Welcome to the seventh annual SNN Predicts series of articles (eighth overall, if you count the 2004 version done on the forums, lost to the mists of time but notable for the fact that I went 0-4 in series involving the Flames), in which we act like we know what we’re talking about and make our (mostly) blindingly obvious predictions, with a shocking amount of success, considering some mainstream reporters usually wind up under .500 by the time the Stanley Cup is finally awarded somewhere around Canada Day. This is also at least my fifth year in a row copying and pasting the same intro, because I’m cool like that.
This year we’ve got a slightly confusing playoff format change, which as produced an unfortunate set of matchups out west. Unfortunate in the sense that two Cup contenders will be gone before half of Canada’s changed out their winter tires; we could have some rollicking fun watching those series in the meantime. Meanwhile, out east we have one elite team, one team riding its reputation, and a collection of question marks filling out the ranks. All of which should make for one confusing set of predictions. New this year: thanks to Extra Skater I can do some back-of-the-envelope fancystats on the season series, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds. Whether I mean that ironically or not depends on your perspective, I suppose. Given that I didn’t have much time to watch the NHL this year, it’s pretty much all I have to go on, so expect a lot of dry numbers and not much awareness of anything else; it served me shockingly well last year.
In keeping with the “new format” idea, we have a new tiebreaker. Specifically, I jacked it from the NHL.com brackets: first tiebreaker is correct champion, second is correct runner-up, third is closest to the correct number of goals, over or under (no Price is Right rules).
With that, let’s get to it.
Smythe Division Semifinals
Playoff History: Two previous meetings, both of which are long enough ago you can count the number of survivors on one hand. The Cinderella Ducks upset the Stars in 2003, while the much more evenly-matched 2008 series went to lower-seeded Dallas.
|2003 CSF||2008 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Ducks were a paper tiger, eventually tamed by the Red Wings in round one; the Stars haven’t been to the dance since 2008, when they ousted the Ducks and Sharks before bowing out to Detroit in the conference finals.
Season Series: Dallas had a 2-1 record in the season series, outscoring Anaheim 11-9. With the score close, the two teams played 92.6 minutes; Dallas had a 53.7% possession edge and a 105.7% PDO.
Doogie Says: Much like last year, the Ducks seem like a team whose record doesn’t reflect what they do on the ice. It’s tempting to think that when a team rides the percentages to two division championships in a row, there may be something to that, but given that they were already mid-regression last year when the season ended, that seems unlikely. Dallas had a bit of a bad run during February-March, but seem to have levelled out of that and look at least decent going into the playoffs. Both teams seem pretty high-event, especially on special teams, which means this could be one of the more free-flowing, high-scoring series of round one, though both teams’ starters have solid numbers at even strength. I can’t find any injuries that would be real game-changers here, either. I was all set to go “Stars in six,” out of sheer apathy, because I couldn’t find anything else worth making a distinction over, until a couple of people pointed out the Stephane Robidas Factor. I’m looking at the team-level data and I don’t see it, at least not yet. Prior to getting Robidas back, the Ducks were at 50.4% possession; in 14 games since then, the Ducks are 50.0%. When Robidas got hurt, Dallas was at 52.2%; since then, 51.3%. It’s a drop, but not by a ton. He has a good track record in tough minutes, though, so surely that will reflect itself in the team play sooner than later. So, do I gamble on Dallas’s small possession advantage, or the Ducks’ ability to maintain their percentages in a seven-game sample? Holding my nose, flipping a coin…Stars in seven. Ugh.
Gerard Says: I didn’t think the Ducks would even make the playoffs this year. Or last year. Yes, they’re the Western Maple Leafs at this point, and the wheels need to fall off eventually, but I don’t see it happening against Dallas. Ducks in four.
Matt Says: In my couple of days of lead up and reading to make some opinions on these playoffs, I haven’t really read anything that would sway me one way or the other, so I’m going with a purely gut guess here and saying Ducks in five.
(2) San Jose vs. (3) Los Angeles
Playoff History: These teams have met twice in the last three playoffs, each claiming one series victory. Both were close, and this time is unlikely to be different.
|1969 QF||2011 CQF||2013 CSF|
Previously On…Survivor: As you can see above, the Kings ousted the Sharks in a hard-fought second-round series last year, before falling to the eventual champion Blackhawks.
