Thursday, April 20, 2006

NHL Playoff Predictions: Western Conference

Welcome, everyone, to what is hopefully the first of many SportsMatters NHL playoff predictions. Joining me this year are Alex Abboud, Avi Schaumberg, Nathan Muhly, and the 2k6 NHL tournament simulator. This post will cover the Western Conference predictions. The Eastern Conference predictions can be seen right below, or here. Before we get started, let me provide you with some links that will help you in your hockey pilgrimage over the next two months.

Matchups and series breakdowns from Yahoo!

ESPN main playoff page

Matchups from ESPN

NHL playoff odds report from Colby Cosh

Coverage from The Battle of Alberta

Coverage from Tyler at mc79hockey

If you want to look at more blogs, check out our "Hockey Pages" links to the right, or look for links on the pages of BoA and mc79hockey. They have plenty. I imagine the blogosphere will be quite entertaining over the next little while.

If I could, I would also like to make several comments that probably don't belong in my actual picks. First off, let me note how excited I am to be able to see my two favorite teams in the playoffs this year. Of course, I am a die-hard Edmonton Oilers fan, but it is awesome that the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes also made it to the dance. I am tempted to cut my two jerseys in half and create one of those two-teams-in-one deals, but a) I am lazy and b) that is gay. The rotation will have to suffice.

I am also excited about being able to watch some hockey games with teams from the east. Being from the west, and with the NHL's new scheduling, I get stuck watching Anaheim, Columbus and Calgary twenty-four times a year. ZZZZZ. I am excited to see Carolina, Buffalo and the Rangers play some hockey. Oh, and no Leafs or Canucks in the playoffs this year. HA! FUCK YOU GUYS!!!

So who will win it all? I don't know, and these posts only cover the first round. But looking into my crystal ball, put me down for these four teams in the final: Calgary and San Jose from the West, New Jersey and Carolina from the East. My sleeper pick: the Buffalo Sabres. That is a good, balanced hockey team, and Ryan Miller has been terrific all year.

Goaltending is always important, but it becomes increasingly critical in the playoffs. That is why I like Jersey and Calgary to go deep. Almost every goalie in the tournament lacks real playoff experience, so if experience matters at all, look for Martin Brodeur and Mikka Kiprusoff to carry their teams to the semis. If absolutely forced to make a pick for the final, I am going to roll with Carolina and San Jose, with the Hurricanes taking it all. Eric Staal will win the Conn Smythe trophy in his 2nd year as a pro.

In the category of completely useless statistics, it is not worth noting that only twice since the NHL went to an 80 game schedule in 1974/75 have 10 NHL teams finished the season with over 100 points. It happened in 2003/2004, and again this year. Six teams in the East finished with over 100 points in 05/06. Four did so in the West. Like I said, completely useless, so do with it what you will.

I also decided to run a video game simulation this year to see who would win in the playoffs. I ended up using NHL 2k6 because EA NHL 06 actually eliminated the playoff mode feature in their game. How is that possible, and how come I haven't heard anyone bitch about it all year? Anyways, Kevin ended up running the tournament for me on his XBox. That worked out fine, because he could update the rosters to exactly where they are right now, trades, injuries and all. Kevin was going out tonight, so we did it quickly on the phone. For the next round, I hope to provide more detail of what is occuring in those simulated games. Right now, you just get the results. Kevin laughed his ass off as he read me the results, and just wanted to let everyone know that any person picking either the Lightning or the Oilers to win in Round 1 is an idiot. Fair enough, but mark me down as an idiot. As you will see, I am going with the Oil in the sweet sixteen.

In hindsight, I should have had everyone make their picks all the way through the playoffs, and then created a pool. Similar to what is done with March Madness picks. I would have liked to have seen if we could beat the computer. My guess is that the computer wouldn't fare much worse than the rest of us. I suppose we can still do it round by round, but it would have been nice to do the whole shebang at once.

Well, that is all got. I hope you enjoy the posts, and be sure to drop some comments. Gooooo Oil!!!

Oh, one more thing. Did Nate and I hear right when we heard that Sean Avery would be joining the SportsNet hockey guys for the playoffs? As if Kypreos isn't bad enough, they have to give that clown a mic? If it is true, put me down for not watching a single second of their coverage.

