Friday, April 15, 2016

Playoff Hockey or as an Oiler Fan Would Say 'Wut that?'

Sure two days into it but check the tweeter if you don't trust me for my picks. I stick by what I said two days earlier despite two early 'upsets', one game in does not a series make as we know!

(That said I have comments on game one results in italics, that's the fancy slanted type of lettering.)

It's amazing how little I post here now, I have the best intentions but ... well, a decade of Oilers' shit has worn me down I guess. Plus I am busy as hell, in a good way. Just back from Spain! Will try and write a little about it. Highly recommend.

Anyhow, PLAYOFFS! 58 and 22 over a decade of predicting the first round right here. Not bad, right? A quick primer on what I look at, copied and pasted from last year, which was copied and pasted from a previous year:

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.

So there you go, maybe next year I will rewrite it, some of these references are getting dated!

On to the picks:

Soupy Campbell Conference

I always tier my selections, to me you have your true contenders, the next tier of teams that could win with a nice run but are not in with the biggest boys (imo Carolina in '06 and the Oilers in '06 as well fit this), a third tier that could do it with the exact right circumstances (93 Habs) and then the also rans. To me there are five real heavyweights this year - Anaheim, LA, St Louis, Washington and Pittsburgh. If Tampa were healthy I would throw them in that mix as well. After that I see Dallas, Chicago and San Jose as good but flawed teams and then everyone else. (I can't take Tampa seriously unless Stralman and Stamkos were able to return.)

Ducks - Preds

Anaheim is one of the big boys, at the beginning of the year I had them and Tampa in the final and after a slow start man oh man have they been something. Great depth all through the lineup which to me is everything, they are probably a better team than last year's club and that first seed means they get to miss LA and SJ in R1. The Preds are not an easy out at all of course, to me they would be a pretender if I were to rank all of the teams although the reality is they probably deserve more respect. Rinne is no longer Rinne which is a big problem, too bad because their offence is no longer as pop gun as it once was. Anyhow Ducks in 6 most likely, as always the Preds draw a powerhouse in the first round, too bad for them.

Kings - Sharks

Kings (and Chicago) are basically given the benefit of the doubt always and yeah I put the Kings in that group of true contenders. They are not the team they once were - Voynov, Williams gone, Gaborik hurt - but they are still possession monsters and that does count for a lot even with their waning depth. Even in their Cup years the Kings relied on two things, especially that second Cup year. Puck luck and Quick to be superhuman. Of course that is part of their system too, throw pucks at the net constantly and good things will happen. In 2014 that is how they won G7 aganinst Chicago.(Last night was a good example, man they get a lot of breaks).

 As for San Jose, well they are heartbreakers. There are so many teams that we have waited on in this year's playoffs - the Caps, the Ducks, the Pens post 2009, the Blues - but the Sharks lead the pack. We always expect them to make it over the top and they always fall short and maybe they are just the Ottawa Senators. They are still very good and they are no easy out but there is no way I can pick them over the Kings. LA in 6, maybe 7. (After 2014 no way I ever pick the Sharks but if Martinez is lost then suddenly the Kings really may be vulnerable, we will see though).

Stars - Wild

The one true mismatch of this conference. I don't rate the Stars yet, mostly due to goaltending, but man are they loaded up front and if they can get a nice quick easy out in R1 it sets them up nicely for the winner of St Louis and Chicago. Meanwhile the Wild who looked so promising just two years ago (and last year for that matter) look lost and those contracts they gave Parise and Suter look like franchise killers. Dallas in 5.

Blues - Hawks

Blues are in the true contender group for me, Chicago is not (!!!!), I just can't get past the Hawks' defence. Seabrook has stumbled this year and that contract is going to be killer unless they can unload it like the Phaneuf deal. And they miss Oduya. That said I actually like their forwards more than last year's group and Crawford has been brilliant this year so maybe I am counting them out at my own peril. And it is the Blues. The biggest bunch of talkers who have won nothing to come down the pipe ever. Still, this has to be their year, right? Right? They've added some gamebreaking skill to that D. They have to make at least the CF! Blues in 7.