Season Series: The Kings finished 3-1-1 against San Jose after 65, with a 12-8 total score. I refuse to count shootout wins or losses anymore; they’re just not hockey. In terms of possession, in 153.3 minutes of score-close time, the Kings had a 56.7% possession advantage and a 102.2% PDO.
Doogie Says: This is a battle of the titans, a series that could easily have been played in rounds two or three but fate has decreed we see in round one. Honestly, either one of these teams could win the Stanley Cup and I’d go “yeah, sure, okay.” And one of them’s gonna be gone in two weeks. It’s not fair. Anyway, in looking at both the team-level and matchup-level stats, it seems pretty easy to favour the Kings over the Sharks here. LA have been possession monsters all year, and became even more so with the acquisition of Marian Gaborik. Much like in 2012, when the acquisition of Jeff Carter seemed to solve their inability to finish, the Gaborik trade also seemed to correct their low-percentage tailspin. San Jose does have an ace up their sleeve with the return of rookie sensation Tomas Hertl, which gives their forward group a much different look, though who knows how long it’ll take him to get back up to game speed. They can also proclaim that, this year aside, their starter has a better long-term track record than LA’s: Quick’s .929 at EV is just his second season significantly above .920 since 2010, while Niemi’s .919 is his worst by far over the same time frame. If the two goalies play closer to their respective track records than their current seasons, that does favour San Jose, but at that point I think you’re sort of reaching a bit. The Sharks’ high-octane PP and slightly stingier PK seem more likely to be a mark in their favour, though one wonders just how many penalties are going to be called, given how referees like to pocket their whistles after Game 2 of the first round. While I enjoy the Sharks’ style aesthetically more, I think the Kings are going to be just slightly more effective over the course of a series. It’ll be another tight one, but let’s go with Kings in seven.
Gerard Says: Raffi is back. Put on your hard-hats. Sharks in six.
Matt Says: Is it too early to start listening for the sounds of choking? Kings in six.
Norris Division Semifinals
Playoff History: This actually mirrors the Anaheim-Dallas history above: a Cinderella team upsetting a heavy favourite in 2003, followed by the other team winning the more even matchup as the lower seed in 2008.
|2003 CQF||2008 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Avs’ last trip to the playoffs was a squeaker in 2010; they got enough bounces to claim two games from San Jose before eventually dropping out. Minnesota, meanwhile, were bounced by the Hawks in round one last year.
Season Series: The Avs won the season series 3-0-2 with a 15-10 total score, but the (admittedly small-sample) fancystats tell a different tale: Minnesota owned a 53.1% possession advantage in 160.3 minutes with the score close, and just an 85.0% (!!) PDO.
Doogie Says: If the Sharks-Kings series is the ultimate battle of the titans, then this is the ultimate battle of the proverbial 98 lb weaklings, with both teams in the bottom-ten of the possession standings and Colorado in particular looking not so much like a paper tiger as, to borrow a phrase, a biscuit raft. Between a hot goaltending by the wife-beater, a sky-high PPSH%, and a borderline-draft-lottery possession score, the Avs have all the makings of a fake division champion. That’s not to say that Minnesota’s anything to write home about, either, but since the deadline they’ve managed to recover to around 50% possession after spending half the season in the tank with only percentages keeping them within striking distance; seems like Matt Moulson’s arrival has helped in that regard. Minny’s crease situation looks pretty decent, too: Bryzgalov and Kuemper have gotten the job done in the absence of Backstrom and Harding, though both have gotten lit up on the PK, which has depressed their numbers somewhat. Speaking of the PK, while Minny’s PKSV% is low, they give up among the fewest chances in the NHL, whereas Colorado gives up among the most; neither PP generates a ton of shots, though Minny is slightly better on that front than the Avs. Oh, and did I mention Matt Duchene, one of Colorado’s real play-drivers, is out for the series, and the criminally underrated Jan Hejda is out for at least Game 1? Sure, Granlund and Brodziak are questionable, too, and while that could hurt, I don’t think it’s as bad, on balance. This, like Anaheim-Dallas, has the makings of a reasonable upset prediction, so I’m gonna go with Wild in six.
Gerard Says: I hate Minnesota. And, like my pick of Anaheim, I think the Avs are working mostly on smoke and mirrors at this point. But, like my Anaheim pick, I just don’t see the wheels coming off here. Avalanche in five.
