Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Hockey is the Best Sport

I know, I know.
This is my opinion.
Hear me out, I'm going to make the case of why hockey is and will continue to be the best of all the major spectator sports. And yes, I am including soccer (or football or futbol).

Hockey has all the elements that all the other major sports have, the others have some but not all.

Let's start with the most obvious and easiest one: 

Major League Baseball

The reason I am comparing MLB as opposed to baseball in general is because of the overall atmosphere MLB operates within. (The NBA is guilty of this as well - we'll get to them) As I've mentioned, baseball is losing its grip year by year because of the very nature of the game; it's a slow paced game that is less and less appealing to generations that are more action oriented.

Let's compare Major League Baseball vs NHL hockey:

Nine Innings vs. 3 Periods

Without ties, nine innings can take over three hours easily.
Hockey is averaging about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Hockey has 3 periods, each period is 20 minutes long.

That half hour might not seem like much, but hockey is constant motion whereas baseball isn't. It's like watching a movie that has more dialog than action. Some prefer dialog over action, that's baseball vs. hockey. We're talking about excitement here. The average baseball games serves up very little in the way of real action based excitement. Not so with hockey, every game has a good deal of excitement.

Extra innings vs Overtime and Shootout

But baseball is the only sport that doesn't have a clock!!!

Yeah, let's take a look at that...

Baseball does not have ties, so a game goes on until someone wins. Gotta love those early season night games that go into extra innings. The 200 people in the crowd at 1 am in the 15th inning in April show how awesome extra innings are.

This is so awesome. Right?
On the other hand, the NHL has specific rules for regulation ties. Each team has five skaters and a goaltender for regulation play. If a game ends in a tie after three regulation periods, each team then is allowed 4 skaters per side plus goaltenders for a 5 minute overtime period. This creates more room on the ice and makes for exciting play. If nobody scores at the end of the 5 minute period, then the two sides have a shootout.

The shootout is conducted with a skater facing the goaltender one on one with the skater starting from center ice. He has one shot attempt and each team gets three chances. If tied after three chances, it does go to sudden death until all eligible players have taken a shot.

Now the shootout is definitely a bone of contention among hockey fans, but there's no denying that games, for the most part, are settled with shootouts. There are certainly ties in hockey, but the point is, overtime and shootouts do not make the games interminably long.

Oh yeah, and hockey has guys like Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk who is nothing short of a wizard with the puck:


Even though this was not an NHL game, it shows what kind of skill we're talking about here.

Players:

Major League Baseball has the biggest collection of overrated, overpaid, grumpy, brittle whiners in all of pro sports. MLB as a sport still behaves as if this is the 40's and 50's when it was the biggest game.

Hey MLB - it's not and hasn't been for a long time. (47 years running!!!) That goes back to 1966, yikes!

The NFL has eclipsed baseball 2 times over and there's no indication that upcoming sports followers are as passionate about baseball as they are for football.

Take away fantasy and I bet MLB interest drops even further.

Hockey players on the other hand, are more accommodating to fans and media, generally more even tempered and humble, (well there is Sidney Crosby and the entire Vancouver Canucks organization, but the majority are) and are as tough as they come in any sport.

Tim Hunter gets better and better looking as he ages

Fans

Now there are definitely hockey fans that can politely be described as goons. No doubt about it. But, any contact sport is going to have a certain element in its fan base that is Neanderthal in nature. Hell, go to a football game.

Baseball has its stat geeks, its Sabermetricians (what I lovingly call Baseball Schnubs). Listen, I get it. Some people are in love with stats, plausibility and all the fun that goes with keeping score at a ball game.
Good luck with that.

Hockey has action. There's stats that you can pursue to your heart's delight, but I'm here to tell you that you will not find a single person at a hockey game keeping score.



But you will find fans who dress up as their favorite coaches!!!!??? 
(Ottawa Senators coach Paul McLean and his doppleganger)

Overall Excitement:

Hands down hockey. To argue this point is beyond ridiculous. You can't make a case that baseball even approaches the excitement level or movement of even the most boring hockey game. It's not even open for discussion.