(1) Detroit Red Wings
(124 pts.)
(8) Edmonton Oilers
(95 pts.)
Season series tied, 2-2
Game Times

The regular-season record lies. It’s time for the Oil to roll over and bite the pillow. Don’t worry for them, though. It’ll be over too fast to hurt.
Pick: Detroit in 5.

All four of their games this season were close, which belies the fact that Detroit is much more talented than Edmonton. Since coming over from Minnesota at the trade deadline, Dwayne Roloson has stabilized Edmonton's goaltending – their weakness all year long. However, playing at his current level won't be good enough to take more than a game or two from Detroit. Can Dwayne be a star in this series? I don't think so. While I have my doubts about how far they can go, Detroit's depth and talent will overwhelm Edmonton.

The games will probably be close, but the series won't be.
Pick: Detroit in 4.

The Wings have been the benefactors of a weak division, but their Western Conference best 305 goals and second best goals against record should hold up in a series against the skilled Edmonton Oilers. The Oil have matched up well in the regular season against Detroit, but they lack the goaltending to contend with the league’s number one power play and number two offense.
Pick: Detroit in 5.

One, drop your gloves. Two, catch jersey. Three, over the head. And where I’m from, we call this the Inglewood jack. What’d I say?”
“Inglewood jack.”
“That’s the waaayy.”
“Inglewood jack.”
“Ya. Inglewood jack.”
--Puck Fiction

I have been stoked about Detroit playing Edmonton, if only because it means not having to watch the Dallas Stars. My loathing of Hatcher, Zubov and Alyssa Modano is off the charts, so much so that if I saw any of them in the bar or on the street I would seriously consider shivving each of them in the side. I figure no jury in Alberta would put me away for that. Hell, I could win a mayoral race with those three swift strokes! But looking over the Detroit roster today made me realize that the Oil now have to face my least favorite hockey player--probably least favorite human being--of all time. That's right, Chris Fucking Chelios. The very thought of seeing that smug fuck's face for the next four to seven games makes me retarded angry. Like green skin, purple jeans angry. I hope to God someone beats the living piss out of that guy. Seriously. I can separate my sports fanaticism from the real world most of the time, but the Greek God of All Talk makes me blind to the fact that hockey is just a game. I don't even care that he is buddy buddy with John Cusack at this point. I...hate...that...fucking...guy. God, I am livid already.

Anyways, I was going to go on a big rant about how the Red Wings play in a shitty division, that they are a worse team than they look while the Oilers are a better team than they look, and pick the Oilers in six or seven. But then I saw these numbers in the comments of a BoA post, and my cleverly developed ideas went out the window. It appears that Detroit has been awesome no matter who they played, although the point total numbers still end up being inflated. Damn. Now what to do?

Screw it. I'm going with the Oil anyways. Detroit hasn't done shit in the playoffs since Vin Diesel was popular. They have dinosaurs on defence (Chelios, Cross, Woolley, Schneider, Lidstrom), and dinosaurs on offence (Draper, Holmstrom, Lang, Maltby, Shanahan, Yzerman). Their goaltending is average, and look at it this way: THEY have Dan Cleary on their team this year, not us. There isn't a team in the Western Conference I would rather face right now than the Red Wings. The Oil need to skate their asses off, and hit the geriatrics until their dentures fall out, but if they do, I'm giving them the win. Now go get me some Little Caesars!
Pick: Edmonton in 6.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Edmonton wins 4-2.

(2) Dallas Stars
(112 pts.)
(7) Colorado Avalanche
(95 pts.)
Stars won season series, 3-1
Game Times

It’s a great matchup, just two rounds too early. Dallas will prove that everything old is new again, and that defence conquers all. Colorado’s only hope is that Theodore can find his legs: but in five outings since coming off the injury he’s got one decent game to show for it and an .880 save percentage. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same as what he posted in Montreal.
Pick: Dallas in 5.

Dallas has a great blend of experienced vets and energetic youngsters, backstopped by the solid Marty Turco. They're three lines deep, and have talent across the board. In other words, they look like a team that should roll through the first round or two of the playoffs, and will probably win the West.

Colorado has a lot of talent, and would be a sleeper in this conference if I had any confidence in either of their goalies. I don't, so this adds up to a quick Dallas win.
Pick: Dallas in 5.

