Stanley Cup 2016, I: Oh, Canada!

I II III IV V

What happened?  The once proud and mighty hockey nation is sending zero local teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1970 and only the second time ever.  Back then, there were two Canadian teams (Montréal and Toronto) among twelve, good for 16.67% of the makeup of the league.  Now, there are seven in a league of thirty; the composition has improved to a solid 23.3%, yet here we are.  Does it mean anything?  Nope.  In a league of parity like the NHL, this was a statistical likelihood to happen at some point.  And of course there will be many many Canadians playing for the Cup, just entirely for American-based teams — the Cup will return to Canada this year, as it does every year.  However, we go another long year without a Canadian city getting its name engraved upon it.  Better luck next year.

Speaking of better luck next year, how about we revisit my predictions from October?  If you insist…

In the West:

Pacific:  Anaheim ✔️, San Jose ✔️, Calgary ✖️
Central:  Chicago ✔️, St. Louis ✔️, Nashville ✔️
Wild Cards:  Dallas ✔️, Vancouver ✖️

In the East:

Atlantic:  Tampa Bay ✔️, Montréal ✖️, Detroit ✔️
Metropolitan:  Pittsburgh ✔️, New York Islanders ✔️, Washington ✔️
Wild Cards:  New York Rangers ✔️, Florida (!) ✔️

Notables off the board:  Minnesota ✖️, Los Angeles ✖️, Ottawa ✔️

Draft lottery top five, no tanks allowed:  New Jersey ✖️, Arizona ✖️, Colorado ✖️, Carolina ✖️, Toronto ✔️

The loss of Canada was clearly unanticipated, as was the resurgence of the Kings (should have seen it coming), but other than that, pretty good.  While the seeding is a bit wonky, the teams are there, including the Panthers!  What luck!  Given how the season went, I’m a bit surprised my pick of an absent Boston was correct, though I made it for a reason and they followed through for me.  Thanks Boston!

Now that lottery group, they’re clearly swinging in Canada’s direction too.  Obviously the Leafs are bad, but who would have anticipated Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg joining them there after playoff years?  Coincidentally, the others on my list would remain clumped together, though just outside the wildcards, not in the basement.

That brings us to the playoffs.  As usual, I had a hell of a time picking my bracket.  The strange thing is, I seem to be on the same page as many “experts” and podcasters, which worries me.  None of them are ever really on the mark, and I’ve got a streak to continue.  Each year I’ve done this, I’ve picked at least one of the finalists, including the winner in 2013.  I really hope I come close this year, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

After all, my reasoning down below is based on little more than a few games I watched, a bunch of numbers, and a gut feeling based on what I’ve heard all season.  Good enough, eh?

nhl_bracket_2016_r1

Yeah, I picked the Caps to win it all.  I’m really going to hate it when they lose to the Rangers in the second round…

Advanced stats herein (5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi [Shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots, a decent measure of possession] & PDO [save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent measure of luck]) are measured from the trade deadline, February 29th, 2016, until the end of the regular season.  This is done in order to portray a more representative sample as teams trend toward their playoff forms.  All numbers are taken from NHL.com, hockey-reference.com, and War-On-Ice.

Florida Panthers New York Islanders

A1. Florida Panthers vs M4. New York Islanders: Someone is going to leave this series very, very happy.  The Islanders are making the show for the third time in four years, while the Cats return for the first since 2012, and only the fifth time in their history.  What makes this extra special is the fact that these teams hold the two longest active series win droughts: The Islanders last won in 1993; the Panthers in 1996.  Like I said, someone will be happy.  And to be honest, I don’t think it’s going to be that close.  The Panthers won their division (as they did in ’12), but this time they didn’t crawl into the top spot with loser points; they’re for real.  Remember when they put up a 12 game win streak? Led by the ageless Jaromir Jagr and some kids who have taken a leap forward, I can see them running all over the battered New York Islanders, who are without their starting goaltender and numerous key players.  Panthers in six.  The Cats got a taste in 2012; this time they’ll know how to break through.  Sorry Islanders, luck isn’t with you this year.

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
FLA:  103 / 47-[40]-26-6-3 / +34 --- (12-7-1)
NYI:  100 / 45-[40]-27-5-5 / +16 --- (12-7-3)

PP% / PK%
FLA: 
16.9%, 23rd / 79.5%, 24th
NYI:  
18.3%, 17th / 84.5%, 4th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
FLA:  52.5%, T7th
NYI:  46.7%, T25th

PDO
FLA:  100.7, T8th
NYI:  100.8, 7th

Notable injuries
FLA:  Willie Mitchell, Vincent Trocheck, Erik Gudbrandson
NYI:  Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee

Season Series
2015-11-27; NYI 2, FLA 3 S/O
2015-12-15; NYI 1, FLA 5
2016-03-14; FLA 2, NYI 3
FLA: 2-1-0 — NYI: 1-1-1

