(TSN.ca) – It really is a rags-to-riches story for Gaudreau, who is playing for his job next season as a restricted free agent. He started with the Nashville organization in 2014 on a minor-league contract, beginning his career in ECHL Cincinnati.

After making his way to AHL Milwaukee, he earned a two-year, two-way NHL deal, which has paid him an approximate total of $215,000 over these last two seasons – or about four days’ worth of work for P.KSubban

It seems like every year while the NHL playoffs are blowing our minds a rookie or some previously unheralded player is a huge part of it. Matt Murray did it last year for the Penguins. Mike Rupp did it in 2003, scoring a Cup winning overtime goal for the Devils. It was Rupp’s first career playoff goal and he only scored one more in 62 playoff games. A relative unknown at the time, John LeClair, had two OT winners for the Habs in the 1993 Final. And LeClair’s fellow UVM alum Tim Thomas went from European obscurity to arguably the greatest post season run a goalie has ever had. 

Now Frederick Gaudreau is taking his turn:

The Predators undrafted center, helping fill the void left by an injured Ryan Johansen, has scored his first three career NHL goals in this Stanley Cup Final. Two of them were game winners at home. And he doesn’t even have a locker in the dressing room because he hasn’t played enough NHL games yet. Hell, he was loaned to ECHL Cincinnati at one point in his career. It’s a great story that could be capped off with a Cinderella feeling for the kid if he can hoist the Cup. 

Gaudreau is everything the NBA doesn’t have. Underdogs getting it done. Surprise clutch players. Dramatic, gutsy, impactful efforts from role guys that determine the outcomes of series. The NBA is not that. 

Over the last 28 NBA seasons LeBron (7), Jordan (6), Shaq (6), Kobe (7), and Duncan (6) have been the Finals featured players. That’s 23 of 28 years. And if Jordan didn’t take time off to play Little League it’d be 25 of the last 28 years. Essentially the most talented player wins or carries the team in that league. If you don’t have one of those players the odds of winning a championship are near zero. Add in the fact the NBA has become a soft, ticky-tack call filled, dribbling is optional, watered down league, and you get a less than great product. The Golden State Warriors may be bucking “the best player wins” trend by beating the best player right now, but they’re also in their third straight Final and have the other 2-4 best players in the league. They’ll also be in the next five Final’s. 

It’s not to say there isn’t great talent or athleticism in the NBA today. But to use an analogy, even Robert De Niro can have a few bad films. He’s one of the greatest actors of all-time but if the story is predictable and thin, the rest of the cast largely irrelevant, and there’s no real substance or conflict then you have a movie like the NBA. Unwatchable.

That is where the NHL will always have the edge when it comes to pure entertainment that derives from the grind, the battle, the mystery of wondering who is going to win. That is essential in creating the best playoffs in all of sports. If the NHL were the NBA Alexander Ovechkin would have at least one ring, or he’d have piggybacked on the Pens and won four or more. But thankfully the NHL doesn’t work like that. 

Even if one NHL team is dominant over stretches, like Chicago or Pittsburgh, you never feel they’re a lock. You still have reasonable doubt if they even can get back to the Final a second time. And a lot of the time that dominant NHL team still needs a bounce, a Game 7 OT heroic, or an offside review, to keep the train rolling. The grind that is the NHL playoffs will always keep Cup dreams alive in nearly every hockey market out there.

Frederick Gaudreau and the city of Nashville are now embarrassing the NBA’s post season product once again like the boring C-list filled cookie-cutter rom-com script that league has become. 

And now, finally, it seems people like Charles Barkley are even acknowledging it.

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