I’ll make this quick. Colorado will lose. It won’t even be close, the Stars will take this series in four games. Why, you may ask? To put it simply: Josee Theodore and Petr Budaj. I have nothing against Budaj (let’s not forget he’s a back up goalie), but Theodore has looked awful since coming back from injury. His timing is off and it still looks like he’s expecting his glove to be about twice the size it really is every time a puck flies over his left shoulder into the net.
Pick: Dallas in 4.

"You know, your son looks like a fag to me. You better get married again 'cause he's gonna wind up with somebody's cock in his mouth before you can say 'Jack Robinson'."
--Slap Shot

Did I mention how much I hate Alyssa Modano, and that stupid grimace/wince he always flashes when he gets hit? And that Jason "Who's Your Daddy" Arnott is also on the Stars? Okay, just making sure. It doesn't matter, as Dallas will roll over the Avalanche. Like I said at the deadline, Pierre Lacroix pulled an Isaiah Thomas in trading for Jose Theodore. If Lacroix wanted a french goalie so bad, he would have been better off trading for Denis Lemieux. Call me a stupid english pig, but the loss of David Aebischer and Marek Svatos will be too much for Colorado. Also put me down as saying that Burnaby Joe Sakic retires at the end of this season.

The Oilers and Stars will meet again, in Round 2.
Pick: Dallas in 5.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Dallas wins 4-1

(3) Calgary Flames
(103 pts.)
(6) Anaheim Mighty Ducks
(98 pts.)
Season series tied, 2-2
Game Times

The Flames are the anti-hockey team, rarely scoring (218) or scored upon (200). Lucky for them they have home-ice advantage, because they proved incapable of winning outside the ‘dome (16-18-7). That’s not a characteristic of a championship club. Kiprusoff will carry them for now, until the red tide is turned back by Detroit or Dallas.
Pick: Calgary in 6.

The defending Western champs have gone from being the two-pony act they were in 2004 to a one-pony act in 2006. Jarome had an ordinary year, and this team is in the position it is because of Mikka Kiprusoff's heroics in goal. If he struggles, they probably don't have a prayer in this series.

The Ducks were my pre-season pick to win the conference. However, I renounced that selection two months into the season, and though they played better, I don't have much more confidence in them now than I did then. They're a one-line team, built around a solid defense and goaltending tandem. They probably won't outscore Calgary, which means that I'm picking the team with the best goalie.
Pick: Calgary in 6.

J.S. Giguere and Teemu Selanne have apparently managed to find a time machine and return to better times in their career, Scott Niedermayer is making a bid for the Norris Trophy, and if I were flames fan I would be very afraid…oh wait, I AM a Flames fan. Iginla, its time to start earning your salary. Kiprusoff, please stay healthy and continue to steal games.
Pick: Calgary in 7.

The Kings suck in this game. You should play another team.”
“I took the Kings to the Cup.”
“Yeah, against the computer with the offsides off.”
“They're a finesse team, bro.”
“They're a fuckin' bitch team. Score... Oh!”
“You bitch! What a fuckin' bitch!”
“Watch out, motherfucker.”
“No, you do not fuckin' hit my elbow.”
“It's not even so much me as it's Roenick. He's good.”
“Oh, is that right?”

That essentially covers it. It's not so much the Flames as it is Kiprusoff. He's good. Okay fine, they have a great defensive core and one pretty darn good foward, but really Kipper has been the show. And does anyone else feel that Flames coach Darryl Sutter is slowly turning into Mike Keenan? I'm just waiting to see that he has picked up Peter Zezel, Stephane Matteau, and Brian Noonan for the playoff run. At least he hasn't traded anyone out of sheer egoism yet. Yet.

Fortunately for the Flames, the Ducks are a bitch team. Need further proof? They are named after a Disney movie. Sure, I wish Brian Burke was managing my team, and sure they have some great young talent and a Norris trophy winner in Scott Niedermayer, but it just won't be enough against the Flames. My greatest hope is that the games are as chippy as the last game between them was, and that former Flame goalie J.S. Gigeure quacks his way down to the other end of the ice and beaks at Kipper's solar plexus. It may open up his manipura chakra, but I'm willing to gamble on it causing him to leave the series in extreme discomfort.
Pick: Calgary in 6.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Calgary wins 4-2

(4) Nashville Predators
(106 pts.)
(5) San Jose Sharks
(99 pts.)
Season series tied, 2-2
Game Times

Thirty-year-old Red Deer native Chris Mason is on fire, having given up just seven goals in his past six games. But he’s going to have his hands full with Thornton and Cheechoo, and once his hands are full, the net will follow.
Pick: San Jose in 5.