Tampa Bay Lightning Detroit Red Wings

A2. Tampa Bay Lightning vs A3. Detroit Red Wings:  Would you look at that, a rematch from last year.  These divisional playoffs seem to be working so far!  It’s the Steve Yzerman Cup, Part 2.  The Lightning went on to the Cup Final last year, vanquishing the Red Wings, along with two other Original Six teams to get there.  Strange thing is, neither of these teams are really the same as last year.  The Lightning are without Stamkos for months, the Triplets have been significantly less impactful, and they weren’t even the best team in their state.  The Red Wings meanwhile continue their playoff streak, but also their roll in mediocrity since the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom in 2012.  Without Mike Babcock, I don’t see this team as achieving anything but a first-round exit.  These aren’t close to the Red Wings of the last decade.  Geez, I might as well flip a coin for this one.  No wait, I did that last year.  Looking at the stats below and with major absences in mind (and boy Tampa, good luck), I’m gonna have to go with the Red Wings in six.  But really, I have no solid leanings either way.

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
TBL:  97 / 46-[43]-31-2-3 / +26 --- (10-9-1)
DET:  93 / 41-[39]-30-6-5 / -10 --- (10-10-0)

PP% / PK%
TBL:  
15.8%, T27th / 84.0%, 7th
DET:  
18.8%, 13th / 81.5%, 14th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL:  52.5%, T7th
DET:  52.4%, T9th

PDO
TBL:  100.5, T11th
DET:  97.9, 29th

Notable injuries
TBL:  Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman, Victor Hedman, Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson
DET:  Mike Babcock

Season Series
2015-10-13; TBL 1, DET 3
2015-11-03; TBL 1, DET 2
2016-02-03; DET 1, TBL 3
2015-03-22; DET 2, TBL 6
TBL: 2-2-0 — DET: 2-2-0

Washington Capitals Philadelphia Flyers

M1. Washington Capitals vs M5. Philadelphia Flyers:  The Flyers incredible run to the postseason saw them leapfrog no fewer than three teams on their ascent.  They are rewarded with a date with the Washington Capitals, the most dominant team the NHL has seen since, well, the 2010 Washington Capitals.  The last time these teams met was 2008, where the sixth-seeded Flyers “upset” the division champion Capitals, who were making their first playoff appearance in the Ovechkin-era.  Now, the Capitals are a tough pick, even with their incredible season, because of the ever-looming specter of past playoff disappointments.  Last time they won the Presidents’ Trophy, they were out in seven.  Last year (as well as many others), they blew a 3-1 series lead.  But, I have a feeling this year might be different.  For one, they have Justin Williams.  What happens when a team who can’t win a game seven ices a guy who can’t lose one?  I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll find out sooner rather than later, but I think the Capitals will take this series in five.  If I’m wrong, well, I hope the Penguins win so we can get a Philadelphia/Pittsburgh series.  Those are always fun.

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
WSH:  120 / 56-[52]-18-6-2 / +57 --- (11-6-4)
PHI:   96 / 41-[38]-27-6-8 / +1 --- (13-5-3)

PP% / PK%
WSH:  
21.9%, 5th / 85.2%, 2nd
PHI:  
18.9%, T11th / 80.5%, T20th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH:  53.0%, 6th
PHI:  52.4%, T9th

PDO
WSH:  98.8, T23rd
PHI:  100.3, 14th

Notable injuries
WSH:  none
PHI:  Michael del Zotto

Season Series
2015-11-12; WSH 5, PHI 2
2016-01-27; PHI 4, WSH 3 OT
2016-02-07; PHI 2, WSH 3
2016-03-30; WSH 1, PHI 2 S/O
WSH: 2-0-2 — PHI: 2-2-0

Pittsburgh Penguins New York Rangers

M2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs M3. New York Rangers:  The Rangers won on the last day of the season, putting themselves in a divisional seed.  Their reward?  The arguably hottest team in the NHL in the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Since switching their coach, Pittsburgh has reversed what looked like a lost season to catapult themselves firmly in the second seed.  If not for Washington’s massive early lead in points, we might have had a battle for supremacy here.  Instead, I think it’s going to happen in the second round.  The Rangers window is closing rapidly and I don’t think team has the stuff to continue their recent playoff success.  Not against the buzz saw of the resurgent Penguins.  Penguins in five.  The only thing that may make it close is the extent of the injuries to Pittsburgh.  What keeps it one-sided is the equally damaging injuries to the Rangers.  Whoever wins this series is probably toast next round.

