Saturday, June 03, 2006

Stanley Cup Final Predictions

Lots of angles to cover in the Stanley Cup Final series between the Hartford Whalers Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers. Let's get to it:

• As I stated in my post about the World Hockey Association some months ago, no two WHA teams have ever met in the Stanley Cup Finals. That is, until now.

• Edmonton is the first eight seed to ever advance to a Stanley Cup Final. Retards on other sites have been complaining about how bad this is for hockey--seemingly ignoring how good parity has been to the NFL, and that people are currently raving about the parity in the NBA-- but they can kiss my ass. I won't bother linking, but one guy's team hasn't won since they were called the Millionaires. It's pretty easy to figure out why he is so bitter. No one should be terribly surprised at the Oilers success this year. Mildly surprised? Yes. But Edmonton had a winning record in the regular season against every single team they have played in the playoffs, and they also played in the best division in hockey. Anyone who watched the Oilers regularly this year would tell you their one biggest problem--goaltending--lead to their second biggest problem: consistency. General Manager Kevin Lowe solved the first problem, without paying too much to get a "hall of fame" goaltender. The second problem has righted itself, and the Oilers have been off to the races.

• I'm a little disappointed that the Sabres didn't advance to the finals, because I had a page worth of Mike Foligno and Tony McKegney jokes ready to go.

• Former Oilers captain Doug Weight seems poised to take over Teemu Selanne's role as Joey Porter. Selanne is probably still telling random Californians that the Ducks are a better team than the Oilers, despite losing 8 out of 9 games to them this year. Weight hasn't said anything stupid or arrogant yet, but after watching his post-game interview Thursday night, I can feel it coming.

• I am also positive that Weight will take a boarding penalty at some point during the finals. He cost the Canes Game Six against the Sabres by taking one, and he took a similar penalty in 2001 against the Stars, slamming Richard Matvichuk into the boards. Call it an informed hunch. Then again, I mocked Todd Marchant last round, and he manhandled the Oilers. So what do I know?

• Local boy Cam Ward will also be a prominent story this round, though I don't know why. Edmonton produces the best hockey players in the world, and locals have been on all the teams we have played so far. Ward is a Conn Smythe candidate, I guess. And this is the Stanley Cup Finals. But it's nothing new. Furthermore, if the Canes end up winning because of Ward, I doubt many people here will want to hear his name repeated over and over again in local media. He better be on the first plane out of here.

• Speaking of Conn Smythe candidates, I have narrowed my own personal choices down to four: Ward, Eric Staal, Chris Pronger, and Dwayne Roloson. Obviously things can change over a best-of-seven-series, but right now those are the top four dogs.

• Bob Cole and Harry Neale are apparently still calling the Finals. It appears that the complaining from Edmonton fans has had little effect. Guess I'll be watching the games on NBC. Yup, you heard me. NBC.

• I continue to dominate with the predictions. I am 11/14 for the playoffs. Avi is 9/14, Nate is 7/14 and Abboud is 5/14. At least Abboud got 50% of his last round predictions correct. That's a first. Here is how things have broken down so far:

Round 3
Avi: 2/2 correct
Abboud: 1/2 correct (Carolina)
Nate: 1/2 correct (Edmonton)
Grabia: 2/2 correct
Full Conference Final Predictions

Round 2
Avi: 3/4 correct (Edmonton, Anaheim, Buffalo)
Abboud: 1/4 correct (Anaheim)
Nate: 2/4 correct (Edmonton, Buffalo)
Grabia: 3/4 correct (Edmonton, Carolina, Buffalo)
Full Quarter-Final Predictions: West
Full Quarter-Final Predictions: East

Round 1
Avi: 4/8 correct (San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo)
Abboud: 3/8 correct (Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey)
Nate: 4/8 correct (San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo)
Grabia: 6/8 correct (Edmonton, San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey, Buffalo)
2k6 4/8 correct (Edmonton, Carolina, New Jersey, Buffalo)
Full Sweet Sixteen Predictions: West
Full Sweet Sixteen Predictions: East

• And lastly, a question: if the Oilers win the Stanley Cup, will Robbie Schremp's name end up on it? I guess he has to play one game in the playoffs, right? I really don't know how I feel about that. The playing and appearing on the Cup, that is.

Anyway, on to the predictions. We even have one from "once-in-a-blue-moon" correspondent Sheamus Murphy, who has invited himself to participate in our little game here. Here's hoping his addition doesn't mess up the mojo. Sheamus' predictions have been a of late.

(2) Carolina Hurricanes
(112 pts.)
(8) Edmonton Oilers
(95 pts.)
Season Series,

Game Times

April is the cruelest month. At least it seemed it would be that way six weeks ago, when I predicted a quick demise for the Oilers, and a long run of success for the Hurricanes.

For Edmonton fans, the playoffs have been like a waking dream. We've gone from the depths of self-loathing to declaring the conference finals over at the 16:31 mark of the first game. For those of us living on Whyte Avenue, the waking dream has been both figurative and real: the week off before the Finals has afforded me the most sleep I've had in a month.

