Should NBA problems enlighten the NHL?

I just came across an interesting article on MSNBC written by Mike Celizic titled NBA has become a big, fat dud. The basis of the article is that for the most part the NBA is a league of dunks and one-on-one plays and not a team game. I am worried that maybe the NHL is heading down this path.

And if your greatest players aren’t fighting each other for titles, who really cares how many points they score or how many times they dunk? It’s not as if there’s any great drama in a dunk, not like there is in a home run. When Ryan Howard steps to the plate, the battle between him and the pitcher is a mini-drama whose outcome you don’t know. When Kobe goes to the hoop on a fast-break, there’s no drama at all.

And there’s too much of that in today’s NBA games, most of which are unwatchable by any but the most devoted fans. Watch the Olympics or a major international championship -– heck, watch a college game -– and you’ll see actual basketball with picks and passes and defense and everybody involved. Watch the NBA and it’s all about clearing out and going one-on-one. These guys are the most talented players in the world, but if they can’t beat Argentina, there’s something wrong with the game they’re playing.

All of the NHL’s rule changes have been about giving the star players more space to work their magic which is not unlike most of the rule changes in the NBA to restrict defensive play. Celizic claims that the focus on dunks and individual play has resulted in great players but not great teams.

Once upon a time, there were great players on great teams. Today, there are great players who are great profit centers. People who were fans of teams are fans of individuals, and when that’s the case, it’s hard to recapture what you once had.

Now, I am not a big NBA fan but it seems to me that the same sort of focus is taking place in the NHL. The NHL wants to promote great young talent like Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin but seems less interested in promoting great teams (in fact the salary cap all but ensures that great teams won’t last and we may be in an era of mass team mediocrity as seen int he eastern conference this season). The result on the NBA is that TV ratings have been steadily declining and the all-star game in Las Vegas had the lowest ratings ever. Now the NHL has no TV ratings to lose in the U.S. but all the focus on great young players and allowing them to show they skill is probably not the best route to gaining new fans. Players come and go, but teams stay. In Pittsburgh you don’t want to develop Sidney Crosby fans, you want to develop Pittsburgh Penguin fans. Six years from now Crosby may not be a Penguin, but the Penguins will still be in Pittsburgh (should they get the arena deal).

Posted in NHL

This article has 11 Comments

  1. Your point is well made. A little while ago I watched, back to back, a series of highlights of Jaromir Jagr and the NBA.

    Now, I think Jagr is a top 10 alltime scorer, but in pretty much every play, the defenceman was caught going for the puck. I know that good players can make even other good players look dumb, but you learn in pee wee hockey to look at the guy’s chest, not his stick.

    With the NBA I turned to my friend and said “is traveling a foul anymore?”. Pretty much every dunk was preceded by a half dozen steps towards the basket.

  2. The irony here is that I’ve heard for years that the NHL doesn’t do well enough promoting their stars. That teams like Edmonton and New Jersey making the Stanley Cup Finals is bad for the sport. That the NHL needs another face of the league – a Wayne Gretzky to energize American fan bases.

    And I believe that to be correct. I don’t think the NHL runs the risk of creating Sidney Crosby rather than Pittsburgh Penguin fans – and if it does, so what? The league feeds off that for another 15 years with Sid the Kid. Still, I think team loyalty is far higher in the NHL than in the NBA, and always will be – there’s more of a marketing/glamour aspect to the NBA that will never be present in the NHL.

    I really don’t think the NHL runs the risk of falling into the traps of the NBA – the NHL would love to have the NBA’s problems, actually.

    The NHL will always be a team game – it’s just not possible to take that out of the sport like it has been in basketball, where tough defense is extremely discouraged.

  3. You have to promote the stars but I think the point is you have to be very careful that you don’t make it an individual game in the process. Hockey is a team game.

    Ultimately though, I don’t think the NHL gains traction in the United States until we see real highly competitive in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, etc. It does nothing for the league for Tampa and Carolina to win Stanley Cups over Calgary and Edmonton.

  4. I think another, larger issue here is the following: For anyone to fall in love with a team, you need to have a consistent winning program. The last great teams (to sustain it for a few years) in the NBA were the Jordan Chicago Bulls, Magic/Kareem LA Lakers, and Bird Boston Celtics. Every team had it’s stars, but at the same time people looked on those teams as powerhouses, and beating those teams meant a lot, or being a fan of those teams meant a lot. To be fair with the comparison, I would say the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons are great “teams” of today. They aren’t individuals, and they are consistently competitive. Teams beat individual players… and always will. The same is true in the NHL.