Get a good look at Joe Thornton while you still can, because if history holds, he's about to disappear until next season. Seriously now, on paper this one should be all San Jose, boasting the Art Ross and Rocket Richard winners (Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo) and being the team that was hot down the stretch. Conversely, Nashville just lost their starting goaltender for the rest of the season.

I think Nashville is better than most people think. Chris Mason has proven himself at every level (except the NHL, where he's never had the chance), and I think he matches up well against San Jose. He has a talented team in front of him led by Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya (who will light it up), and the Sharks, while talented, are thinner on defense than in the past, and have an offense built around Joe Thornton's disappearing act. The Preds will take this one, but it will be close.
Pick: Nashville in 7.

Much has been made of how inflated Detroit’s regular season record has been due to the unimaginable suckiness of their division. If the Wings’ league leading 124 points is an overestimation of the team’s ability, then the same must be true for the Nashville Predators, who played the same crappy division rivals the same number of times. With the loss of Thomas Vokoun for the playoffs, the Preds will be in tough against a San Jose team that has been burning up the league and boasts the 2005/06 Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophy winners. Nashville has played well down the stretch, despite missing Vokoun, Marek Zidlicky and Steve Sullivan, and Chris Mason has won his past five starts (though four of those were against non-playoff teams). The ability to play a complete team game and Mason’s serviceable goaltending should allow the Preds to hang around in this series, but the Sharks have too much depth and will prove too much for Nashville.
Pick: San Jose in 6.

"Reg, that reminds me. I's coachin' in Omaha in 1948 and Eddie Shore sends me this guy that's a terrible masturbator. You know, couldn't control himself? Well, he would get deliberate penalties so he could get into the penalty box all by himself and, damned if he wouldn't, you know ..."
"Oh Joe, Jesus."
"What was his name?"
--Slap Shot

This is probably the hardest sweet sixteen series for me to pick. Lots to weigh here. Nashville: well coached/good depth/Paul Kariya vs. coach is a hunchback/injured starting goalie/play in Gaylord arena. San Jose: hot team/hot players/hot ladies in the stands vs. Joe Thornton in the playoffs/pedophile goaltender/teal blue uniforms. Sigh. How can I choose? You know what would make it easier for me? If Jordin Tootoo and Jonathan Cheechoo got in a tussle within the first five minutes of Game 1. Whoever wins the fight, I pick their team. Plus, I really, really want to hear someone call that scrap: "Tootoo hits Cheechoo in the Yoohoo, Cheechoo comes back with a left Hoohoo, and Tootoo is down on his Wazoo! Cheechchoo has knocked Tootoo down on his Wazooo!!!" I think Bob Cole's head would explode.
Pick: San Jose in 7.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Nashville wins 4-1.


At 9:02 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Grand logos. You'll be happy to know that Avery didn't last a day...the NHL put in a mob-style phone call to the network, which they related this way. Try reading their words aloud in a thick Jersey accent:

"We talked about what we thought was going to make good television...In my opinion, their panel was better without Sean Avery." -- John Shannon, NHL Sr VP Broadcasting

Perfectly clear, eh? Not that anyone was pressured or anything:

"In the final analysis, it was Sportsnet's decision...They were free to do or not do whatever they chose." -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Sure, Gary.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Curious: For two of the four matchups, the humans are unanimous and the computer agrees.

In the remaining two matchups, one of the human forecasters goes out on a limb (Andy with Edmonton and Alex with Nashville), and in both cases the computer follows them.

One run of the 2k6 NHL "simulator" is hardly scientific, but this result is too curious to ignore.

Cosh's "Big Spreadsheet" gives about a 30% chance to these two underdog teams -- which is more chance than I give them. But the game and our two human outliers are trying to tell us something. Maybe we should listen.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I would have liked to have simulated the game 10 times, and formulated odds based on placements, but I just didn't have the time.


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