The Leaders and Best of ‘Meaningful Competition’ … the NHL
I would actually like to begin by stating this is a also a response to the blog post “Do Professional Sports Really Represent ‘Meaningful Competition?” written by bwand. I wanted to leave a comment on that post, but I felt that it was deserving of another post, in order to say everything that I wanted to.
As bwand stated in their blog post:
“There is no clear cut answer to what meaningful competition means, but according to Mika LaVaque-Manty’s “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” meaningful competition is when all participants have ‘the hope of winning.’ There needs to be a level playing field where all athletes have similar situations and have the chance to win.”
For me, the NHL offers the most meaningful competition of any major sport by that definition – “when all participants have the hope of winning,” SINCE the 2004-2005 NHL Lock-out (NFL, NBA, MLB, and International Soccer – which I’m sure I might get a few comments about). And let me begin by saying, yes I have played hockey my entire life – but this post comes not from a personal bias, but with evidence to help make my claim.
First, let us just examine the teams that have won the championship since 2000:
I went back beyond the NHL Lockout in the 2004-2005 season for a bit of a larger sampling. Some will probably argue that I show a very small data set – and I do. However, the Yankees (MLB), Lakers (NBA), and Brazil (FIFA) all have more championships (as do New Jersey – ’95, and Detroit ’97 + ’98 in the NHL). For the NFL just substitute New England with Dallas and it is the same story. Now some will argue that this shows the NHL is no different from the other sports, but I will argue that athletic competition has gotten significantly better since 2000, which means that going back further than the year 2000 is irrelevant. Science has led to better training methods and athletes have been becoming increasingly ‘groomed’ for their professional careers that going back before 2000 is just silly.
We can argue over semantics, but let’s say that you follow my logic at this point. Since 2000 then, the NHL has only had two repeat championship – Detroit (only one cup AFTER the lockout) and New Jersey (ZERO cups AFTER the lockout). The NFL has also had two repeat champions Pittsburgh (2 championships) and New England (3). MLB has had two repeat champions Boston (2) and the NY Yankees (2 – but more in the late 90s). The NBA has had two repeat champs as well – San Antonio (3 titles) and the LA Lakers (5). FIFA’s #1 world ranking has been dominated by Brazil – being ranked #1 in 9 of the last 10 years.
And at this point let me explain the significance of the NHL lockout. During the lockout, the NHL adopted some rule changes that can be examined more closely in the two following articles. However, I will summarize the main points. The NHL instituted a salary cap system, which has made the NHL into the most meaningful form of competition in all of the major sports. Teams like the New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings, and other teams with the highest bankrolls pre-lockout could not buy the highest levels of talent anymore as they could before the lockout. In addition to this change, the NHL instituted a individual team-by-team player cap, which basically means that no player can earn more than 20% of his team’s salary cap. And the last major change that affected parity among NHL teams is that of revenue sharing. This concept is defined in the second article below as: “Revenue sharing: The top 10 revenue clubs will contribute to a pool that will be redistributed to the bottom 10 revenue clubs. The NHLPA proposed a similar revenue sharing component in 1994 during the league’s first lockout.” This creates a more level system for the NHL in that the top teams (financially) help to raise the salary caps of the league’s worst teams (financially) so that those bottom teams can still afford to pay premium players and retain the talent they have.
This system has created the highest parity of any major sport in the world. Consider the fact that since the lockout in 2004-2005, the NHL has NOT had a repeat champion, had teams in Anaheim and Carolina that had NEVER won the cup, had a relocated team in Carolina (from Hartford), and had a team that had NOT won the Cup in 40 years with Chicago, all win the Stanley Cup. Additionally since the lockout, only TWO (2) out of THIRTY (30) teams have not made the playoffs (Toronto and Florida).
In that same time span:
The NFL has had seven (7) teams miss the post-season: St. Louis, Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit, Houston, Buffalo, and Cleveland. The NFL also has 32 teams.
The NBA has had two (2) teams miss the post-season: Minennesota, NY Knicks. The NBA has 30 teams.
The MLB has had nine (9) teams miss the post-season: Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City, Seattle, Florida, Atlanta, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Houston. MLB has 30 teams.
Just looking at that data tells much of the story, but I would wager some fans of the NBA would point out that the NBA also has had only two teams miss the post-season in the same time span. Yes, you are correct. But my counter point would be that many of the NBA teams had zero chance of winning the title that made the post-season and that there were several teams to make the post-season only once in that span (often as the 6,7, or 8 seed). I would also argue that since 2005, the NHL has not had a repeat title winner, whereas the NBA has had two in San Antonio and Los Angeles with the Lakers. The NBA also has not had any stories similar to the NHL in that all of the winners are traditional major powers in the NBA – Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and San Antonio Spurs, and Miami Heat. And yes, many of you may point out that the Heat are not a traditional power – but with the combination of Lebron, Wade, and Bosh many would be quick to point out they likely will be. This is in comparison to the NHL, which will likely crown a new champion this year as well – with teams like Vancouver, Boston, Washington, and San Jose all playing well. The team that last year won the Stanley Cup in Chicago, has not YET made the playoffs THIS season – which in and of itself is worthy of note. They likely will -they must Win or Tie against Detroit tomorrow; or Dallas has to lose as well in its final game.
And as a last barrage of quick facts, hockey has not only the NHL, but the IIHF (the international ice hockey federation) which both serve to oversee the state of the game. The IIHF oversees the European leagues and both have members on the Olympic Committees for hockey. Hockey also has both men’s and women’s Olympics, as well as Sled-Hockey (or Sledge-Hockey for the international folks) for the physically disabled (also a Paralympic sport). There are also Division I and III college hockey programs for both men and women here in the United States. And for the dreamers – there is an actual pond-hockey (recreational hockey with no goaltender) national championship sponsored by USA Hockey every year in Minnesota. For more information on any of these topics follow the links below for more information.
This argument will likely continue for a long, long time to come, but for my time and money … I’ll be watching the NHL come playoff time.