Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Since you've all just read my season predictions in review and have seen that the predictions game is not something I'm all that amazing at. However, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to try my hand at playoff predictions again. Here come my Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions with a little blurb about each series.

Eastern Conference:

Division Semis:

BOS over DET in 7: The Wings are a scrappy team that will give Boston problems, but the Bruins are the deepest team in the East for a reason. There might just be too much for Detroit to overcome here.

MTL over TB in 6: The Bolts are a younger team and many of their players haven't experienced the playoff wars yet. The Habs are more experienced, and have a higher likelihood of having the hot goalie, since the Bolts best candidate is injured. Habs/Bruins anyone?

PIT over CBJ in 5: 'Lumbus is everyone's second (or first) favorite team in these playoffs, and for good reason. But unfortunately, the Pens are still the favorites, and despite their past playoff transgressions, they have too much for Columbus, who lost 5 times to Pittsburgh this season.

NYR over PHI in 6: The Flyers turnaround this season has been remarkable, and in a weird twist, the Rangers have been a quieter team all around. They may be the second best team in the East, and with Henrik's ability to shut a series down, the Rangers should be able to take it.

Division Finals:

BOS over MTL in 6: Who doesn't love a series between Boston and Montreal? These teams not only hate each other, but they respect each other at the same time, and that should make for a great series. But, the Bruins have the ability to push the Habs around in a way I don't think can be reciprocated.

NYR over PIT in 6: The Penguins goaltending woes in the postseason are going to come back to bite them here. The Rangers will ride a wave of momentum from ousting Philly to then ousting the other team from the Keystone State.

Eastern Conference Final:

BOS over NYR in 5: Just as it went a year ago, and despite the coaching change for the Rangers, I just can't see them competing on the same level with Boston unless Henrik Lundqvist plays well out of his mind.

Western Conference:

Division Semis:

COL over MIN in 6: Will the young Avs mature in many of their first trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs? Will their abject terribleness in puck possession come back to bite them? Will Minnesota's goaltending carousel settle down enough for them to beat the Avs again in the postseason? Probably not.

CHI over STL in 6: The Blues are slumping, banged up, and in a funk. And now, they get to play the Blackhawks, who are getting healthy at just the right time. Bad combination. I don't think St. Louis will be able to score enough to keep up with the Hawks, who easily could out-muscle the Blues as well.

ANA over DAL in 5: Even if you are on the "Bruce Boudreau can't coach in the playoffs" bandwagon (which I am), last year they ran into the playoff-tested Detroit Red Wings. The Stars may be the classic "we're just happy to be here" team for this postseason, like the Islanders of last year or the Panthers of 2012. That doesn't bode well.

SJ over LA in 7: This will be the best series of all of the 8 first rounders. These teams are so evenly matched, and they know every detail about each other too. They can shut each other down, and beat each other up. Home ice might well decide things as it did a year ago. The Kings had it then, and the Sharks have it now. The Sharks may also have just enough secondary scoring to scrape by if their top line is shut down by Drew Doughty.

Division Finals:

CHI over COL in 5: This is where the Avs problems in playoff experience and puck possession (not to mention they play man-to-man defense) will probably bite them. Colorado may be able to skate with the Hawks, but they'll need Semyon Varlamov to steal more than 1 game in the series to have a chance. The Hawks have been there and done that, and the Avalanche just haven't yet.

SJ over ANA in 5: Again, here is where the Boudreau-playoff funk will come into play. The Sharks have something special about them this season, and the Ducks won't be able to compete on the same footing with the well-coached Sharks defense. I also trust Antti Niemi more than I do Jonas Hiller or John Gibson.

Western Conference Final:

SJ over CHI in 7: They're going to get over the hump! I don't know how, but I just have a feeling this year might be the year. Maybe it's Tomas Hertl, I don't know.

2014 Stanley Cup Final:

BOS over SJ in 6: It shouldn't feel like chalk even when you pick the President's Trophy winners to win the Cup, because you can find faults with the Bruins, but they are the most complete team right now. Only really Chicago and. St. Louis may give them real fits, and they're both long gone. The Bruins will hoist the Cup once again. Also... the Joe Thornton storylines... who doesn't want to see this play out?

Sorry to Bruins and Sharks fans in advance.

2013-14 NHL Season Predictions (In Review)

In an annual self-shaming exercise, it's time to review my preseason NHL predictions before the playoffs begin. Usually, this is the time when I publicly wipe egg off my face for my silly predictions that went wrong simply because I tried to be different, and in a few instances get to pump my own tires for looking like a genius. It will probably be a lot of the former, if you're curious.

Metro Division: My preseason order went (on the side is the correct order):

1) PIT   (Correct)
2) NYR (Correct)
3) PHI   (Correct)
4) WSH  (CBJ)
5) NYI    (WSH)
6) CBJ     (NJ)
7) CAR   (Correct)
8) NJ       (NYI)

Not too bad, aside from grossly overestimating the Islanders.

Atlantic Division:

1) BOS  (Correct)
2) DET   (TB)
3) OTT   (MTL)
4) MTL  (DET)
5) TB   (OTT)
6) FLA   (TOR)
7) TOR   (FLA)
8) BUF  (Correct)

Hooray, I bookended the division correctly! At least I didn't fall into the Leafs trap.