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
PIT:  104 / 48-[44]-26-4-4 / +42 --- (17-5-0)
NYR:  101 / 46-[43]-27-7-2 / +18 --- (10-7-3)

PP% / PK%
PIT:  
18.4%, 16th / 84.4%, 5th
NYR:  
18.6%, 14th / 78.2%, 26th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
PIT:  56.4%, 2nd
NYR:  46.9%, 22nd

PDO
PIT:  103.5, 1st
NYR:  101.7, 4th

Notable injuries
PIT:  Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray
NYR:  Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Mats Zuccarello, Viktor Stalberg, Eric Staal

Season Series
2016-02-10; NYR 3, PIT 0
2016-03-03; NYR 1, PIT 4
2016-03-13; PIT 5, NYR 3
2016-03-27; PIT 3, NYR 2 OT
PIT: 3-1-0 — NYR: 1-2-1

Dallas Stars Minnesota Wild

C1. Dallas Stars vs C5. Minnesota Wild:  A series fifteen years in the making, the Minnesota Wild will play against their predecessor franchise, the former Minnesota North Stars.  Green on green on green.  Dallas is a curious team.  It’s got firepower up front and an underrated blue line defending an unusual 1A/1B goalie system.  They led the Central division for most of the season before barely winning it in the end.  Minnesota, meanwhile, floundered enough to get their coach fired, rallied around a new system, but again, basically fell into a playoff spot because of the incompetence of the Colorado Avalanche.  Their 87 points is the lowest amount for a playoff team since 2003.  The Wild have been to the playoffs four years in a row now, yet they have been unable to really break through (series wins against Colorado and St. Louis included).  They’re possibly the worst team to make the playoffs in the salary cap era, and thus I think they get clobbered by a Dallas team that came close enough to a first-round victory in 2014 to make the jump.  Stars in four.

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
DAL:  109 / 50-[48]-23-7-2 / +37 --- (12-4-3)
MIN:   87 / 38-[35]-33-9-2 / +9 --- (10-8-1)

PP% / PK%
DAL: 
22.1%, 4th / 82.3%, 10th
MIN:  
18.5%, 15th / 77.9%, 27th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
DAL:  49.5%, 15th
MIN:  46.8%, 24th

PDO
DAL:  101.3, 5th
MIN:  100.5, T11th

Notable injuries
DAL:  Tyler Seguin
MIN:
  Thomas Vanek, Zach Parise

Season Series
2015-11-14; MIN 2, DAL 3 OT
2015-11-28; DAL 4, MIN 3 OT
2015-12-21; DAL 6, MIN 3
2016-01-09; MIN 2, DAL 1
2016-02-09; DAL 4, MIN 3 OT
DAL: 4-1-0 — MIN: 1-1-3

St. Louis Blues Chicago Blackhawks

C2. St. Louis Blues vs C3. Chicago Blackhawks:  Well, well, well.  Look what we have here.  It’s been two years since the last time these two met in the playoffs, and will be only the second time since The Lockout, but it doesn’t feel that way, does it?  As always, I expected the Interstate 55 series to be a bloodbath, a rough grind, a display of dazzling skill on both sides.  The Blues had shown glimpses of greatness during the last stretch of the season, including a stunning four game shutout streak.  The Hawks, however, more or less backed into the playoffs, winning just five of their last ten.  Based on what I see on paper, I expect a relatively easy victory for the Blues.  Following my gut, this isn’t really a contest: Blackhawks in six.  St. Louis is consistently a disappointing playoff team and I haven’t been inspired enough to think otherwise.  Unless the core summits Mt. Chicago this year, I fear their troubles will continue until change comes.  The Hawks just know how to win in the postseason and I have no reason to doubt them again.  (This isn’t quite a reverse jinx, but you must know I want St. Louis to win.  Enough of you, Chicago)

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
STL:  107 / 49-[44]-24-5-4 / +22 --- (13-4-0)
CHI:  103 / 47-[46]-27-7-2 / +27 --- (8-6-4)

PP% / PK%
STL:  
21.5%, 6th / 85.1%, 3rd
CHI:  
22.6%, 2nd / 80.3%, 22nd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
STL:  55.7%, 3rd
CHI:  50.9%, 12th

PDO
STL:  102.6, T2nd
CHI:  100.7, T8th

Notable injuries
STL:  Steve Ott, David Backes, Jake Allen
CHI:  Duncan Keith (suspended for Game 1), Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw

Season Series
2015-11-04; STL 6, CHI 5 OT
2015-11-14; CHI 4, STL 2
2016-01-24; STL 0, CHI 2
2016-03-09; CHI 2, STL 3 S/O
2016-04-07; STL 2, CHI 1 OT
STL: 3-2-0 — CHI: 2-0-3

Anaheim Ducks Nashville Predators

P1. Anaheim Ducks vs C4. Nashville Predators:  What a story for the Anaheim Ducks.  Once upon a time, they were in last place in the Western Conference.  Bruce Boudreau was on the hot seat.  The coach who had only ever won division championships in his full seasons in the NHL.  Well, he’s got another one, albeit one that was both widely predicted and a stunning surprise.  They lucked out avoiding the California civil war of the 2/3 matchup… or did they?  The Nashville Predators are sneaky good, though they struggled to stay above water in the division of death at times.  They are an easy sleeper pick to upset the Ducks, however I’ve learned my lesson enough times to not follow my rebellious side.  Ducks in seven.  The last time these two met, the Predators won their first series ever.  The Ducks are coming off a Western Conference Final appearance.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them there again.

