Stanley Cup 2015, I: Leave It All To Chance

I II III IV V

tank2This year was bonkers.  Absolutely insane.  Tank battles, mumps, rallies, unexpected goaltending, playoff mainstay turnover, rookie domination, Central Division ascendancy; it’s too much to summarize in a few words, so I’ll leave that to the professionals.  For me though, I, for the first and probably only time, made pre-season predictions, and boy were they wrong!  Check these out.  Quoth myself, from October 8th:

Pacific:  Anaheim ✔️, Los Angeles ✖️, San Jose ✖️
Central:
  Chicago ✔️, St. Louis ✔️, Dallas ✖️
Wild Cards:
  Vancouver ✔️, Edmonton ✖️

Atlantic:  Boston ✖️, Montréal ✔️, Tampa Bay ✔️
Metropolitan:
  Pittsburgh ✔️, Columbus ✖️, New York Rangers ✔️
Wild Cards:
  New York Islanders ✔️, New Jersey Devils ✖️

Notables off the board:  Detroit ✖️, Minnesota ✖️, Philadelphia ✔️, Colorado ✔️

Draft lottery top five (aka Tank Wars):  Calgary ✖️, Winnipeg ✖️, Buffalo ✔️, Carolina ✔️, Toronto ✔️

Stanley Cup Champion:  San Jose Sharks NOPE ✖️✖️✖️

Bat 60% on the draft lottery, so that’s not too bad.  About 53.5% everywhere else, with positioning ignored.  My Cup pick San Jose Sharks didn’t even make the postseason, breaking a decade-long streak.  At least they can’t lose to the Kings in the first-round.  I wouldn’t dare pick the Sharks anyway, after all you don’t sleep on the Ki– oh.  Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.  You know, it’s too bad a cocky, coast-through-the-regular-season-only-to-flip-the-switch-in-the-playoffs team coasted a little too much and missed the playoffs by four points.  It’s really a shame.  Hey, what’s that sound?  I think I hear people jumping off the bandwagon!  How about those Senators?  They were off everyone’s radar.  How about them forcing one of Boston or Pittsburgh to miss?  Insanity.  With both the Cup Champion Kings and the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins missing the big dance, this really feels like a sea-change type year.  Big things are coming this playoffs — I know it.

Remember last year, how I said I was planning something a little different for this year’s bracket?  No?  Well, this is it: instead of using my brain to figure out the team with the best chance of winning each respective series, I’m going to leave it all up to random chance.  Why not, eh?  It makes even more sense this year, with my Buffalo Sabres waiting on the luck of the draw this Saturday in the Draft Lottery.  It’s been a beat-the-odds kind of year.

For each series I flipped three coins.  The first result chose the winner of the series: heads being the top position in the match-up on the bracket, or the Atlantic and Central division in the division finals, and the East in the case of the Cup Final.  The other two determined the number of games in the series like so: HH = 4 games, HT = 5 games, TH = 6 games, TT = 7 games.  I did this for all 15 series through each round.  My chances of filling this bracket perfectly?  0.000000000002842171%, or 1 in 35,184,372,088,832.  Yep.

Naturally, I engineered an Excel spreadsheet to do this automatically, giving me a new random bracket at the touch of a button.  I tried to be impartial as much as possible, biasing slightly only for series length, as we don’t see too many sweeps these days.  Not weighting for seed or skill makes for some amusing results.  Flames winning the Cup in 4?  Probably not.  Predators versus Islanders for the Cup, with the Isles prevailing?  Ratings nightmare, and also unlikely.  Who knows though?  That’s what makes this particular exercise fun!

flipsheet

How’s this one look?