Central Division:

1) CHI    (COL)
2) STL    (Correct)
3) MIN    (CHI)
4) NSH    (MIN)
5) DAL   (Correct)
6) WPG  (Correct)
7) COL   (NSH)

I think everyone didn't expect the Avs to do what they ended up doing, so I don't feel too bad.

Pacific Division:

1) LA   (ANA)
2) SJ     (Correct)
3) PHX   (LA)
4) VAN   (PHX)
5) ANA   (VAN)
6) EDM   (CGY)
7) CGY   (EDM)

Oh well, this is where it all kinda went wrong. Never doubt a Bruce Boudreau team in the regular season is the lesson here.

Overall I correctly predicted 11 out of 16 playoff teams. Not too terrible, but I could have done better.

Awards Predictions:

President's Trophy: Pittsburgh (Boston won it, but they might have won it if it wasn't for the injuries).
Hart: Sidney Crosby (Hey, he will! Shocker.)
Art Ross: Alex Ovechkin (He won the Rocket Richard, but not the Ross. Thanks Sid)
Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos (See above)
Vezina: Antti Niemi (Either Varlamov or Rask will win this)
Norris: Alex Pietrangelo (Lots of choices for this award, but I don't think Pietrangelo will get it)
Calder: Filip Forsberg (Facepalm. Nathan MacKinnon has this won, but I couldn't have been more wrong. New Rule: Whoever Jeff Marek picks for the Calder... DON'T DO IT).
Selke: Jonathan Toews (Nope. Patrice Bergeron has this one locked up)
Jack Adams: Dave Tippett (Again no... thanks Patrick Roy).

Overall... not too many hilariously bad picks aside from Forsberg for Calder, so really par for the course. Now as for my playoff picks... I can't promise anything.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Oh Canada... Please Root for Us!

As it seems increasingly likely that the Montreal Canadiens will be Canada's only entrant into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it has also become high time for some to talk about "Canada's Team", again. No, we're not saying the Habs are Canada's team, but one might say that they are this years "Canada's Team". The last bastion of Canadian hope to take the Stanley Cup back home for the first time in 21 years, the one that will carry the Maple Leaf flag on high and parade it around wherever they may march... That sounded a little too much like a parody for it to be real, but in some circles it is. And the hockey world goes through this song and dance every single playoffs. Two questions: Why, and can this be stopped immediately?

Maybe there's a mis-perception that all of Canada is unified behind whatever team is the last one standing in the playoff dogfight, and whether it be an American or Canadian perception is not really relevant. Maybe this does go along with the (false) sense that Canadian fans aren't as tribal as their counterparts down South. And in a shocking development... they're pretty tribal, and in some cases more tribal than American fans. It would pain the hearts of already pained Leafs fans to see the Habs hoist the Stanley Cup, as it would pain fans of the Sens, probably the Canucks (because no one in Canada aside from Vancouver likes them, apparently), and the prairie teams too... because their team didn't win. It's just as natural as a Rangers fan not wanting the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup because they're the "last Metropolitan team standing". So why do some assume that "Canada's team" is always the last one standing? Is it because the media microscope is focused on them the tightest? Is it really because Jim Hughson and company are calling their games for Hockey Night? Please.

Maybe the sentiment is louder this year because the rest of Canada's NHL outfits have either been shipwrecks, or dumpster fires, or dumpster fires of shipwrecks. That still doesn't change anything for Johnny Leafs fan in Etobicoke, who'd want nothing more than to see the Habs flame out of the postseason. It would be the same for any Habs fan rooting for the Leafs if they were last in, or a Flames fan rooting for the Oilers (it has happened in the past, snop snickering), etc, etc. Yes, people born in the time between the Habs hoisting the Cup in 1993 and now are just about to be of legal drinking age in the States (commence feeling old), but that doesn't mean that the Canadian exceptionalist has to root for the Habs because they're the last one with a Canadian postmark left in the postseason.

The Cup's coming "home" anyway, because the majority of every team's roster is Canadian to begin with!

But that doesn't answer the question of "why", even if it does get the fringes to silence themselves for 30 seconds. In fact, this rings a bit close to home for some of us.

Remember those "fans" around the BCS National Championship game every year who would root for the SEC flavor of the year because they too were a fan of a SEC team? And you really hated those people, and loved it when everyone made fun of them? Maybe this is in fact the Canadian version of that... we have to root for the last Canadian team at the ball because they are Canadian and I'm Canadian... makes sense, doesn't it? It's a twisted version of "I'm an Ole Miss fan who watched my team get pumped by Alabama this year, but I'm going to root for them because SEC!" with a "eh" thrown in. It somehow tickles a pleasure sensor in the brain that responds to subtle validation of their own teams worthlessness. "I don't feel as bad about my team being junk now since one of the teams in our conference that beat the stuffing out of us just won the National Championship! Go SEC!" and "I'm rooting for the Habs because they're Canadian and I'm Canadian and it makes me happy to see a Canadian team win the Cup even though (insert any of the other 6 here) is garbage. Go Canada!" sound eerily similar. But that's just an analogy, not an answer.

Truth is, there probably isn't an answer to why this silly ritual gets revived and recanted annually in the middle of April. And finding one is probably fruitless. If that's the case, then this is my personal plea for it to stop, from the fans to the hacks (sic media) who want to further it.

Bruce Arthur, who is a far better scribe than I'll ever be, said it best:

"We've already seen a hockey team this year that united the country with Price in goal. One was enough".

One certainly is enough.