Every year around this time, hockey fans from all across the world start getting ready for the NHL playoffs. From the middle of March onwards, players endure one of the most gruelling stretches in sports for as long as their team remains alive. By the time the Stanley Cup Finals roll around, it seems that the majority of players on both teams are battling through every type of injury from muscle strains and bruises to broken bones and more serious issues. The NHL playoffs have had a motto for the past few season that simply says “because it’s the Cup” at the end of their commercials and advertisements. It’s only 4 words, yet it explains why these players seem to battle through everything in the playoffs. They do it for the chance to hold the biggest trophy in sports – the Stanley Cup. For hockey players, it’s the thing they dream of their whole lives, and nothing can show that off more than this goosebump-inducing ad from the NHL in 2010:
— NHL (@NHL) May 27, 2019
With everything that the guys go through, it’s no wonder that the hockey world proudly considers the Stanley Cup the hardest trophy to win out of any of the major sports championships in North America. Although it seems like a biased opinion when you first hear it, similar to a fan saying “this is the best sport because…”, this opinion from hockey fans actually has a lot of evidence behind it. Do you think that the Stanley Cup is harder to win than any other major sports trophy? Before answering right away, let’s look at some of the reasons a fan may say this.
First of all, as I previously mentioned, the injuries that players are playing through are unlike anything in other sports. When I say this, I don’t mean to say that athletes in other sports don’t also play through tough injuries, but in the NHL playoffs, nearly the whole team in some instances is playing through some sort of problem. As teams eventually get kicked out of the postseason, information on injuries usually come out into the public, and it’s truly incredible to see what some of the guys manage to play through. For example, just last year, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was hit in the face by a puck in game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He didn’t miss a game, and played the next 3 with a full face shield. After the series was over, it was confirmed that Chara had suffered multiple fractures in his jaw, and that it was being held together by pins and was wired shut during the time he was playing. It was absolutely incredible stuff from a 42 year old guy who already has a Stanley Cup ring on his finger after being a part of the Bruins team that beat the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Here he is receiving a well deserved applause from the Boston faithful after being announced in the starting lineup for game 5 last year:
Of course, in order to be considered the toughest trophy to win, we need to also compare the NHL playoffs with the other major North American sports. This would start with the most physical of them all, NFL football. If you were to simply compare one game of each sport, it’s clear that football is the tougher and more violent of the two, which in turn means that the players are sacrificing more to win. However, if we think about the NHL season and playoffs versus the NFL system, things change. In the NFL, Super Bowl winners play a total of 19 or 20 games in 5 months. In the NHL, teams battle through a gruelling 82 game schedule before playing in the postseason, which is 20-30 more games played at a much higher level physically for the teams who move on to the Cup Finals. This is all over an approximately 9 month season, and means that the NHL plays less than double the length of an NFL season, but more than 5 times the amount of games. Additionally, when it comes to actually winning the trophy in playoffs, NFL franchises can do it with just 3 wins, while hockey teams need 16.
As for the other sports, baseball and basketball, they simply don’t stack up to the sport of hockey in terms of games that are physically demanding to the body. The NBA definitely has its fair share of injuries and may have some of the most impressive athletes on the planet, but the game doesn’t take the same physical toll on its players that hockey does. On top of that, we’ve recently seen more and more of an emergence of the ‘super teams’ in the NBA over the last decade, where great players are joining forces in order to win championships together. This creates less parity in the league and gives only a few teams a significantly higher chance at winning the Larry O’Brien trophy. With the way the salary cap works in the NHL, high paid all stars don’t have this option nearly as often, which leads to more great players never lifting the Stanley Cup. That was the concern for one of the greatest goal scorers to ever play the game up until 2018 when the Washington Capitals finally won it all. Check out Alex Ovechkin’s emotional celebration after years of great regular seasons and disappointing playoff eliminations right here:
Finally, the Stanley Cup itself is just different. It weighs more than 30 pounds, it’s by far the largest trophy in sports, and everyone who wins it gets their name engraved on it for eternity. I think that’s what makes it so cool to win for the players. Whatever they do in their career and in their lives after retirement, they’ll always have their name on the Stanley Cup. I personally can’t wait for another great NHL season to wrap up in a few months and to see who will hoist the trophy over their heads this year. It’s one of the most amazing things in sports to see players celebrating after their wins, because the Stanley Cup truly is the hardest trophy to win in all of sport.