Matt Says: As Doogie mentions, Duchene being out is worrying, but I have enough faith, blind as it might be, in my team to not let that worry me too much. They’ve had such a turnaround under Roy that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’m going with Gerard in this, and saving my first round upset for later. Avs in five.
Playoff History: Nothing like a good old fashioned Norris Division matchup. Seven of the ten playoff series came during the original division-playoff era; odds are good that you won’t be able to swing a cat on YouTube without hitting a Hawks-Blues brawl video. Just one matchup in the last twenty years, though; this rivalry’s in dire need of renewal.
|1973 QF||1980 PRE||1982 DF||1983 DSF||1988 DSF||1989 DF||1990 DF||1992 DSF||1993 DSF||2002 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: Chicago won their second Stanley Cup in four years, while St. Louis lost in round one to the Kings.
Season Series: The Hawks hold a 2-1-2 series edge after 65, with a 17-12 score advantage. The two teams spent 191 minutes playing with the score close, the most of any first-round matchup; Chicago had a 54.8% possession advantage and a 103.2% PDO.
Doogie Says: Just as the Smythe had a 1-4 that looks a bit suspect and a 2-3 that looks like a conference final, so too does the Norris, with top-ten possession teams Chicago and St. Loo facing off. As with the SJ-LA matchup, though, the three seed is a monster while the two seed is just a little bit less so, and the two seed comes in with even more suspect goaltending this time around. Ryan Miller hasn’t really gotten the job done since coming to Missouri, with just a .913 EVSV% since the deadline. That probably won’t continue, but even so, it is cause for concern, especially with Jaroslav Halak having put up a much more respectable .928 prior to the deal and .922 since. Chicago, meanwhile, looks fine in net, as long as Corey Crawford doesn’t get hurt, of course. Both teams are surprisingly middle of the pack when it comes to creating PP chances, though St. Louis has finished on an abnormally high percentage of them. Meanwhile, St. Louis does give up a bit less on the PK, which could prove a slight advantage, even if their marginally high PKSV% comes down. Injuries are a real X-factor here; both teams are getting a large volume of quality players off of IR just in time, and who knows what shape any of them will be in. Like SJ-LA, this series could really go either way, but I think I’m leaning Blackhawks in seven.
Gerard Says: Injuries happen, and I’m always suspicious of how healthy a player is if they come back on the first day of the playoffs. I feel so strongly that this series will be a coin toss that I’m giving it to the Blues in a lopsided series. Because that’s how I roll. Blues in five.
Matt Says: No real reasoning or research here, I just think Blackhawks in six.
Adams Division Semifinals
Playoff History: This is the second-largest gap between series in NHL history, without a franchise going defunct at some point. The last Bruins-Red Wings series was 57 years ago, during the heart of the six-team era. The record-holder? Detroit-NY Rangers (64 years and counting).
|1941 SCF||1942 SF||1943 SCF||1945 SF||1946 SF||1953 SF||1957 SF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Bruins came within 17 seconds of a seventh game in the Cup Finals (LOL). Detroit ousted the Ducks and pushed the Blackhawks to a 3-1 deficit before eventually losing in seven.
Season Series: The Red Wings surprisingly won the season series 3-1, with a 13-9 goal differential. Yeah, they only played four games; I thought it was supposed to be five. Anyway, at score-close they played 105.9 minutes, and Boston had the 57.1% possession advantage but just an 88.8% PDO.
Doogie Says: It’s a testament to how good the Bruins were last year that they could lose Tyler Seguin and barely miss a beat. That’s not to say that I advocate giving up on high-scoring 21-year-olds with the regularity that the Bruins have (see also Kessel, Phil), but so far it hasn’t burned them, so I guess they can get away with it. Anyway, the Bruins are an interesting case, in that some in stats circles have started to suspect they may be the exception to the rule that systems don’t significantly affect SV%: they’ve been posting absurd numbers for enough years that it can’t entirely be a coincidence, unless you believe Tim Thomas went from journeyman to generational talent at age 35 or whatever. (I also suspect the Kings are doing something that suppresses their SH%, but I digress.) Regardless, it’s hard to look at the numbers and not thing Boston sort of runs away with this. Yes, Detroit has struggled through a lot of injuries to key players this year, though Gustav Nyquist’s hot streak has saved them a little, but they’re still not going to be fully healthy coming into this series (Henrik Zetterberg is still out), and Jimmy Howard has been merely average in net this year. Special teams don’t confer any greater advantage: Boston generates way more on the PP, and gives up less on the PK. I’m trying to find a silver lining for the Wings here beyond “Datsyuk’s back,” and I’m really not finding it. Boston’s (relatively) healthy, Boston’s good, Boston’s deep. Unless Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers can really turn on the jets in the conference finals, I really don’t see anyone in the Wales getting in their way. Bruins in five.
