What if NHL Players Were Played Like NBA Players?

A more star-driven league would look very different.

Phil Kessel plays Basketball with Ryan Reaves - YouTube

This “article” was originally posted on my Patreon on April 29th.

It is often said that a key difference between the NHL and NBA is that in hockey you need a team more than a couple star players to win. Because even the best hockey players play less than half the game, it's harder to market the NHL based on stars, and depth is far more important. But what if it wasn't? What if an NHL starter played 34 minutes out of a 48 minute game time? What if there were only 9 men on a rotation instead of a packed bench of 20 players? These are questions nobody has asked, and nobody has bothered to take the time to answer. Until now. Welcome to the, uh, NHBL? Sure.

A few ground rules here:

  • Players will be valued based on their Wins Above Replacement (EvolvingWild’s model) projected to an 82 game season and the number of minutes they’d play as a starter or bench player.

  • No powerplay minutes here - basketball is played 5 on 5 and so will the NHBL.

  • No goalies either - goaltending is illegal in basketball, as I discovered in grade 11 JV.

  • All starters play 34 minutes and all bench players play 12.

  • Starters/bench players will be chosen based on TOI/GP stats, with a few judgement calls made.

The NHBL 2019-20 Standings

A few surprises here right off the bat. Starting with the East, the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers rise from the real-life playoff bubble to top 50 wins. How are the Habs the 2nd best team in the NHL in this universe?

With no special teams to worry about, no depth problems, and no Carey Price issues *ducks bagel*, the Habs are free to lean on their superb top-of-the-lineup even strength players, and dominate possession. Sure they more than likely miss some foul shots, but this team is built for this challenge. As for the Rangers...

With Panarin up front, a solid centre in Zibanejad, a young stud guard in Fox, and talent coming off the bench the Rangers are more than ready to make up for a few holes in their lineup. The real-life Rangers are shallow as hell, but that's not a problem in this universe.

But what about the West? The Minnesota Wild winning the central? Arizona far worse than Detroit?

The Wild are the perfect example of a team that benefits in this universe. They can rise to the top thanks to Jared Spurgeon - their 5"9 Giannis. They have an excellent bench with young talent up front and reliable guards. And most importantly, no Devan Dubnyk.

As for the Yotes, they dress the worst starting forward in the NHBL (presumably because he hits a nice 3 once in a while) and an over-the-hill pair of guards. Their bench isn't too impressive either outside of Chyrchrun. This is a squad that could use its goaltenders back.

So who's the cream of the crop?

This one was obvious. A borderline 2017 Warriors-level group up front with some serious talent coming off the bench. The Lightning are the team to beat, especially without the mediocre goaltending they get in real life.

Their presumptive opponent from the west? A deadly Vegas team with star power on the wings and on defence without the risk of Fleury in the net. Mark Stone and Pacioretty can beat you from anywhere with Theodore to generate offence from the back court. 


So what have we learned? Well, nothing. But it would be fun if hockey somehow became this star-driven. With modern conditioning the way it is, could we see players able to play 34 minutes a night!? No. But hey, give it a shot Gary Roberts.