Final Word:

To throw a 90 mph plus fastball requires a lot of skill and talent. To hit one does as well. Baseball requires some great athletic skill and talent, no doubt about it. But, it's not a speed and action game (don't give me stolen bases or running down a line drive as an example of speed - they're not constant elements of the game). There's not enough flow to baseball to say it's an action sport. Pitchers hold the ball and take forever to throw. That's not action.

There's no contact - again sliding into the catcher is not contact. It's not supposed to be either.

Baseball fans love the game because in their minds most believe they can get out there and play the game.

You can't. Not at that level.

And it still way down the list as far as skill and athleticism compared to hockey.
Not even close, bro.


And Bleacher Report did this timely article to support my thesis 20 Reasons Baseball Is the Worst

Oh and since today is Opening Day

Full disclosure, I am old



NBA Basketball
OK now we can't make the overall excitement argument here, because basketball as is hockey, by its nature a game of constant motion. And the NBA has overtime rules that also have 5 minute overtimes with the difference being, they keep going until one team prevails. Other than the fact that an NBA game can stretch into oblivion, hockey and basketball are on par with regard to game length and action.

Here's where I make my case for hockey over basketball; in the NBA, there's way too many fouls. I know, there's contact on every play and it's not a contact sport so they have to call fouls.

And excellent officials like Joey Crawford bring in so many fans to the game
That's the problem:

EVERYTHING IS A FOUL WITH THE EXCEPTION OF WHO'S DOING THE FOULING AND WHO IS BEING FOULED.

Guys in the NBA either get calls or get away with calls based on their status in the league. How many times have you seen rookies or bench guys get two or three fouls on them in 5 minutes of playing time when elite players get away with pretty much everything. Yes, they get called, but the refs are very selective about what they call.

You very rarely see superstars foul out in the NBA.

Your point?

In the NHL, you trip, elbow, cross check you're going to the box no matter who you are. Now there's arguments that refs miss calls in the NHL and that's true, but they don't miss them based on the number on the player's back. Every fan of every team can whine about officiating in the NHL, but by and large there's not much that gets missed and if Sidney Crosby trips Dana Tyrell, Crosby gets two minutes.

Travelling

Hockey has offsides. It's pretty simple, on offense, you can't cross the blue line in the offensive zone before the puck. And that includes the puck carrier. He can put himself offside.

In the NBA guys take off from the free throw line and take four of five steps without putting the ball on the floor and travelling rarely gets called.

Summary

If you love basketball, nothing I say here is gonna convince you that hockey is better, but it is and here's why:

There's an overall  higher skillset with stickhandling, skating, physicality and endurance required for the average NHL player than in basketball .

To play in the NHL, every player needs to have decent skating and stickhandling skills, not so true about running and ball handling skills for all NBA players.

NBA players for the most part are magnificent athletes, but height and size are HUGE factors. Not every 6' 10" guy can run up and down the floor and handle the ball or make great passes. In hockey, if you're a big goon, you better be able to drop the gloves if your skating and stickhandling suck. (We'll get to fisticuffs later)

Interestingly enough, the average height for NHL players has plateaued recently but the Boston Bruins currently have the tallest player in NHL history, Zdeno Chara on their roster.


He's 6' 9" and can shoot the puck over 100 MPH easily
I can skate, stickhandle, shoot and kill you with one hand
Just in case you've never seen what a 6' 9" Slovak can do on skates, have a look.

Witness


I don't think you'd see a guy like Shaquille O'Neal do something like that in his prime.


There's supposed to be no contact in basketball and that is one of the main differences between the two sports. Fouls are too subjective and stars get away with much more than they do in hockey. You can't hide in hockey, if you're on the ice and you get involved in the play, you're gonna get hit. NBA Basketball has a bunch of pretend tough guys who cry bloody murder if someone smacks them on the hand.

I'm sure Lakers fans pine for the Sasha Vujacic era
It's not their fault, it's the way the game has evolved. If they allowed contact in the NBA it would be a much different game. But basketball is not supposed to be a contact sport and there's where hockey is better.

