For Postseason Drama, Hockey Trumps NBA

Sammy Blais (No. 9) of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with Robert Bortuzzo (No. 41) after scoring a goal on Martin Jones (No. 31) of the San Jose Sharks during the first period in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Enterprise Center on May 21, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Source Elsa/Getty

Why you should care

Because this is a story where we don’t know the ending already.

This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.

Was our crystal ball correct? Last month, we asked whether hockey was worse off with superstars eliminated early from the NHL playoffs. Ultimately, the answer was no, and now we’re seeing why. Thanks to three rounds of unpredictability and hair-raising tension, these Stanley Cup Playoffs are evidence that hockey is the perfect playoff sport.

Meanwhile, the NBA playoffs are once again a calculated, conventional affair.

Don’t get us wrong: Damian Lillard’s first-round buzzer beater is worth replaying for hours. Ultimately, though, the preordained Warriors championship will come to pass, and the best drama will come during this summer’s free agency free-for-all. Meanwhile, not even the Three-Eyed Raven could’ve predicted this Stanley Cup matchup.

The Boston Bruins have rolled through 17 playoff games, outscoring opponents 57-33. Their average goal differential of 1.41 per game is nearly three times their regular-season rate (plus-0.54). Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues scraped through three tight series, finishing with a nine-goal differential in 19 games. That is the widest difference in Stanley Cup goal differentials in 31 years.

That doesn’t mean Boston will cruise; these teams are more alike than you think. On New Year’s Day, the Blues were a league-worst 15-18-4. Similarly, the Bruins were 21-14-4, a middling eighth in the Eastern Conference. Then, 2019 happened, and both teams went on a tear.

Yes, Golden State overcame 15-point deficits three times in a row last round. Great teams make comebacks, that much we know. If you think you know what to expect from this Stanley Cup, think again. That’s the difference.  

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup finals Game 1 (Monday at 8:00pm ET on NBC)

Can the Blues save us all from yet another Boston sports title? The dream starts here.

  • Blues (+135) 
  • Bruins (-155)
 

Ones to Watch

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Pitcher Carter Stewart at the 2018 MLB draft.

Source Frank Franklin II/AP

Carter Stewart. Fifty-four years after the first Major League Baseball draft, one American teenager may have finally deciphered a more lucrative path to the big leagues than grinding away in the minor leagues for years. On Wednesday, news broke that Stewart, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher from Florida, will skip June’s MLB Draft to sign a six-year, $7 million contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League. Stewart was the No. 8 overall pick of last year’s draft but didn’t sign with the Atlanta Braves after a disputed injury — Atlanta believed it was more serious than Stewart would confirm — caused the Braves to offer a signing bonus of $2 million instead of $5 million. So Stewart played a season of junior college and will now head overseas to start in Japan’s version of Triple-A. It’s a risky play, considering the cultural hurdles that Stewart is walking into. Then again, his future is not unlike the one that thousands of Latin American players embark on every year in the U.S. minor leagues. Stewart won’t be eligible to play in MLB until he’s 25, but, successful or not, his decision illuminates an alternative path for young players who hope to avoid the financial constraints of the Major League draft monopoly.

Liz Cambage, Las Vegas Aces. Cambage has played only two full WNBA seasons since the Tulsa Shock drafted her No. 2 overall in 2011. After a five-year absence playing overseas, the All-World Australian center returned to play for the Dallas Wings (which had been relocated from Tulsa) last season, where she led the league in scoring (23 points per game) while earning All-WNBA First Team honors. Yet Cambage wasn’t content. She made headlines this offseason with a trade demand, threatening to return to pro ball in Australia or China if she wasn’t moved. Her cause? Quality of life, particularly as it relates to the WNBA’s low salaries. For Cambage to stay Stateside, she wanted to win. Now, she has that chance. In Las Vegas, Cambage joins the last three No. 1 overall draft picks: Kelsey Plum (also the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer), A’ja Wilson (last season’s Rookie of the Year) and Jackie Young. With Wilson and Cambage, the only WNBA player to ever post 40-point double-doubles, Vegas has the most dominant front court in the league and a real shot to take over women’s basketball.

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Elizabeth Cambage in action for the Dallas Wings in 2008.

Source Tim Clayton/Getty

Clash of the Eastern Conference Superheroes. The Greek Freak versus … “The Klaw.” Kawhi Leonard may not have quite as attractive a nickname as his MVP-caliber Eastern Conference Finals foe, Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he is showing that his counterpart may, in fact, be human. After averaging 27 points in two victories at home, Antetokounmpo had far less luck on the road for Games 3 and 4. The reason? Leonard, the best two-way player in the NBA, matched up with the Bucks superstar on D. After guarding Antetokounmpo just 12.7 percent of the time in the first two games, Leonard took on Antetokounmpo for 44 percent of Game 3, holding the Greek Freak to 2-of-12 shooting and just four points. In total, Antetokounmpo had only 12 points and logged eight turnovers. In Game 4, Leonard was back at it: He guarded Antetokounmpo on 51.5 percent of possessions, allowing only seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. Overall, Antetokounmpo scored 25 points with five assists and four turnovers in Game 4, so you can bet that Leonard’s defensive responsibilities will increase as the series progresses.

The World Wrestling Entertainment Monopoly. The WWE hasn’t had a formidable rival since World Championship Wrestling (WCW) shuttered its doors in 2001. But TNT is getting back in the ring: All Elite Wrestling (AEW), a secondary promotion that is quickly gaining popularity, will air on TNT weekly beginning this fall. And while some WWE wrestlers are downplaying the competition, AEW has plenty of major players on board. From Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega to the legendary former WWE broadcaster Jim Ross, AEW is building a powerful roster. Owned by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, with Cody Rhodes — son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty — leading the way, the fresh new promotion may have come at just the right time. As of April, ratings for the WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night RAW, were down 13 percent year-over-year, and live attendance and merchandise sales were down 11 percent. Critics are also complaining of boring and repetitive storylines. If WarnerMedia’s bet on AEW pays off, it could spell trouble for Vince McMahon’s wrestling monopoly.

Read This

This WNBA Star Plans to Build an Old Boys’ Club — for Women, by Matt Foley in OZY

After decades of dominating on the hardwood, Alana Beard has bold ideas for the world of venture capital, where she just finished an internship. The goal? To redistribute wealth in a system that too often benefits men, building a fund of her own directed by women, for women.

The Equalizer, by Sean Gregory in Time

Yep, that’s U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan on the cover of Time magazine this week, where she talks about the team’s fight for equal pay and we learn how she earned the nickname “Baby Horse.”

Michael Phelps Believes USOC, IOC Don’t Do Enough for Athletes’ Mental Health, by Stan Grossfeld in the Boston Globe

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, criticized the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee for ignoring mental health issues as he accepted an advocacy award at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston on Tuesday.

Inside the Relationship That Unleashed Steph Curry’s Greatness, by Tom Junod in ESPN

Having just finished his 30th season as the Davidson College head coach, Bob McKillop is a stickler for discipline and a guardian of tradition. He also helped Steph Curry revolutionize the sport.

Don’t Miss

In Baseball Players Are a Bizarre Breed, Vol. 3,489, we have … well … a national anthem standoff! Before the first inning of Wednesday’s game, Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcantara and Tigers pitcher Daniel Stumpf engaged in an epic war of attrition, refusing to leave the field before the other. Then came an umpire.

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