I'm in no position to offer expert commentary on Carolina - although my ownership of Cole and Staal in our annual hockey pool enhanced my appreciation of their team, and had me calling for Brooks Orpik's head back in March.

But from my vantage point, there are two things Canes' fans should worry about: that it took seven games to defeat the defensively-depleted Sabres side, and that cracks have begun to show in Cam Ward's armour. After sporting a wicked .940 save percentage in the Montreal series, and an acceptable .917 performance against New Jersey, Ward imploded in the first three games against Buffalo, saving just 62 of 72 shots (.861). He regained his form only after Martin Gerber gave him a much-needed night off.

Will Ward be rested-and-ready for Game One? As the Oilers learned against Anaheim, the best way to find out is to pepper the net with shots.

As for predictions, let me keep it simple: Yes, Virginia, there will be riots.

What about the Oilers, you ask? The answer is written not on the ice, but in a clear sign numerological sign from the Heavens; to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, the Oilers have played exactly 99 games. They are a team of destiny.
Pick: Edmonton in 6.

I’ll be brief, because if these playoff has taught us nothing else, it's that I don’t know anything about predicting the results of hockey games.

In any case, here’s the way I see it. Edmonton is focused, and disciplined, but so is Carolina. Both goalies are playing really well, and if they haven’t been phased yet, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

So, I think we’re in for a long, close series. I’m going to pick Carolina, since they have more top end talent. They also have Rod Brind’Amour, who can help mitigate the Oilers’ strength on faceoffs. In the end, I see Ward and Roli being pretty even, but guys like Staal, Whitney, and Weight being more likely to come through than Hemsky and Horcoff.
Pick: Carolina in 7.

Andy's wet dream has come true. I could spend time breaking this series down to some logical and reasonable conclusion as to who will win and why, but seeing as how I hate the Oilers so much that I could never bring myself to accept that they even have a chance at winning this thing, I won't even bother. It will be interesting to see how Staal performs and whether or not having the goaltending duo of Gerber and Ward will help, hinder or even have to be used in the finals.
Pick: Carolina in however many it takes to trounce the infidels. Go Canes!

Grabia’s hockey soul is about to supernova now that the sports-matter of the Edmonton Oilers is going to collide with the distant anti-matter offspring of his beloved Whale. Good thing the Whaler jersey mojo petered out in game four. Time to bring the LeGG jersey out of mothballs.

This has the makings of an epic playoff. Both Carolina and Edmonton made big post-CBA additions that have paid spades worth of post-season dividends. Weight, Stillman, Commodore, Cullen, Whitney and Gerber, versus Pronger, Peca, Roloson, Samsonov, Spacek, Tarnstrom and Murray. Welcome to the new NHL.

The last time Carolina made the finals four years ago they were the Cinderella story and now nine ‘Cane holdovers can draw on the intangible of experience. The glass slipper is on the other foot, with the Oilers being the only eighth-place team to ever make it this far, alongside a paucity of Stanley Cup finals experience, save for Peca and Roloson as a backup. That said, I don’t underestimate the effect of the Oilers’ management as playoff legends in their own right; the ghost of Stanley Cups past has finally gone from burden to inspiration.
Edge: Draw

It took Carolina way too long to put down a Buffalo team with its defense on life support, missing three of their top four blueliners. Stall, Brind’Amour, Williams, and Cullen get a lot of shots on net, but most of their points are on the powerplay. The Oilers are getting production from four lines, with ten forwards potting at least three goals. With Horcoff as sparkplug and Pronger as anchor on the point, Smytty on the goal-mouth tip and Pisani burying almost every sniff he gets, the Oilers have a multi-faceted offense that makes it hard for the other side to react. I think this is why the Oil are getting a label for scoring opportunistic goals.
Edge: Oilers

Defense will be the difference in this series, and Chris Pronger and Jason Smith will be the difference maker. Expect Pronger and Peca to match-up against 100-man Eric Stall and sidekick Cory Stillman, delivering the same shut-down treatment that nullified Thornton and Selanne. By the time the series is over, a lot of Eric Stall heaters will have dented the frames of Oilers laying themselves on the line. The Brooks Orpik hit from behind that prematurely ended Eric Cole’s +19 season was an outrage, but on the brighter side of things, he’s not on the ice against the Oilers. Brett Hedican and Glen Wesley have been solid but not heroic.
Edge: Oilers

Special Teams
The key for the Oilers will be containing Carolina’s powerplay, which has been the most successful in the postseason, scoring on one in four chances to Edmonton’s one in five. I think the Oil are up to the challenge, sporting the stingiest post-season penalty kill by keeping opponents to a miserable 11.4%. If the Oil can snuff the Cane’s PP by limiting Brind’Amour and Stall, then any PP goals they get will be gravy. The quiet difference makers on the Oilers powerplay have been Hemsky and Samsonov in a set-up role – look for them to step it up. Let’s hope Williams and Commodore keep taking stupid penalties and LeGG stays out of the box. If the Oilers can learn to score on the 5 on 3, Craig Simpson may never have to shill carpet as a fulltime job.
Edge: Draw.