    I think the problem the NHL has isn’t whether it’s branding individuals or teams, it’s the style of play that bores people. The Penguins will be good for years not just because of Crosby, but also because of Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Whitney, etc. They have a lot of pieces necessary to consistent winning, and they’re all young. New Jersey has a great core of talent, but it bores people to death when they win. Nobody cares to see them trap everyone into oblivion. The NHL has great teams coming up in Anaheim, San Jose, Pittsburgh, and Nashville. They also have some depth and experience. But frankly they are all TEAMS of the future. Not stars… not individuals… but teams, and the brand of hockey they play is exciting. I don’t think there’s any danger of too high a level of individuation. The only team that has that problem going forward is Washington with Ovechkin, and if they keep losing games that won’t last forever.

  5. The Penguins will be good for years not just because of Crosby, but also because of Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Whitney, etc. They have a lot of pieces necessary to consistent winning, and they’re all young.

    Do you really think so? After next season Crosby comes off his rookie contract and he will be wanting $7+ million per season if not the league max whatever that will be. The following summer Malkin and Staal will big raises. And if Fleury plays well he will want big money too, otherwise the Penguins will have to spend some big money on a quality goalie (I don’t care how much offense you have, you don’t win without top quality goaltending – as the Senators and Flyers). The Penguins won’t be able to afford all those players. They are probably going to just have to pick 2 or 3 of them to build around. It is going to be tough to maintain a high calibre team for a long period of time.

  6. The Penguins will tell Crosby to go to arbitration if he wants the max – he simply won’t get it, not until he’s UFA.

    No, Whitney, Staal, Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury cannot be together for more than 3 seasons. They can dump Malkin for a ton of stuff though – who wouldn’t want Evgeni – and go forward with a very solid team in place. The Oilers won a Cup after Gretzky left.

    Steve, by the same token, no one cares to see the Wings beat anyone either. The NHL just doesn’t generate that kind of fear – and I think it’s because of the lockout and all the player movement that occured afterwards, and the retirement or movement of a lot of club’s identity players. St. Louis lost Pronger and MacInnis, New Jersey Stevens and Niedermayer, Detroit Yzerman and Shanahan – no team has had a chance to become great yet in this new era. I certainly don’t think Carolina or Edmonton’s success is lasting – just look at this season. Anaheim – perhaps, but their team is almost completely different from the one they iced 4 years ago to almost take the Cup. Once things settle down, there’ll be some feared teams out there.

  7. “The Penguins will tell Crosby to go to arbitration if he wants the max – he simply won’t get it, not until he’s UFA. ”

    Considering the Islanders, Thrashers, Sharks and others gave up the equivalent of 2 or 3 first round picks for 2 months of Smyth, Forsberg, Guern, etc. I suspect there will be a boatload of teams willing to give up 4 first round picks and max salary to get Crosby. I know if I were a GM I would. I am almost certain Crosby will make the max once his rookie contract is done.

  8. I’d say it’s possible for the Penguins to field a team maintaining their core if they pay out roughly the following salaries going forwards… lets use 2008-09 for the sake of discussion. In 2 more seasons if they can’t win it I don’t know when they ever would.

    Gonchar $5 mill
    Fleury $5 mill
    Malkin $0.984 mill
    Crosby $7.8 mill
    Whitney $3 mill
    Staal $0.8 mill

    Ok so for those 6 key players, that’s about $22 million. Assuming the cap is around $50 million that leaves them another $28 million for 19 players. Frankly I think that’s workable. The problem is in 2009-10 where Malkin and Staal will both be RFA’s. If you jack their numbers up to roughly $5 million (average for both since I assume Malkin will make more, Staal will make less) that’s suddenly $30 million for 6 players. Which means you only have $20 mill for another 19, but frankly that’s still workable. You could find 19 serviceable players to build around that core and win championships. If you trade 1 of them, for two slightly more affordable defencemen, you’ll end up with a decent top 3 D, 3 great forwards, and an awesome starting goalie. I’d take that in a pinch, and it’s not impossible to see it lasting.

  9. I love how this thing keeps not posting my messages. David if you could somehow find the last one I submitted it’d be appreciated.

  10. For some reason it is catching some of your comments as spam.

    I have a hard time seeing the Penguins spending $50 or even $40 million. They just aren’t big enough of a market even if they get a new arena and vastly improved ticket sales. For me the big question mark is Fleury. He hasn’t yet proven he can be a good enough #1 guy to win in the NHL.

  11. Fleury is 30-14-7 this season. He’s got a 2.89 GAA and a .904 save percentage. His GAA has dropped every season, and his save percentage has gone up.

    Raycroft for instance has 29-20-7, a .894 save percentage, and a 2.98 GAA.

    Marty Turco is 29-17-4 with a 2.26 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Slightly better personal stats but a lower winning percentage.

    Lehtonen is 27-19-8 with a 2.88 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Again slightly better personal stats, but a lower winning percentage.

    If you can compare Fleury favourably to the latter 2, I see no reason to worry about his long term development.

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