Gerard Says: I was in New Jersey last week and saw a guy in an Iginla Burins jersey. I congratulated him on the President’s Trophy and he spat back at me, “Fucking right! We’re going to win it all! Fucking again!” with a look of disgust on his face that I’d said anything about the Bruins at all, regardless of it being a compliment. Red Wings in seven.
Matt Says: See what Doogie wrote, he stole my post. Honest. Nothing against the Wings, but of the two, Boston is my team. Bruins in four.
Playoff History: The Habs were a speed bump en route to Tampa’s (questionably-obtained) 2004 Stanley Cup championship. At the time, a deal was made about the fact that no team had swept the Habs then gone on to win the Cup since the Red Wings did it in the Finals in 1952. This, like many other Habs Stanley Cup trivia bits, is slowly coming apart as everyone realizes that Montreal was just incredibly well-run for 30-odd years and don’t possess any other special magicks.
Previously On…Survivor: The Bolts haven’t made the playoffs since their surprise run to within a game of the Finals in 2011. The Habs made the playoffs last year, but were upset by the Sens in five games in round one.
Season Series: The Lightning were undefeated in regulation, going 2-0-2 in Real Hockey and outscoring Montreal 7-4 in a low-scoring season series. At score-close, the teams played 159.9 minutes, and Tampa had a whopping 56.0% possession advantage and a 99.3% PDO.
Doogie Says: I was all set to call this one “Lightning in five” and move on, but Ben Bishop is definitely out for Game 1 and may be gone for the entire series. This immediately changes the entire dynamic, because the only thing the Habs have going for them, really, is goaltending. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is a heck of a team on paper, but Michel Therrien is French for “Randy Carlyle”; his bizarre usage of his players has caused what might be the largest drop in possession from one season to the next in the fancystats era. Carey Price has posted a Vezina-calibre year, though, so a team with lottery-level puck possession came within a shootout of having home ice in the first round. Tampa has managed to survive the loss of Steven Stamkos for half the year, and Martin St. Louis in a surprisingly acrimonious deadline deal. People who’ve seen more games than me have pointed to rookie Ondrej Palat and free-agent signing Valtteri Filppula as factors: they’ve both been used in top-six roles and looked pretty good in them, though Palat is riding a few percentages. And as good as Price has been, Bishop has been pretty close: his EVSV% is just 0.002 back of Price’s. But without Bishop, goaltending duties fall to Anders Lindback, who’s been decidedly meh, and Olympic sensation Kristers Gudlevskis, best known for holding back the Canadian onslaught in a narrow 2-1 victory over Latvia. And Montreal, while no great shakes on the PP, are surprisingly far better at generating shots than Tampa’s been this year (though again, the loss of Stamkos probably depressed that severely). But with Alex Galchenyuk out, the Habs are missing a piece of the puzzle up front, too. Sigh…okay, let’s go with another upset: Carey Price in seven. This series has “goalie theft” written all over it.
Gerard Says: Part of me wants the Habs to lose. I’m totally fine with no Canadian teams winning if the Oilers can’t make the playoffs. However, I do want the Red Wings to win the East. And the best chance for the Red Wings to win the East, is for the Habs to win this series. Habs in six.
Matt Says: I’ll throw this one up first before it gets too far into the game. Damn traffic. Much like Doogie, I figure this series is going to come down to Price…how long can his Olympic Gold, playing great hockey, whatever you want to call it, hold out? But, lets face it, Price is the better option than either of Tampa’s alternates…or will Tampa call up Vasilevski now that his season is over in the KHL? Habs in six.
Patrick Division Semifinals
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (4) Columbus
Playoff History: None. This is Columbus’s second post-season appearance in franchise history, and their first as part of the Wales Conference.
Previously On…Survivor: The Pens were swept in the conference finals by the Bruins. The Jackets’ only past playoff appearance was back in 2009, when they were swept by the Red Wings.