The ‘Canes have the depth that Edmonton doesn’t need. If 1A Cam Ward gets rattled, Martin Gerber is a workable 1B. Dwayne Roloson showed in successive rounds that he won’t let the inevitable weak goal or maddening net crashing get to him. The stats between Rollie and Ward are a wash – I’ll give the edge to Roloson on experience alone.
Edge: Oilers.

The lay-off factor goes in Edmonton’s favor as they heal up and focus on the task at hand well away from the distractions of gushing local media, fandemonium, and trophy wives. They won’t forget their game. Home ice advantage won’t be a factor in this series as the Oilers did as well on the road this season as Carolina, and I don’t envy any opposing side skating onto the sheet at Rexall. Carolina is thin in face-off expertise after Rod Brind’Amour while Edmonton has a solid three draw punch in Peca, Stoll and Horcoff. The ‘Canes are a bruising, hitting team but the Oilers can match them in grit and fisticuffs. Most importantly, the Oil have showed their ability to adapt to their opponents play these playoffs, going trap, hard on the forecheck, shutting down the middle, and opening up odd man rushes when they need to.
Edge: Oilers
Pick: Prediction: Edmonton in 6.

Sigh. So I do all this work preparing a list of random series matchups for my predictions, because no one else has done it, and I like to keep it fresh. None of it is particularly hilarious or insightful, but it's mine. Know what I mean? So, I'm about to publish this mofo, and lo and behold, Murphy drops in with his own pick. And what is the pick based on? Matchups. Of course. Super.

For any who do not know this by now, my second favorite team is the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes. As such, I am a little conflicted by the Finals matchup. Way back at the beginning of the NHL playoffs, I actually predicted that the Canes would win the Stanley Cup. I even went further, and stated that, "Eric Staal [would] win the Conn Smythe trophy in his 2nd year as a pro." Well now I have to abandon that pick, and go with the Oilers. Obviously. The gap between my love of the Oilers and my love of the Whale is large. Very large. It should be noted up front that I was even willing to sacrifice the Canes (see here) in order for the Oilers to succeed. It helped the Oilers, yet in some bizarre karmic twist, it also helped the Canes. But enough is enough. No more Whalers jersey. No more humming Brass Bonanza in the shower. No more erotic fantasies about Ron Francis. It's all Oilers, baby. All Oilers. At least until the Finals are over. Then I am totally getting back together with The Franchise. Here are my series comparisons:

Oilers: Zombie Nation
Canes: Brass Bonanza
Edge: Tie

Oilers: None
Canes: Pucky the Whale, Stormy
Edge: Oilers

Celebrity Endorsement:
Oilers: None
Canes:Ric Flair
Edge: Canes

Oilers: Paul Lorieau
Canes:Clay Aiken
Edge: Oilers

Playoff Facial Hair:
Oilers:Todd Harvey
Canes: Mike Commodore
Edge: Canes

Tough Guy:
Oilers: Le GG
Canes: ???
Edge: Oilers

Oilers: Post-game Riots
Canes: Tailgate Parties
Edge: Canes

Best Version of Chris Pronger:
Oilers: Model 3.1: The Orbs of Power
Canes: Model 1.0
Edge: Oilers

Blog Support:
Oilers: SportsMatters, Battle of Alberta, mc79hockey, Covered in Oil, Lowetide, Black Dog Hates Skunks, Irreverent Oiler Fans, Colby Cosh
Canes: Red & Black Hockey, Cason Blog, Acid Queen, Ron Francis
Edge:Oilers, though the presence of Ronnie Franchise makes it closer than it should be.

Iconic Players:
Oilers: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Dave Semenko, Esa Tikkanen, Ryan Smyth, Georges Laraque, Kelly Buchberger,Doug Weight, Chris Pronger, and Gary Unger.
Canes: Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Marty Howe, Rick Ley, Davie Keon, Bobby Hull, Mike Liut, Dave Babych, Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Ulf Samuelsson, Paul Coffey, Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, Keith Primeau, Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley and Sylvain Turgeon.
Edge: Oilers
Pick: Edmonton in 7.

Series breakdowns from Yahoo!.

ESPN Stanley Cup Final page.

Playoff leaders.

Post-game reports from Colby Cosh.

Oilers coverage from The Battle of Alberta.

Oilers coverage from Tyler at mc79hockey.

Oilers coverage from Covered In Oil.

Canes coverage from Red & Black Hockey.

Canes coverage from Cason Blog.

Canes coverage from The Acid Queen.

Canes coverage from Ron Francis.

Canes/Whalers music from Brass Bonanza.

Finals coverage from James Mirtle.


At 5:31 PM, Blogger d-lee said...

Andy, I dare you. I double dog dare you to NOT whistle/hum "Brass Bonanza" the next time you're in the shower.
It's impossible.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I know. I was doing it about an hour after I wrote that.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger sacamano said...

Sadly, you need 40 regular season games or 1 playoff game to get your name on the mug.

Tragic odd man out -- Igor Ulanov (37 games).


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