Basketball has WAY TOO MANY TIMEOUTS.

Again????
The end of an NBA game is interminable, there's no 8 point plays with 3 seconds left on the clock, but every NBA coach will call a timeout if they have one in that situation.
Every game.
In hockey, you get ONE TIMEOUT PER GAME.
That's it.
ONE.
And that includes any overtime.

Soccer

OK, I know. This is the most popular sport in the world and draws millions and millions of fans all over the world. The game's biggest stars are multi multi millionaires with huge followings. Elite clubs have rabid fan bases and yes, it is the most easy sport of all to setup because in reality all you need is a ball.

There's no ice to make, no court, no hoops, no basepaths or pitcher's mound and no special equipment like sticks, bats, helmets and shoulder pads.

Well, there's the HUMONGOUS goals, but the patron saint of soccer, the cone will do.

Just use cones, we'll deal with the height issue later

The athletes are tremendously conditioned, the skillset to be an elite player is amazing.

So why is hockey better?

Excuse me, but I am an American.

SOCCER IS BORING.

Sorry, that's how we Yanks roll with soccer


I've been to a pro soccer game (OK, ans MLS game - to most people in the world, that's not pro soccer) and I'm sorry, but to this American who was raised on hockey, soccer is dreadfully dull.

You have 22 guys running around a huge field with two gigantic nets and NOBODY SCORES.

B-O-R-I-N-G.

It's a shame because soccer of all the other sports, closely resembles hockey in many ways:

  • There's two goals and two goalkeepers
  • There's back and forth action where both teams have to take the ball away from each other 
  • They can't use their hands, which means you must be highly skilled to make plays with your head and feet - in hockey you must use a stick - similar skills for moving the ball and puck apply
  • There's a lot of running which means you must be in excellent condition

But, I'll say it again:

NOBODY SCORES.


You know how to fix soccer?
  • Make the field smaller
  • Yank off three or four guys a side 
  • Have line changes
  • PUT LINES ON THE FIELD SO YOU KNOW WHAT THE HELL OFFSIDE IS 
Put all that together and then you have a game. Watching the ball go back and forth for three hours and hoping that someone, anyone, scores a damn goal is B-O-R-I-N-G.

Make those changes I mentioned and you might have something.
But then it would be hockey on grass, wouldn't it?

NFL Football

I've saved the biggest and baddest for last. Here in the States, this is the big dog, the number one sport.

Do you seriously want to do this?
I'm just going to get right to the point. The NFL is the most watched, most popular sport in the US hands down. Football is the most popular sport in the US.

Here's why hockey is better:
  • You don't have to wait to see your team play once a week for 16 weeks
  • Hockey has way more action. Way more. Look it up.
  • Everyone gets hit in hockey, even the goalies. Goaltender interference is a penalty. See how many times a game it gets called. See how many times a goalie gets hit. See how many roughing the passer calls are in an NFL game when QBs get touched.
  • 300 lb players won't ever exist in hockey unless humans evolve to the point where the average man is 6' 3" 265 lbs.
  • They don't plan plays in hockey very often. It just happens. But don't be fooled, there's a lot more strategy and positioning in hockey than most people can see. It's just not setup on every single play. Football is planned on both sides of the ball.
  • Speed of the game. No comparison. How often do guys run more than five yards with the ball?
  • Skill. Again, every player in the NHL must be able to skate and have some semblance of puck handling ability. Not so in football. Some guys can go a whole career without ever touching the ball.
  • What's pass interference? What's holding? What's unnecessary roughness????
  • INSTANT REPLAY. Do I have to explain???
Hockey has an 82 game schedule (in a normal year) and then, if you are one of the best, you get to go through hell for a month playing a brutal, physical game every other night to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

I'm not saying winning a Super Bowl is easy pickings, but the path to the greatest trophy in all sports is a hell of a lot harder.

And you have to win 16 games in 4 best of 7 series to win the championship.
The NHL regular season ends at the end of April.
A Stanley Cup champion is usually decided in mid June.
That's almost 8 weeks of gut wrenching, intense, pressure packed playoff hockey.
That's almost half the regular NFL season.

