How many heart attacks does it take to win a Stanley Cup?
Here’s a stat I’d love know: incidence of fan heart attacks during the NHL Stanley Cup playoff season.
I couldn’t even hazard a guess.
This year, in the first round alone, the playoffs have been a statistical marvel. The Bleacher Report lays it out pretty concisely here. Watching them is mentally, emotionally, and possibly, physically (depending on how you react under pressure) hard.
Playing in them? Obviously, a whole lot harder.
But how hard?
Maybe you could compare how hard it is to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs relative to other pro sports playoffs in terms of number of hearts attacks or beers imbibed or anxiety pills popped, if you were really bored, I guess.
But how do you measure the difficulty of claiming Stanley Cup glory versus a Super Bowl victory versus a World Series clinch versus an NBA title?
I’m not particularly interested in being a statistician, so I used to think it was pretty simple. In my brain’s version of Excel (horrifying to think Microsoft is in my brain) I’d visualize the min/max potential number of playoff games versus brutality of the game and pretty quickly come to conclude in favor of hockey.
Salary caps, the average wealth of teams, or number of active players per team would all seem to play some kind of role. But, in my unofficial mental calculation, I still wind up thinking the Stanley Cup has got to be hardest hunk of metal to win.
There are plenty of bloggers on the interwebs who would agree.
I casually brought this question up to a coworker who is a slightly more even-handed sports fan than me, which is to say he watches hockey and basketball. I do not.
After the NBA, hockey, he said, might be the next easiest championship to win. He waffled back and forth between the Super Bowl and the World Series being the toughest championships, but his metric stayed constant: repeat wins.
If a team can win a championship at least two times in a row, how hard can that trophy really be to win? Or so his logic goes.
According to his unblinking evaluation, here’s how the four major US sports leagues break down since 1970. Just to caveat, each league has endured some structural changes over this time period so the comparison is not without its, er, flaws.
Football has seen 7 back-to-back Super Bowl winners, most recently the New England Patriots in 2004 and 2005.
Baseball has also seen 7 serial World Series champions, an honor the Yankees are still clinging to after scooping three in a row.
Basketball has had 10 repeats, many of which were snagged by the Lakers, who accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2010.
And then there’s hockey, with 11 back-to-back Stanley Cup winners if you break up the streaks of teams who’ve managed to win more than twice in a row. The Red Wings, of course, hold the most recent repeat win from successes in 1997 and 1998.
Yeah, I didn’t see that coming either.
But even though hockey has more repeat wins than any other sport — though arguably not by much — I still don’t buy that it’s the easiest championship to win, as this metric would have you believe.
Which leads me back to this terrible habit I have of answering a question with another question:
If my definition of what makes a championship hard could vary so significantly from colleagues’s, what really makes a championship the hardest to win?
As I write this, the Capitals and the Rangers are
in double going into triple overtime.
Sounds heart attack-worthy to me.
Yael Borofsky is a writer, editor, and Philadelphia sports fan. Follow her on Twitter @yaelborofsky.