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
ANA:  103 / 46-[43]-25-7-4 / +27 --- (12-6-3)
NSH:   96 / 41-[37]-27-12-2 / +11 --- (10-5-3)

PP% / PK%
ANA:  
23.1%, 1st / 87.2%, 1st
NSH:  
19.7%, 10th / 81.2%, 16th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA:  50.7%, 13th
NSH:  52.2%, 11th

PDO
ANA:  102.6, T2nd
NSH:  99.9, 16th

Notable injuries
ANA:  David Perron, Kevin Bieksa, Brandon Pirri
NSH:
  none

Season Series
2015-10-22; ANA 1, NSH 5
2015-11-01; NSH 2, ANA 4
2015-11-17; ANA 2, NSH 3
ANA: 1-2-0 — NSH: 2-1-0

Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks

P2. Los Angeles Kings vs P3. San Jose Sharks:  Oh no.  Ohhhhh no.  It’s happening.  How did we get here again?  After a year off of the playoffs for both of these teams, the brutal, recently one-sided rivalry returns.  I can’t watch.  The Kings have still been “the Kings”, an incredible possession team, yet they nearly won the division, an uncharacteristic look as a perennial dangerous low seed.  Most of the key players from the first two Cups are still around, though that blue line looks a little thin these days and you don’t really know which Jonathan Quick you might get here.  The Sharks look good, sporting the best road record in team history (a benefit when starting the series on the road).  Joe Thornton alone has had a brilliant year, to say nothing of the supporting cast.  For once, the Sharks have a goaltending tandem that should be able to stop a puck (looking at you, 2014 Antti Niemi), plus a few clutch players like Joel Ward.  I really don’t know.  My gut is telling me not to pick the Sharks (don’t sleep on the Kings), but they’re not the Sharks of 2014.  They’ve got a new captain, along with an old captain who seems to enjoy nothing more than getting assists and growing a great big bushy beard!  I would love for Martin Jones (an upgrade in net) to defeat his old team; it would be incredible.  It will probably be the best series of the first round, and I just might have to hide until it’s over.  Sharks in seven.  They were *this* close last time — without Justin Williams, the Kings won’t get that game seven boost.  Fingers crossed!

Record (P / W-[ROW]-L-OTL-SOL / GD) — Since 2/29 (W-L-OTL)
LAK:  102 / 48-[46]-28-3-3 / +31 --- (11-7-2)
SJS:   98 / 46-[42]-30-3-3 / +30 --- (13-8-0)

PP% / PK%
LAK:  
20.0%, 8th / 81.4%, 15th
SJS:  
22.5%, 3rd / 80.5%, T20th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
LAK:  57.4%, 1st
SJS:  54.8%, 4th

PDO
LAK:  100.1, 15th
SJS:  100.6, 10th

Notable injuries
LAK:  Marian Gaborik, Alec Martinez, Matt Greene
SJS:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Nieto

Season Series
2015-10-07; SJS 5, LAK 1
2015-10-22; LAK 4, SJS 1
2015-12-22; SJS 5, LAK 3
2016-01-24; LAK 3, SJS 2 OT
2016-03-28; LAK 2, SJS 5
LAK: 2-3-0 — SJS: 3-1-1

There’s not a lot of variety here, to be honest.  The same key teams have either returned for another shot, or they’re back after an uncharacteristic dip.  Only the Panthers are truly a new team here, and it would be nice to see teams like Buffalo, or Carolina, or Edmonton, or Columbus show up here with more regularity.  However, this should be a fun year, so long as either Chicago or Los Angeles doesn’t win the Cup again — though he same teams mean the rivalries continue to burn hot.  For now, I leave you with a new section for your enjoyment:

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  6 — FLA, MIN, NSH, SJS, STL, WSH
Cup Champions since 2006:  5 — ANA (’07), DET (’08), CHI (’10, ’13, ’15), LAK (’12, ’14), PIT (’09)
Longest Cup drought:  STL — 47 seasons
Returning teams:  11 — ANA, CHI, DET, MIN, NSH, NYI, NYR, PIT, STL, TBL, WSH
Fresh blood:  5 — DAL, FLA, LAK, PHI, SJS

playoffs-2016-1

And of course, my bracket.  A lot has changed, but almost all of the changes are under the hood.  I redid the logo blocks subtly, though those were already on display last month.  I think they’re looking better than ever.

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