Now don't get me wrong, I love football and I think it's a great sport. but hockey is simply better. 
Just because more people in the US watch football doesn't make it a better sport.

You know one main reason why?
There's a lot of guys standing around discussing stuff in football.
Really.

Sooooo, what just happened?

Step back and look at from this angle:
  • You have an offensive huddle, and a defensive huddle on pretty much every play (Some teams run a no huddle offense which moves things along)
  • A bunch of timeouts where they discuss things on the sidelines
  • The officials stop after almost every damn play to discuss what just happened
  • Then if the seven guys on the field can't decide what the hell just happened, the referee goes into a booth and discusses it with the officials in the replay booth
For a brutish game with huge massive guys smashing into each other, there's a lot of talking going on.

And another thing, take away the aforementioned fantasy geekery and gambling and the NFL's popularity might take a hit too.

The Final Word
  • All hockey games start with a faceoff as does every stoppage in play. There's no "here it's your turn now" in hockey. Soccer is similar but one team gets the ball to start the game - hockey is armageddon from jump street. You have to get the puck away from the other team constantly. 
  • Your team gets penalized, you play shorthanded. No other major sport does that.
  • What other sport has the boundaries as part of the playing surface (the boards) and can be used to check an opponent or used to move the puck?
  • What other sport is played at a higher speed without an engine?
  • What other sport combines speed, strength, stamina, hand eye coordination, skill, full contact and athleticism all while balancing on .110" steel blades on ice?
Fighting

Fighting is an important part of the game because intimidation is a big part of the game. If players cannot fight, certain players will take liberties that are currently addressed by having an enforcer or two on the team. Forget the goon stereotypes that you see in movies, those days are about gone in the NHL. Today's enforcer has to be more than just a guy who can drop the gloves.

There are many players in the NHL now that are skill guys that nobody wants to tangle with.

Boston Bruin Shawn Thornton is one of 'em

If guys get pissed at each other or intimidation goes too far with some players, they can beat the crap out of each other. Say what you want, but NHL hockey is the only sport that allows guys to fight.

There's no phony bench emptying "brawls" like there are in baseball where everyone dances and pretends to fight. Basketball has severe penalties for fighting or leaving the bench (as does hockey). Fighting sets the tone for how the game is going to be played on a given night. There might be a score or two to settle between players or teams.

This also allows guys like Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, who is generously listed as 5' 8", to compete in the same sport as the aforementioned Boston's Zdeno Chara who stands every bit of 6' 9".

Martin St. Louis and Zdeno Chara when Chara was with the Ottawa Senators

Martin St. Louis is a great example because he can stand his own against most of the players in the league. If someone takes a run at St. Louis, he will have to pay a price. St. Louis can handle himself out there, but he's not a fighter, but the guy gets his nose in the dirt and makes no excuses about his size. On the other side of things, Chara is the tallest player in the history of the NHL and can skate and stickhandle with amazing skill for a man of his size. (see video above in the NBA section)

Yes, there are shorter players in football and basketball. In football, the bigger guys block for the shorter guys. In basketball, shorter guys are usually tons faster than taller guys and can scoot around the court. There's also no hitting in basketball, so they aren't supposed to get beat on by bigger players. Soccer and baseball really don't matter for pretty much the same reason.

Finally, hockey has this:

Enough said.




6 comments:

  1. you are fucking amazing..i agree with everthing you just said and nobody thinks hockey is even an exciting sport..thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Keep supporting hockey!

      Delete
  2. Great article. Could not have said it any better. Hockey is the greatest sport that is played hands down.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great article!
    Hockey is awesome. Everyone needs to get on the wagon.
    I find the players to be some of the nicest guys off the ice too. You don't find many egos out there like other sports.

    And being from Boston, I have to say the Bruins were top notch, front and center in inspiring the city after the Marathon bombings.

    ReplyDelete
  4. totally true the best article ever

    ReplyDelete
  5. i wrote an essay for school based on this article. thank you so much

    ReplyDelete