Although the NHL is still less popular than the NBA in North America, the NHL does a better job at structuring their league.
As a basketball fan, nothing excites me more than this time of the year: The NBA Playoffs is on. What depresses me is how lopsided some of these matchups are in the first round.
In the East, the 7th seeded Knicks are getting destroyed on a nightly basis against the 2nd-seeded Heat and are on the verge of getting swept. The 6th-seeded Orlando Magic may have won one close game, but got totally dominated in the two other by the the 3rd-seeded Indiana Pacers. Had Derrick Rose been in the lineup for the 1st-seeded Chicago Bulls, it would've been much easier for the Bulls to beat the 8th-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
The West is no different. The 1st-seeded Spurs are fresh off a 31 point win against the 8th-seeded Utah Jazz. The 2nd-seeded Oklaoma City Thunder are leading the series 3-0 against the 7th-seeded Dallas Mavericks. The 3rd-seeded Los Angeles Lakers are up 2-0 on the Denver Nuggets.
The only matchups that have some competitiveness are the 4th vs 5th matchups. It would make sense as these teams are only separated by 1 spot in their conference rankings.
In the NBA playoffs, being the 7th and 8th seeded teams means that you're automatically eliminated. The lower seeded teams (barring the 5th seed) rarely advance to the second round.
As an avid NHL fan, the first round of the playoffs possibly have the most exciting headlines. An 8th-seeded team upsetting a 1st-seeded team is nothing new. It happens almost every year. In the NHL, all 16 playoff teams are legitimate cup contenders. Anything can happen at any time.
Now, why are the first two rounds of the NBA usually predictable whereas the first two rounds of the NHL are somewhat of a mystery?
For starters, the cap system in the NHL is much more balanced. The NHL has a hard cap system in which teams can't re-sign their own players if they can't afford them. In the NBA, players that seek an extension for their teams can do it freely without thinking about the team's salary cap. Since not all NHL teams can afford to keep their star players, some of them join other teams and this creates some sort of balance between teams. In the NBA, every team can keep their star player without worrying about the affordability of the player in question.
In addition there is less of a gap between the salaries of the poorest team and the richest team in the NHL than there is in the NBA. The Avalanche are the poorest team in the NHL with a cap payroll of $47 million whereas the Philadelphia Flyers are the richest team with a cap payroll of $72 million (difference of approximately $25 million).
The NBA has a new trend where top players meet each other and form a team. This isn't the case in the NHL. Now, imagine a team that has Crosby, Kovalchuk, Stamkos , Chara, Lidstrom and Jonathan Quick as their starting lineup. It would destroy the balance in the league and the weaker teams will become even more vulnerable. This is becoming a growing problem in the association. Sure, Heat fans and Celtic fans (the starters of the big three trend) will enjoy their success, but the fans of the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors will become even more miserable.
The competitive spirit of the NBA is something that is dying. Nowadays, players seem to switch teams just to play with their superstar buddies and care more about having fun than winning games .
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