Well after game one I have to wonder. I don't know if it is Hitchcock never hearing that safe is death or what but barely eking out a win over a Hawks' team missing Keith? Not confidence inspiring. And maybe you never bet against Chicago and they'll be riding high in a decade when their top pair is Keith and Rozsival.

Ok impromptu street party on so ... might have this done by round two! Back soon.


Lol, at this rate these will be out midway through round two. Anyhow on to the East!

Prince Charles Conference

Bettman wants parity and it may be this that finally drags the West back down to the East's level. Certainly LA and Chicago are no longer LA and Chicago and the remainder of the west looks flawed in some way, except for the Ducks, but out of the East I can see Washington and Pittsburgh (and Tampa if they were healthy) hanging with the big boys out west and so the times they are finally changing. Tampa was right in it with Chicago last year and I expect if the Caps or Pens win the East that the final will be an actual competition than a coronation this year. (Not to say that the Bruins, Rags, Devils and Flyers weren't competitive. They weren't like that collection of teams at the turn of the century that showed up for execution. There was just an air of inevitability in all of those series, the feeling that an eastern win would be a huge upset. Not so much any more.)

Caps - Flyers

 I know the Flyers finished strong and that Steve Mason is the real deal but the Caps are the Ducks imo, so strong top to bottom, with legitimate game breakers up front, I mean Ovie is one of the all time greats, everyone is with that now right? And sure the Caps never win anything and the Pens loom in round two but the Caps finished +59 in GD after coasting for a couple of months and the Flyers were -4 even with their strong surge. So yeah it will be close, Flyers have retooled nicely even though they still have some dummy contracts to dump, but they aren't hanging with Washington. Caps in 6, maybe 5. (The loss of Couturier is just murder for the Flyers. With him out any shot they have is probably down the toilet).

Pens - Rags

 The Pens have been unreal for months and the Rangers' window has closed. With McDonaugh out there is really no way I can see the Rags stopping Pittsburgh at all unless the Pens' goaltending collapses entirely. The Pens were a +42 despite a start that had people burying Crosby's career. The Rangers were +19 and without Lundqvist they are a minus and out of the playoffs. No way they can hang with Pittsburgh even with Malkin and Fleury out. Pens in 6 if Henrik steals 1. Some team is going to get a great coach next summer when Vigneault takes the fall for this roster. (Malkin apparently returning and Lundqvist being doubtful could mean this is over before next weekend).

Panthers - Isles

 Florida had a really nice season and are building towards something nice if they can pay these guys, unlikely of course. Anyhow with Tampa's injury issues they have a nice road to the conference final and then who knows from there, right? Some nice veteran pickups at the deadline add to their depth up front and Luongo can still win them a game or two when they falter. As for the Isles, well they look like one of these teams that looks nice but then never really get anywhere. Okposo is a UFA and Hamonic wants out and thus a team that looked like it was about to turn the corner may never even win a series before their 'window' closes. Snow is really going to have his work cut out for him this summer. Panthers in 6.

Tampa - Wings

Stralman and Stamkos being out probably kills any chance of Tampa returning to the final and talk about showing how fragile a team's opportunity is - Stamkos is gone this summer and Drouin looks set to get out as well and suddenly a team that gave Chicago all they could handle last spring is just another team.

 That said the Wings are exactly that after all of these years, just another team. What a run, basically two decades as a legitimate contender every year. Unreal. But they are done and I suspect this will be the end of their playoff streak. Even with the injuries I'm picking Tampa, the Wings were an ugly minus 13 in GD and the only reason they are in is that someone has to be in. Tampa in 6, maybe 7.

The return of the prodigal son is one storyline I never saw coming. Droun has helped and Johnson has picked up where he left off last spring. Detroit looks mediocre, which they are. This might end up being a sweep.


Gord said...

When I heard Drouin was coming back, I gambled in my playoff pool; have 3 TB players.

Won last year's playoff pool; won this year's regular season pool. Hoping for a 3-peat against my mortal enemies 300 km south of Edmonton... LOL

Black Dog said...

I figured they were done but that division looks ripe for the taking. Don't know if they can get by whomever comes out of the Patrick though. Need Stralman back.