in the books that the puck must drop within 18 seconds of the play stopping. NHL plays 3, 20-minute periods for a total of 60 minues. The NBA? 4, 12-minute quarters for a total of 48 minutes. So why do the two sports take about the same amount of time to complete? Far too much dead time in basketball. Hockey has an actual flow to the game.

So clearly, an NHL playoff game is more exciting. What about the game itself? Both hockey and basketball are "team" sports. Yet watching Kobe Bryant score 81 points, or Shaq Diesel turn around, raise an arm, and score 32 points without rising more than 4 inches above the floor, seems impossibly individual. Is it really just a coincidence that Michael Jordan, I mean the Chicago Bulls... won 6 straight NBA titles? Try watching the great ones in hockey go from one end to the other to score a goal... he'll be crushed by a 6'3", 220 lb defenseman moving at 25 mph before he gets to the blue line. I've heard basketball described as a contact sport... but apart from Steve Nash (a Canadian, mind you) being checked into the boards last year, I'd hardly call slaps to the hands while trying to shoot or "bodying up" a hard foul.

If you're still skeptical about the NHL, I have just one request. Tonight, Tuesday the 22nd of April, there are 2 game 7's in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Take a moment of your time, tune your digital cable box into the triple digits and find Versus network, and check it out. I promise you will not find a more intense, thrilling game on television. Even if the hockey doesn't do it for you, you can't go wrong with playoff beards.

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