01. A1 vs AW -- HTT - A1 in 7
02. A2 vs A3 -- HTH - A2 in 6
03. M1 vs MW -- TTT - MW in 7 (!)
04. M2 vs M3 -- HHT - M2 in 5
05. C1 vs CW -- HHT - C1 in 5
06. C2 vs C3 -- THH - C3 in 4 (!)
07. P1 vs PW -- HTT - P1 in 7
08. P2 vs P3 -- HTT - P2 in 7
-----------------
09. Atlantic Final - A1 vs A2 -- HTT - A1 in 7
10. Metro Final ---- M2 vs MW -- HHH - MW in 4 (!)
11. Central Final -- C1 vs C3 -- TTH - C3 in 6
12. Pacific Final -- P1 vs P2 -- HTH - P1 in 6
-----------------
13. Eastern Final -- A1 vs MW -- HHH - A1 in 4
14. Western Final -- C3 vs P1 -- THT - P1 in 5
-----------------
15. Stanley Cup Final - A1 vs P1 -- HHT - A1 in 5

flipsheetnhl_bracket_2015_r1Well, somehow I ended up with two #1 seeds in the final.  Perhaps not the worst draw, though I have a Presidents’ Trophy upset in the first round.  Hmm…

(Full disclosure: I couldn’t help myself and made a real bracket too.  I won’t be tracking it here, but it aligns with my predictions below.)

And now for each series preview.  This is what I’m actually leaning towards, based on performance, injuries, stats, and overall gut feeling.  My major indicators are record, last ten games (immediate trends), Fenwick, or unblocked-shot-attempts (USAT) at 5-on-5 and with the score close (possession proxy corrolated with winning percentage) in addition to the same metric since the trade deadline reflecting roster adjustments and PDO (or SPSv%), reflecting luck, notable absences from the lineup,  and finally, the season series, which I will mentally bias toward more recent games.  How closely does any of this match the entropy above?

Montreal Canadiens  Ottawa Senators

A1. Montréal Canadiens vs A4. Ottawa Sénateurs: The Canadiens and Sénateurs met last in 2013, a bloodbath of a series climaxing with a Game 3 line brawl combined with a stunning hat-trick by rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau.  It was Ottawa that triumphed that year in five long games.  This year it’s different.  Very different.  Ottawa broke an NHL record by rallying from 14 points out to make the playoffs, riding the hot play of Andrew Hammond, middling AHL goaltender and unlikely hero.  Montréal on the other hand has launched to the Atlantic Division peak behind the stellar, franchise-record-breaking play of Carey Price.  He’s a near-lock for the Hart Trophy this year, an incredible backstop to an admittedly average group of skaters.  This series comes down to one thing: can the Senators and Hammond stay hot, or are they out of their depth against one of the best in the East?  I want to believe, however I’m gonna go with last year’s Eastern runner-up in this one.  Canadiens in six.

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
MON:  110
-50-(43)-22-5-5 — (5-2-3)
OTT:
  99-43-(37)-26-6-7 — (6-2-2)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
MON:  50.8%, 17th (51.5%, 13th)
OTT:  47.9%, 22nd (50.4%, T16th)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
MON:  100.9, T4th (99.9, 18th)
OTT:  101.1, 2nd (102.3, 4th)

Notable injuries:
MON:  Max Pacioretty (day-to-day)
OTT:  Chris Phillips (IR), Milan Michalek (day-to-day)

Season Series:
2014-12-20; OTT 1, MON 4
2015-01-15; MON 1, OTT 4
2015-02-18; MON 2, OTT 4
2015-03-12; OTT 5, MON 2
MON: 1-3-0 — OTT: 3-1-0

Tampa Bay Lightning  Detroit Red Wings

A2. Tampa Bay Lightning vs A3. Detroit Red Wings:  It’s been said for the past few months as the Atlantic seeds changed little: this is the Steve Yzerman Cup.  He’s considered the greatest captain in Detroit Red Wings history, and now he’s the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Is Stevie Y a better leader than he is a builder?  I’ve been predicting the Red Wings’ demise for years to no success.  I’ve been predicting the Lightning’s emergence for a few seasons as well, to limited success.  Know what?  I’m gonna do it again.  Detroit, while a good team, is heavily outgunned here.  If Tampa Bay can keep their goaltending healthy (their death blow last season), then they should have no problem handling the Red Wings.  Lightning in five.

