Today, we conclude a short series of posts on how the Premier League’s season structure could fix the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL). So far, we have shown that the fewer the playoff games, the more important the regular season games. Also, in order to determine the best regular season teams, each team needs to play identical schedules.
If the NBA and the NHL would address just those two principles, they would improve their overall product. There are so many ways that these leagues could do that; we suggested one. Expand the current 82-game regular season to 84 games. Schedule each team to play the other 29 teams a total of 6 times each (3 at home and 3 away). When the regular season is complete, have a “finals” series – best of 7, 9, or whatever you want it to be – between the first-place teams in the East and West.
NBA in Real Life
This year, the Western Conference mostly belonged to the Golden State Warriors. They beat the Spurs in the standings by 6 games. In the playoffs, the Warriors further proved their superiority by sweeping the Spurs.
In the East, things were interesting. LeBron James inspired this blog series by taking the last few games of the regular season off. Because the rest of the Cavaliers seemed to do the same, the Boston Celtics won the conference by 2 games over the Cavs and the Toronto Raptors, who finished the regular season with the same record as Cleveland.
In the playoffs, the Cavs and Celtics met in the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James proved in that series that the NBA’s real-life regular season does not matter, leading the Cavs over the Celtics in 5 games. As I write this, the Cavs and the Warriors are getting set to start the real-life NBA Finals.
NBA in Our “Fantasy” League
If our league structure had been used this season, the Spurs would have stayed with the Warriors in the West for most of the regular season, but the Warriors clearly were the best team this year. In our fantasy league, the Golden State Warriors would also win the West and advance to the NBA Finals.
In the East, you would have had all sorts of drama. In real-life, the Eastern drama took place off the court (LeBron is ruining the regular season!). Can you imagine – if our fantasy league existed – how amazing the on-court drama would have been?
You would have had three teams – the Cavs, Celtics, and Raptors – fighting for a place in the NBA Finals, likely until the final game of the season. Everyone would have watched the regular season games because they would mean everything to these teams. Win, and you make the Finals. Lose, and you do not.
Instead, LeBron sat out, and the teams did not care much about the games themselves because all they were playing for was a meaningless seed in the playoff bracket.
Based on how much the Cavaliers dominated the Raptors and the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs, we have to believe that Cleveland would have made the Finals in our fantasy league as well.
Thankfully, the real-life NBA will provide us with the winner of this dream series.
NHL in Real Life
The regular season was tight in the Western Conference. Four teams finished within six points of each other. In the end, the Blackhawks entered the West playoffs as the #1 seed. It did not matter, though.
As we mentioned in a previous post in this series, the Blackhawks were upset in the first round by the Nashville Predators. The eighth-best team in the West – the final team to qualify for the playoffs – got hot at the right time and are about to play in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Nashville Predators are the ultimate example of why playoffs are a terrible way to decide a league’s champion. They have single-handedly made the regular season obsolete.
In the East, the league’s own playoff bracket got in the way. The Washington Capitals were seven points clear of the competition, easily finishing the season as the conference’s best team. They played the second-best team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the conference semifinals, however, and lost. The Penguins also defeated Ottawa to advance to the Finals.
The eighth-best Western team is playing the second-best Eastern team in the real-life Stanley Cup Finals. Regular season? What regular season?
NHL in Our “Fantasy” League
Chicago had a strong challenge from a number of other teams, but they would have won the West, even in our fantasy league structure. The Washington Capitals had no equal in the East during the regular season. The Stanley Cup Finals would feature the Blackhawks and the Capitals. Since neither of these teams made the real-life Finals, we will simulate what should have happened for you.
By having more points during the season than Chicago, Washington gets home-ice advantage. In Game 1, it makes the difference, as the Capitals win 3-2. In Game 2, the Capitals squeak out another narrow victory, taking a 2 games to 0 advantage on the road to Chicago.
In Game 3, a near must-win for the Blackhawks, the two teams battle back and forth. At the end of the regulation, the game is tied at 3, forcing our first overtime game of the Finals. Just past the midway point of overtime, Jonathan Toews scores to give the Blackhawks their first victory in the series.
Game 4 is just as close, but this time, the Blackhawks don’t need overtime. They win 3-2 and level the series at two games apiece. In Game 5, Chicago continues its home dominance. They jump out to a 3-0 lead in the second period and hold on to win 3-1. The Blackhawks take the series back to Washington with a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6 is as tight as you would expect. The first two periods see no goals. With less than 2 minutes to play, the Capitals take a 1-0 lead on a TJ Oshie goal. Less than one minute later, Chicago equalizes to force overtime. Less than four minutes into overtime, Patrick Kane – who else? – scores to win the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks.
We can only hope that the real-life Stanley Cup Finals produce as exciting of a series. We know one thing already, though. The real-life champion will not be the NHL’s best team. You can thank the playoff system for that.