Monday, April 14, 2014

Here Goes Nothing

I don't think I've ever had less of a handle on the playoffs than I do this year. Mostly this is because of the way the west finished. If you want to talk about true contenders I have five - San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston. And four of these meet in the first round as Anaheim held on in the Pacific and Colorado zoomed right by the Blues in the last two weeks. Crazy shit.

 I did a count last year on my first round predictions going back to 2006 and was amazed to find out that I had gone 40 and 16 and then preceded to go 7 and 1 for an overall record of 47 and 17 so I guess I'm doing something right but this year I'm not very confident mostly because there are so many 'pick em' series but also because so many key players are either hurt or just returning from injury. Bishop, Toews, Patrick Kane, Doughty, McDonaugh. Obviously if Drew Doughty is not Drew Doughty then the Kings are dead meat so this is also part of the mix.

 Here is what I look at when I'm making my picks.

 First of all I do not look at how a team finished the season or at the head to head matchups. To me they don't mean a thing. Sometimes a team will finish strongly and go all the way and sometimes they will not and they will win the Cup. Every year people say 'oh they finished such and such a way' and it really doesn't matter. Same for head to head, a game in November or January doesn't tell me anything now.

 The huge thing for me is depth. Obviously injuries play a huge part in the playoffs but also year after year we see that clubs with deep rosters go farther. If you can roll four lines, as Chicago and Boston did last year for example, then you're going to go a long way. For example if Toronto had dressed an actual hockey player rather than Colton Orr last spring I believe they may have survived game seven. Certainly having someone you could throw out there who could play a reliable shift would have helped. In a similar vein as the Bruins began to get banged up their depth suffered and as the series wore on against Chicago the Hawks were able to use their superior depth to push the pace. As a result they had the puck more, Chara especially was forced to defend more and by the end of the series the Bruins were done. To me I always look for teams that run four lines deep and six defencemen as well.

 When I look at records the big thing for me is goal differential. A team that is even or maybe even in the red is a team that I always avoid. The real heavyweights are the clubs that have a big goal differential. This may seem like common sense but I look at that even more than I look at a club's win loss record.

 I don't put a lot of stock in your usual narratives, teams that 'know how to win' and all of that. Nearly every year since the end of that stretch where the Cup was always won by the Wings, Avs, Stars or Devils has had a different starting goalie lead his team to the Cup (except for when the Wings won in '08 I think) as an example. So I don't look at the Blues and think that they can't win because Miller has never won the Cup for example or at San Jose and think that they are going to fail because they're San Jose. Intangibles like this are just a lot of noise imo.

 Of course as an out I always say that anything can happen (because it can) - injuries, hot goalie, bad luck. Its hockey so sometimes that's the way it goes but generally I feel pretty good about how I make my picks.

 Anyhow here we go. I have a better handle (I think) on the east so I'll start there. I figure Boston to come out of the east because I like going out on a limb but if they falter somehow then its really wide open.


 Bruins v Wings

 I think the Bruins come out of the East. I also think that if they fail it may be here. Detroit was ravaged by injuries as we all know. I think Babcock is an outstanding coach and that the Wings have enough speed to trouble the Bruins' blue line. The Leafs almost took Boston down last year and the Wings are better than that club, right?

 The problem is that the Bruins are just so good. The Wings had a negative goal differential (and of course a lot of that is due to the injuries they faced) but the Bruins are plus 84. Plus 84! That's unreal. And the kids on the blueline have come in and done a great job replacing Ference and the injured Seidenberg. The Bruins also have perhaps the best goalie in the league and their depth up front is outstanding. Six forwards with over fifty points, a seventh with 48 in 73 games and Loui Eriksson isn't even in that group. If the Wings had Zetterberg I'd think they might have a better shot at this but the Bruins are just too good and way too deep. The Wings will give them a bit of a scare but unless they get unreal puck luck or Rask blows up its Bruins in six, maybe less.

 Tampa v Habs

 These two teams are just so underwhelming if that's a word, I know it's not 'cause Sloan sang about it, but really whoever comes out of this is going to be meat for the Bruins.

 The Habs are loaded with famous players (because they're the Habs) who don't impress and the Lightning have a bunch of anonymous players, especially up front, who don't do much for me either but ... Tampa were a +25 and that is without Stamkos for a lot of the year while Montreal was +11. Tampa has the best forward in the series and while the Habs have PK Tampa counters with Hedman and on top of that I like their D, a couple of nice vets in Brewer and Salo, Matt Carle. Its a coin flip but I say Tampa in 7 with one caveat which I normally do not ask for, if Bishop can't play then I'll take the Habs in 7, maybe 6.

 Pens v Columbus

 To me this is similar to the Pen's opening round series last year. I don't rate the Pens at all really. Their D is shoddy, their depth up front is atrocious and that grinning buck toothed bastard Fleury has ruined my pool the last two years the prick. That said it's Columbus. They're solid but with Nathan Horton and Umberger out its not like they're loaded up front outside of Ryan Johansen; only two other Jackets had more than twenty goals. So while I do think the BJs (heh) have the edge in goal and the Pens back end is not championship calibre I don't believe that Columbus has enough to really threaten Pittsburgh even with Malkin out. Pittsburgh in six.

 Rangers v Flyers

 After Boston I like the Rangers out east. I don't think they can beat Boston but if the Bruins stumble or Chara or Rask gets hurt then I think New York could pull it off. The Rangers were a plus 25, the Flyers barely in the black. The Flyers really stumbled out of the gate so I think they are better than that and I think this series will be close but New York has more top end talent at every position and that will be enough to get them over the top. The clincher is that it sounds like McDonaugh is good to go. Rangers in six, maybe even seven.

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