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
TBL: 
108-50-(47)-24-3-5 — (6-3-1)
DET:
  100-43-(39)-25-4-10 — (4-4-2)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close & PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
TBL:  53.7%, 4th (52.2%, T10th)
DET:  52.0%, 10th (50.4%, T15th)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
TBL:  99.9, T19th (100.8, T11th)
DET:  99.3, 24th (99.2, 20th)

Notable injuries:
TBL:  Jason Garrison (day-to-day)
DET:  Johan Franzen (IR), Justin Abdelkader (day-to-day)

Season Series:
2014-11-09; TBL 4, DET 3 S/O
2015-01-29; DET 1, TBL 5
2015-03-20; DET 1, TBL 3
2015-03-28; TBL 0, DET 4
TBL: 3-1-0 — DET: 1-2-1

New York Rangers  Pittsburgh Penguins

M1. New York Rangers vs M4. Pittsburgh Penguins:  Every year I have to do Metropolitan Division predictions, and every year I don’t care.  I don’t know what it is about the Metro that leaves me so apathetic, with the notable exception of Columbus.  That’s a team I can get behind! … As far as this series goes, well it’s a second-round rematch from last year, and like then, I think it’s an easy choice.  I was surprised to see the underlying numbers of the Rangers so low, considering their Presidents’ Trophy and apparent dominance since December.  I’m going to trust my gut with this one and pick the Rangers in five.  The Penguins have looked below-average in the last few months, nearly backing into a playoff spot on the last day thanks to an easy win over the bottom-feeding Sabres.  Their decline seemed to shock the core group and I’m convinced they’re rattled, unable to focus in a series with a juggernaut.  However, my coin flips say otherwise…

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
NYR:
  113-53-(49)-22-2-5 — (7-3-0)
PIT:
  98-43-(39)-27-6-6 — (3-5-2)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
NYR:  49.7%, 20th (47.7%, T23rd)
PIT:  53.9%, 3rd (56.2%, 2nd)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
NYR:  102.3, 1st (103.1, 2nd)
PIT:  100.4, 11th (98.3, 22nd)

Notable injuries:
NYR:  Rick Nash (day-to-day), Marc Staal (day-to-day)
PIT:  Christian Ehrhoff (day-to-day), Kris Letang (out for remainder of season)

Season Series:
2014-11-11; PIT 0, NYR 5
2014-11-15; NYR 2, PIT 3 S/O
2014-12-08; PIT 3, NYR 4 OT
2015-01-18; NYR 5, PIT 2
NYR: 3-0-1 — PIT: 1-3-0

Washington Capitals  New York Islanders

M2. Washington Capitals vs M3. New York Islanders:  One last hurrah for the Nassau Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum; will this one last more than one round?  I’m not optimistic.  These are the best Islanders and Capitals teams we’ve seen in years.  Alex Ovechkin looks back to championship conference finalist semi-finalist form, while John Tavares is challenging for league MVP.  These two teams are so evenly matched, I might as well flip a coin for them… They say Capitals in five;  I’m gonna keep things a little more equal and go with Capitals in seven.  The Islanders would be the better story, but I think this might be the year the Capitals breach the third round.

Record (W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
WSH:
  101-45-(40)-26-7-4 — (6-3-1)
NYI:
  101-47-(40)-28-1-6 — (4-3-3)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
WSH:  51.7%, T12th (51.9%, 12th)
NYI:  54.3%, 1st (51.0%, 14th)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
WSH:  100.2, T12th (100.1, 17th)
NYI:  100.0, T15th (96.3, 30th)

Notable injuries:
WSH:  Eric Fehr (day-to-day)
NYI:  Frans Nielsen (day-to-day), Travis Hamonic (day-to-day)

Season Series:
2014-11-26; WSH 2, NYI 3 OT
2014-11-28; NYI 2, WSH 5
2014-12-29; WSH 3, NYI 4 OT
2015-02-21; NYI 2, WSH 3 SO
WSH: 2-0-2 — NYI: 2-1-1

St. Louis Blues  Minnesota Wild

C1. St. Louis Blues vs C4. Minnesota Wild:  This one is gonna be fun.  Both met their fate at the hands of Chicago last year.  St. Louis’ window might be closing, while the Wild have theirs wide open, having turned into a consistent contender since 2012 and their acquisition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on July 4th.  Minnesota rallied from a substantial deficit in the west thanks to the improbable play of goaltender Devan Dubnyk (I’m sensing a theme here), becoming near unstoppable on their way to the first wild-card slot.  Meanwhile, the Blues have (and I say this every year) perhaps the best team they’ve iced yet.  Their only question is goaltending.  The forwards and defense group are so deep, it’s not even fair.  Minnesota has extended their depth similarly, so it’s hard to say what will become of either of these teams on the ice.  I like the Wild and their troupe of former Sabres, but I think this is the Blues’ year to emerge from the West.  Blues in six.  It’s too bad we have to lose one of these teams from the start.  They would make an excellent division/conference final.

