Seeds Remain (Somewhat) Misleading

Steve O Speak

A Guest Blog By Rob Yunich
Seeding for the NBA and NHL playoffs sometimes give fans false hope. High seeds routinely are eliminated before the NBA or Stanley Cup finals, and lower seeds seem to enjoy glory. But, upon looking at each league’s playoffs, only two teams that were not seeded No. 1 or No. 2 eventually won the title in recent memory: the 2007 San Antonio Spurs (seeded third) and the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins (seeded fourth).  This follows a similar pattern to what happens in the NCAA tournament, as I have previously examined.
The NHL tends to have more teams who are lower seeds make it to the conference finals than the NBA. In fact, the NBA conference finals haven’t been without a No. 1 seed since 1994. That year, two No. 2 seeds (the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks) met for the title, beating two No. 5 seeds (the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers) in the conference finals.
Meanwhile, the NHL had it happen in both 2006 and 2009. In 2009, the Penguins were joined by the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes, No. 2 Detroit Red Wings and No. 4 Blackhawks. The 2006 conference finals were similar: the No. 2 Hurricanes (who won the Stanley Cup), No. 4 Buffalo Sabres, No. 6 Anaheim Ducks and No. 8 Edmonton Oilers (who made it to the finals).
Last year, the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals pitted the No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers and the No. 8 Montreal Canadiens. But, following another pattern, the Western Conference was a match-up of the No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks (who captured the Stanley Cup) and the No. 1 San Jose Sharks.
The NBA was similar in 2010: the No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers (the eventual champ) beat the No. 3 Phoenix Suns and the No. 4 Boston Celtics beat the No. 2 Orlando Magic.
In both leagues, when two lower seeds compete in one conference final, the other one nearly always has a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. This year’s match-ups follow that pattern as well. The NBA’s final four are the No. 1 Chicago Bulls facing the No. 2 Miami Heat and the No. 3 Dallas Mavericks facing the No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder. In the NHL, it’s the No. 3 Boston Bruins facing the No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning and the No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. the No. 2 Sharks.
So while NHL and NBA teams play 82 regular-season games to earn a top seed, that might not matter once the playoffs begin. As the saying goes, “that’s why they play the games” and the playoffs, for the most part, make that a reality.

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