Apples To Oranges Comparison: Pittsburgh Penguins Versus Golden State Warriors

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Golden State Warriors have won 2 of the past 3 NBA Finals. Both should be lauded and applauded. Which team has earned your respect more?

How does one compare champions in one sport to the champions of another sport especially sports as different as the NHL or NBA?

It starts with dumbing yourself down to the basic principle of all sports - individuals competing as teams to defeat another group of individuals trying to work together as a team. Understand that positioning yourself in front of the crease trying to tip a puck is just as brutal as stepping into the key in preparation of getting a rebound. We will focus on some of the bigger undeniable differences as we progress through the article.

Rarity of Repeat Champions


The Pittsburgh Penguins are the first back-to-back champions the NHL has seen since the Detroit Red Wings turned the deed in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Prior to that, the Penguins had back-to-back in 1990-91 and 1991-92 which effectively ended the “dynasty” era of the NHL. Long gone are the days of the Edmonton Oilers winning five cups in seven years, with all due respect to the Chicago Blackhawks three cups in six years and Los Angeles Kings two cups in three years. We may never see four time champions like the New York Islanders of the early 80’s or the Montreal Canadiens of the late 70’s.

The Golden State Warriors have won two of the past three NBA Finals. The last team to actually repeat as champions were the 2012 and 2013 Miami Heat. The Lakers were repeat champions in 2009 and 2010 and three-peat champions from 200-2002. Of course you cannot say rarity without thinking of the Chicago Bulls winning 6 of 8 NBA Finals between 1991 and 1998. The 80’s were filled with the Lakers and Celtics handing the championship back and forth to each other with only the 1987 and 1988 Lakers doing it back-to-back. The 1970’s did not see back-to-back champions.

Money, Money, Money


The Edmonton Oilers signing Connor McDavid to 8-year, $100M contracts is proverbial peanuts to the 4-year, $228M contract extension signed by James Harden. So, as you would expect, free agency in the NBA tends to be more exciting than free agency in the NHL.

According to, six NHL teams are above the salary cap and only ten teams as currently constructed could dole out “McDavid” money while staying under the cap. As our staff writer Spencer Love says in a very captain obvious tone: “Tougher league to win in when you can’t just sign the best player available”.

This NBA off-season has been without much doubt more exciting than the past NBA season and playoffs. Ever since LeBron James and Chris Bosh used their trip to free agency to band together with Dwyane Wade in Miami the term “superteam” is now in the everyday language of fans. Of course the definition of the term superteam is still a little bit up for debate as the following conversation will outline:

Len: I disagree with you Spencer on your GSW not being a super team as their first championship had free agent signing Andre Iguodala win Finals MVP
Spencer: But he was also a guy who was the 6th man at the time. He started three (four?) games to neutralize LeBron, but was still coming off the bench for the regular season and most of the playoffs
Kail: When you sign up an MVP and 4 time scoring champ, that classifies as a super team
Spencer: See Kail, here’s where we differ. If for whatever reason, KD signed with say Charlotte or an equally bad team as opposed to GSW, you wouldn’t say their a super team.
So just because he signed with a team that had an established roster, it’s different?! A super team, to me, is a team like the Heat or Celtics - bringing everyone in from outside. GSW brought in KD.
Kail: He signed with a team that already had a 2-time MVP. And a DPOY. And a finals MVP. And a multiple all-star.
Spencer: Right…but did any of those players come from outside of the Golden State organization, or were they built through the draft? Outside of their sixth man that season, they were all drafted by the Warriors.
Kail: I didn’t consider them a superteam until KD signed
Spencer: Meh. I don’t think that one free agent signing makes a superteam. To me, a super team is built outside of ones organization - free agency and trades. If you can draft a team as good as the warriors - all the power to you.
Kail: But two signings does…

Parity/Mediocrity of League


As varied as the freedom in the respective leagues free agency scale are, a top to bottom review of teams per league reveals a very different composition. The NHL is clearly in the mold of wanting as many teams to be competitive as possible while the NBA is very top heavy in regards to league competitiveness.
From Second City Hockey’s recap of the Chicago Blackhawks being swept in the first round of last season’s NHL Playoffs:
The Chicago Blackhawks are the first No. 1 seed in the history of the NHL or NBA to be swept in the first round by a No. 8 seed. The last NHL No. 1 seed to lose in the first round was the 2012 Vancouver Canucks, while the last NBA No. 1 seed to lose was the 2007 Dallas Mavericks.
 Parity is a synonym of the mediocrity and in the NHL it runs rampant. The classic cliches of “that’s why you play the game” and “on any given night, any team can win” ring true in the NHL. Not so much in the NBA. Sure the Phoenix Suns could beat the Warriors but the safer money would be to bet on the New Jersey Devils beating the Penguins.
In the NHL you could legitimately make a case for all 16 teams making the playoffs and having a chance to hoist Lord Stanley. The same cannot be said for the NBA, as nobody gave the Portland Trailblazers a chance to win multiple games against the Warriors never-mind win the series.
With this past summer’s free agency, the Western Conference may feature 7 of the best 10 teams in the entire league. You may want to feel some sympathy for the Warriors in their quest to repeat as champions but the Pittsburgh Penguins also play in a conference where 7 other teams are better than .500 as well.

All Hail The…

Pittsburgh Penguins received the unanimous vote in the Win Column Sports writers room as the team most deserving of your respect for their recent championship acumen.


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