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
STL:  108
-51-(42)-24-3-4 — (6-3-1)
MIN:  100
-46-(42)-28-5-3 — (6-3-1)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
STL:  52.2%, 9th (52.4%, 9th)
MIN:
  51.9%, 11th (50.1%, 17th)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
STL:  100.8, T7th (100.3, T14th)
MIN:  100.5, T9th (100.2, 16th)

Notable injuries:
STL:  none
MIN:
  none

Season Series:
2014-11-29; STL 3, MIN 2 S/O
2015-03-14; MIN 3, STL 1
2015-03-21; STL 3, MIN 6
2015-04-11; MIN 2, STL 4
STL: 2-2-0 — MIN: 2-1-1

Nashville Predators  Chicago Blackhawks

C2. Nashville Predators vs C3. Chicago Blackhawks:  Welcome back to the playoffs Nashville.  Your reward is a date with the last-standing modern dynasty in the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Predators have cooled off dramatically since the days earlier in the season where they were Presidents’ Trophy contenders.  The Hawks have been on and off all year, nearly falling out to a wild-card slot on the last day.  Both have stumbled into the playoffs, Chicago due to injuries, Nashville due to… well it doesn’t seem to be regression.  Expectations?  Being the Predators?  They’re a difficult team to pin down.  This is a series where a victory by the higher-seeded team would be considered an upset.  And I’m going to pick it thusly.  I really shouldn’t pick against Jonathan Toews and this group, but there’s always one powerhouse to fall in the first — this year it’s Chicago’s turn.  Predators in seven.

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
NSH:  104
-47-(41)-25-4-6 — (4-4-2)
CHI:  102
-48-(39)-28-3-3 — (4-6-0)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
NSH:  53.6%, 5th (55.8%, 3rd)
CHI:  53.0%, 6th (52.5%, 8th)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
NSH:  101.0, 3rd (98.2, T23rd)
CHI:  100.2, T12th (101.8, 7th)

Notable injuries:
NSH:  Mike Fisher (day-to-day)
CHI:  Patrick Kane (IR), Kimmo Timonen (day-to-day), Brad Richards (day-to-day)

Season Series:
2014-10-18; NSH 1, CHI 2 OT
2014-10-23; CHI 2, NSH 3
2014-12-06; CHI 3, NSH 1
2014-12-29; NSH 4, CHI 5 S/O
NSH: 1-1-2 — CHI: 3-1-0

Anaheim Ducks  Winnipeg Jets

P1. Anaheim Ducks vs C5. Winnipeg Jets:  The Teemu Selänne Cup!  The team that drafted the Finnish Flash, versus the team with which he won a Stanley Cup nineteen years later.  This is the first playoff series involving an NHL team from Winnipeg since 1996.  I’m eagerly awaiting the whiteout at MTS Centre for Game Three, as well as the brilliantly devious chants the crowd concoct.  Despite what I just wrote about Chicago, this is another series that has upset written all over it:  Anaheim inspires little confidence in the playoffs, despite regular season success (aka Bruce Boudreau’s trademark) while the upstart Jets are a big, bruising team riding questionable goaltending and hot and cold streaks all year long.  They got immensely better at the deadline, thanks to a blockbuster trade with Buffalo, while Anaheim became Columbus’ trade partner in the Kings’ stead.  Does that portend good things for Anaheim?  I’m still not thrilled with their depth, but they win on star-power for sure.  This seems more toss-up than easy pick, but I’m going with my gut — Jets in seven.  Welcome back to the playoffs, Winnipeg.  I’m probably wrong about you; hopefully not.  What I do know is that I’m on your bandwagon, for sure.