Season Series: The Pens won all five games against Columbus, outscoring them 16-7 in the process. In 161.3 minutes of score-close hockey, the Jackets had the 52.7% possession advantage and 95.5% PDO.
Doogie Says: So far, my pattern has by and large been to pick on the basis of score-close fancystats, but I’m making an exception on this one. Partially, because the gap is pretty narrow. Partially, because Pittsburgh’s top six is still one of the best in the league, even if their depth has been ruined by injury, time, and diminishing returns from trades. (They’re also naturally going to have high on-ice percentages because Crosby and Malkin are rock stars.) Partially, because Columbus has two important forwards in RJ Umberger and Nathan Horton potentially out for the series, while Pittsburgh is getting all their important people back healthy just in time. It’s easy to go, “but Fleury,” and yes, that’s an excellent point, given that his post-Stanley Cup playoff numbers are sub-Pavelec. But the Pens appear to be getting Tomas Vokoun back after a season-long hip infection; he recently played a few games of conditioning in Wilkes-Barrie. If Fleury Fleurys it up again, they do have that fallback, and in all honesty, one of these years he has to not suck in the playoffs, right? Like, he’s not an All-Star or anything, but he’s not rotten. His regular season record is perfectly adequate. I have serious doubts about Pittsburgh’s ability to get out of their own division, despite their gaudy point totals, but I don’t think Lumbus has enough to give here. They’ll be gamers but I’ve got Penguins in six.
Gerard Says: Columbus will have an easier time in the East than they did in the West. But Pittsburgh is mostly healthy. If Fleury isn’t horrible, the Pens need to take this one. Penguins in four.
Matt Says: Every bit of common sense in my brain says that this series will be one for the Penguins, but I can’t help thinking that if there’s going to be a surprise upset, this will be the one…Fluery’s meltdowns, Letang’s stroke, Malkin’s …desire, my dislike of Crosby…just something about all that coupled with the “lack of pressure” (IE. Expectations of greatness) on the Jackets side lead me to say Columbus in seven.
(2) NY Rangers vs. (3) Philadelphia
Playoff History: Another good old-fashioned ’80s division rivalry that we haven’t seen much from in the Gary Bettman era.
|1974 SF||1979 QF||1980 QF||1982 DSF||1983 DSF||1985 DSF||1986 DSF||1987 DSF||1995 CSF||1997 CF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Rangers beat the Caps in seven before losing to Boston in five. Philly missed out in 2013; in 2012, they fell to the Devils in five in the second round.
Season Series: The Rangers and Flyers split the season series at two games apiece, with each team winning their home games. The Rangers had a score advantage of 10-8, and with the score close, a 55.7% possession advantage and 103.4% PDO in just 69.4 minutes, the lowest total per game out of these matchups.
Doogie Says: The Rangers might secretly be the best team in the Patrick. Save for a couple of major dips, their possession has been excellent all year, they have a perennially excellent goaltender, and they just added Martin St. Louis to an already star-rich lineup. Okay, so he hasn’t been able to finish to save his life since the deal, but even at his age, he’s too good for that to be a thing for long. Philly? Euch. They’ve got some great players, but their D remains a sinkhole after the first pairing, and while Steve Mason looks like he’s finally turned a corner, I remain leery until I see him do it for more than one full season. He’s also entering the series off an injury, which makes me even more nervous abou thim. Both teams have high-shot-volume PPs and low-shot-volume PKs; the Rangers look slightly better at both, but not by a ton. Oh, and the Flyers haven’t beaten the Rangers at MSG in three years. That may not be massively important in the grand scheme of things, but playoff series aren’t really grand schemes, now are they? Rangers in five.
Gerard Says: Like my Habs pick, I’m really only choosing the Flyers for the best route for the Wings to take the East. Realistically, I expect the Rangers will win, and I’m curious to see if anyone in this city cares (on an Oilers level) if they do. Flyers in seven.
Matt Says: I want to give the edge to the Flyers, I really do. But part of me is thinking that the Rangers will be able to deal with Mason. So…Flyers in six. And this will be a good series to watch, methinks.
Stanley Cup Final Picks
Doogie says: Los Angeles over Boston, 34 goals.
Gerard says: San Jose over Detroit, 20 goals.
Matt says: Colorado over Boston, 25 goals.