NHL ice hockey somehow made its way onto a Sportscenter discussion on Monday when ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith was asked to compare the winning streak of the NBA’s Miami Heat with the points streak of the NHL’s very own Chicago Blackhawks. Smith would quickly dismiss the question as completely foolish claiming that the Blackhawks achievements shouldn’t be even mentioned in the same discussion as the current 16-game winning streak of the Miami Heat (14 at the time).
Stephen A. Smith has received a fair amount of flack for the hockey world for his comments [NBC's Roenick Calls Out ESPN Clown Stephen A. Smith]. I happen to think that he deserves a lot of credit for being an insightful commentator on a lot of sports, though elements of his recent comments have suggested that his hockey knowledge is severely lacking.
Still, in the interest of ‘embracing debate’, as is the catch phrase of the show ‘ESPN First Take’ that Stephen A. Smith regularly appears on, let’s break down the argument.
Frankly, I agree with Smith when he says that these streaks are not comparable right now. The fact is that the Chicago Blackhawks’ current run is head and shoulders more impressive than the Miami Heat’s from every single perspective.
Historical Perspective – NBA v NHL
At 16 games, Miami’s current winning streak is tied for 18th among the all-time NBA winning streaks. They need to win three more games to get into the all-time top five and in fact still need to win one more game to tie the LA Clippers for the longest winning streak THIS SEASON.
Furthermore, long winning streaks for the NBA’s top teams are quite clearly a reasonably regular occurrence. The Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks both won 17 games in 2006-07, the Boston Celtics won 19 in a row in 2008-09 and the Houston Rockets reeled off 22 straight victories in 2007-08. In addition to that, the Heat are less than halfway towards the record 33 straight wins put together by the LA Lakers in 1971-72.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ current streak is literally rewriting the NHL history books. Their 24 games unbeaten to start the season is a new NHL record. Most NHL fans will know that winning 21 games out of 24 is a pretty impressive feat in itself.
Dating back to last season, Chicago has gone 30 regular season games unbeaten in regulation, they are now just five games behind the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, who were unbeaten in 35 straight games. The Blackhawks already own the second best streak of points ever.
The historical perspective is undoubtedly that the Blackhawks’ achievement is a lot more impressive. That’s number one Stephen A. Smith.
Parity Perspective – NBA v NHL
In a more recent Sportscenter, Stephen A. Smith openly debated with NHL ESPN analyst Barry Melrose and made another strong claim suggesting that there is more parity in the NBA compared with the NHL.
The reality is very different. In fact, the extreme parity that has dominated the NHL since the 2005-06 season is what makes Chicago’s current points’ streak even more impressive.
The balance that has been developed in the NHL over the past eight seasons is unprecedented. Eight different teams have won the Stanley Cup in the past eight seasons. No team has repeated as a Stanley Cup champion since 1998. Half of the league has reached the conference finals stage (last four teams) in the past five seasons and 23 out of the 30 NHL teams have won their division since 2005-06. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2006.
2011-12 serves as a perfect example of just how much parity dominates the NHL. The eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings came out of nowhere to win the Stanley Cup, and actually put together the second best championship run ever dropping just four games. The Kings finished 13th in the overall regular season standings. Three out of the past four Stanley Cup champions have finished outside of the top six in the final regular season standings.
Since 1984, that’s 29 seasons of NBA basketball. Only eight different teams have won the NBA championship. Four Western conference teams (LA Lakers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks) and four Eastern conference (Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat). That’s not parity.
Meanwhile, no team outside of the top four seeds has reached the conference finals in NBA play since 1998-99. There’s no parity in the NBA. It is known before the season starts and very much before the playoffs just who the major championship contenders are in NBA basketball.
There is so much more parity in NHL as a sport compared with the NBA today. It’s a lot harder to be a dominant team. That’s number two Stephen A. Smith.
Chicago’s Additional Challenges
According to Hoops Hype and Cap Geek, both of these teams have some of the highest payrolls in their respective sports. Still, the Heat’s overall is significantly higher compared with the lower payrolls in the NBA compared with Chicago’s advantage in the NHL.
In addition to that, the Heat have not had to deal with the sort of injury challenges that the Blackhawks have. In fact, Dwayne Wade appears to have returned to full health just in time for this streak. Meanwhile, Chicago has had to deal with their starting goaltender Corey Crawford missing significant time, while key forwards Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland have both been dealing with injuries on and off during the streak.
The problems with ESPN and the NHL are well-established and clearly are not set to be resolved. Still, perhaps the Blackhawks can take solace in the fact that even being discussed by the likes of Stephen A. Smith is a pretty good indication of just how good their current streak is.