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
ANA:  109
-51-(43)-24-2-5 — (6-4-0)
WPG:  99
-43-(36)-26-7-6 — (6-3-1)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
ANA:  51.4%, T14th (52.2%, T10th)
WPG:
  54.2%, 2nd (56.5%, 1st)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
ANA:  100.2, T12th (101.1, 9th)
WPG:  100.9, T4th (101.2, 8th)

Notable injuries:
ANA:  John Gibson (day-to-day)
WPG:
  Mathieu Perreault (day-to-day)

Season Series:
2014-12-07; ANA 4, WPG 3 OT
2014-12-13; ANA 4, WPG 1
2015-01-11; WPG 4, ANA 5 S/O
ANA: 3-0-0 — WPG: 0-1-2

Vancouver Canucks  Calgary Flames

P2. Vancouver Canucks vs P3. Calgary Flames: Western Canada’s favorite off-and-on-again rivalry, the last three times these team met in the first round, it went to game seven overtime, and the winner went on to the Stanley Cup Final.  I don’t have confidence in either of these two making it past three rounds, but you never know.  Calgary is perhaps the biggest fluke team of 2014-15, improbably winning the most hopeless games on luck, luck which seems to have only gotten better toward the end of the season.  Their possession numbers are awful, even with an inflated PDO, implying they’re worse than they appear, which isn’t good to begin with.  Calgary is the enemy of the advanced-stats crowd this year — I wouldn’t dare pick them to win in the playoffs, a la some guy who picked Colorado last year.  Vancouver has had perhaps the most uneventful season, rising to second in the California-dominated Pacific Division with little fanfare.  They’re not the 2010-2012 Canucks, but they’re absolutely not the 2013-14 version either.  The aging core has demonstrated they’ve still got it, however they’ll be tested by Calgary’s formidable youth movement.  I think I’ve got to stick with the numbers: Canucks in six.  Wouldn’t it be funny if this was the Vancouver team to win it all?  Nobody would see it coming.

Record (P-W-(ROW)-L-OTL-SOL) & Last 10 (W-L-OT/SOL):
VAN101-48-(42)-29-3-2 — (6-3-1)
CGY:  97-45-(32)-30-4-3 — (6-3-1)

5v5 Fenwick/USAT-Close (since 2 March)
VAN:  50.9%, 15th (49.5% 18th)
CGY:  46.2%, 26th (47.7%, T23rd)

PDO/SPSv% (since 2 March)
VAN:  99.0, 26th (97.0, 27th)
CGY:  100.0, T15th (103.4, 1st)

Notable injuries:
VAN:  Shawn Matthias (day-to-day)
CGY:  Mark Giordano (IR)

Season Series:
2014-10-08; VAN 4, CGY 2
2014-12-20; CGY 2, VAN 3 OT
2015-01-10; CGY 1, VAN 0
2015-02-14; VAN 2, CGY 3
VAN: 2-2-0 — CGY: 2-1-1

Five Canadian teams enter, a maximum of three emerge.  It’s great that a super-majority made it this time, it’s just too bad about the seeding.  Except that these series will be awesome!  It’s a great year for Canada (and therefore the world)!  We’ve also got seven teams that have never won the Cup, with six possibly making it out of the first round.  Only half of 2013’s final four remain, while the victor of last year’s is left at the gate.  Parity rolls onward.

playoffs-2015-1Here’s my homemade 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff bracket.  I always say I think I’m done changing things, and I always change things.  What’s new here?  Lots: I felt the upper corners too blank, so I filled them with colored banners.  To match, I’ve tinted each side of the ice the color of their respective conferences, similar to my minimalist standings from last year’s playoff series.  The bracket itself was altered, pushing the competing teams together rather than centering them on the previous round.  This way, the tallies crawl up the bracket connectors.  Indeed, I did the same for the Cup Final, with the tallies oriented horizontally, climbing up to the Cup.  I think that’s all.  Looking forward to filling this one in!

As mentioned before, there are a lot of new faces in this tournament.  Let’s go new teams!  I’m pulling for you Winnipeg!  Vancouver, you’re cool too.  St. Louis, is this your year?  How about you Minnesota?  Nashville, up for the challenge?  Hey, Islanders, want to close out your building with a fifth Cup?  Ottawa, got a continued run in you?  Anything can happen; this is gonna be a circus.

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