Stanley Cup 2018, I: Place Your Bets

I – II – III – IV – V –

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to today to celebrate and to mourn, for we have come to the end of another long, yet exciting, yet miserable, NHL season.  The playoffs are here, which today will ring in one of my favorite times of the year.  As is tradition, I will go through the matchups and dissect them with my expert analysis and make a prediction on not only each series, but the tournament as a whole.

Hang on.  Predictions.  Why does that ring a bell…

Oh.  Right.  Before the season began, way back in September of 2017, I decided to put my prognostication prowess to the test and calculate out every single teams’ point projection and standings position.  What resulted was this image:

You know, it’s not half bad!  …in that it’s actually straight up half bad.  Let’s have a closer look.  I expected more from Dallas.  Edmonton, what the hell??  Chicago, it was going to happen eventually, but the year after winning the West?  Montréal — meh.  Carolina, I am so sorry.  New York Rangers, I predicted a slide, but not one this bad.

Now, I got the Jets as a playoff team right as a bit of a bold pick.  Nashville should have been higher, obviously.  The Lightning winning the East was right on, though it got hairy at the end of the season there and they didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy.  Washington & Pittsburgh were perfect and easy, as were Toronto, Minnesota and San Jose.

Boldly, I chose St. Louis to miss the playoffs.  That was a close one.  Colorado, good on you.  Vancouver, that’s about right.  In the east, I correctly foresaw Ottawa’s slide, though severely underestimated it.  Boston is not even close, looking like perhaps the best team in the league right now.  Buffalo… sigh… congrats on being the first ever 31st place team in NHL history.

And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the Vegas Golden Knights.  I am absolutely willing to eat a whole buffet of crow, given that I called them to finish dead last disdainfully with, and I quote, “that roster.”  I am happy to be exceptionally wrong, as the Golden Knights have weaved one of the season’s most compelling stories and becoming the best expansion team in all of major league sports history.  As had been cheekily predicted by many, they were dominant at home, and having attended a game at T-Mobile Arena myself, I can attest to their definite strength on home ice, as well as their fantastically entertaining arena experience.  Additionally, the Golden Knights, despite being a hockey team in the desert, have a ubiquitous presence in and around the Strip.  Las Vegas is proud to have their team, and they’ve shown that it’s well deserved.

Diving a little deeper into the numbers: I correctly predicted the exact point totals for two teams: Philadelphia and St. Louis.  I was within 3 points with Washington, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver.  I mentioned the playoff seeds I got correct above — strangely enough, I missed on all non-playoff seeding positions.  The worst predictions were Buffalo, Montréal, and Edmonton, all being off by exactly 30 points too many.  But of course, I was wrong on Vegas by 44 points too few.  On average, my predictions were off by 15 points.  Yikes.  It’s a good thing I’m not a professional hockey writer.

Naturally, after gambling on preseason picks and finishing quite a bit in the red, it makes complete sense to stay at the table and pray for Lady Luck to come around.  Same shooter.  Coming out:

Bringing the Cup back to Canada, eh?  Bold choice, especially against the Bruins, slayer of northern dreams.  Along the way we’ve got some choice matchups — Jets/Preds, Sharks/Kings, Penguins/Jackets, Bruins/Lightning — as well as upsets galore.  Fun and plausible!  Let’s take a look at the first round, shall we?

Stats herein (Power Play and Penalty Kill percentages, 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 26th, 2018, 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 Corsica.

 

A1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs M5. New Jersey Devils:  For the first time since I’ve been writing playoff predictions, the New Jersey Devils are in.  (Aside: that leaves only Arizona, Buffalo, and Carolina as the teams I’ve never written about on here…)  It’s been five long years, which is crazy since I grew up with the Devils being a playoff mainstay and multi-Cup winning team.  They face the Tampa Bay Lightning, reluctant winners of the Eastern Conference and most recently a playoff rival from back in 2007.  These are two speedy teams, lead by two late 2000s first overall draft picks in Steven Stamkos and Taylor Hall, respectively.  In fact, the Devils are basically just Taylor Hall and friends.  He put up 93 points this season, first on the team by a margin of 41 (!) points.  Holy crap.  Think they won the 2016 trade with Edmonton?  The Devils depth leaves a lot to be desired, and their goaltending tandem is shaky with former number one Cory Schneider performing horribly in limited starts since returning from injury.

Meanwhile, the Lightning, while still the best in the East, had fallen to Earth down the stretch (that negative goal differential since the deadline is a huge red flag).  This is  an incredibly deep team with superstars and solid youngsters, yet their goaltending of late has turned from Vezina quality to just about average.  If Andrei Vasilevskiy is fatigued as rumored, I don’t know that I trust him and Louis Domingue to handle a playoff workload successfully.  Still, their defense is solid, and goal scoring should come in spades given their overwhelming talent.  With the Devils having swept the season series (somehow), I can easily see this being an upset, however I think the Lightning will find a way to shut down Taylor Hall, and therefore, the Devils.  Lightning in six.  Truth be told, I don’t see my confidence in Tampa lasting longer than a round.

Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 113 | 54 [48] - 23 - 3 - 2 | +56
NJD:  97 | 44 [39] - 29 - 2 - 4 |  +3

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 26 [0.650] | 12 [ 9] - 6 - 2 - 0 | -2
NJD: 25 [0.625] | 12 [11] - 7 - 1 - 0 | +5

Power Play%
TBL: 20.7%, 14th
NJD: 28.8%,  4th

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 70.8%, 26th
NJD: 79.5%, 14th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 52.69%,  6th
NJD: 47.93%, 24th

PDO
TBL: 100.09, 17th
NJD: 100.86, 13th

Notable Injuries
TBL: Steven Stamkos
NJD: Marcus Johansson

Season Series
2017-10-17; TBL 4, NJD 4 S/O
2018-02-17; NJD 4, TBL 3
2018-03-24; TBL 1, NJD 2
TBL: 0-2-1 [0.167]
NJD: 3-0-0 [1.000]

 

A2. Boston Bruins vs A3. Toronto Maple Leafs:  Ohhhh baby this is what I’ve been hoping for ever since these two seeds were basically locked up back in… November.  Although the Sabres fan in me prefers that both teams missed the playoffs entirely, this will certainly do instead!

Everybody remembers 2013.  I was at a Sara Bareilles concert checking the scores on my phone before it started.  Toronto was up 4-1 in Game 7 and we know how that ended.  Six weeks later, I was in Boston the same night as the deciding game of the Cup Final… in Boston.  The Leafs imploded dramatically, bottoming out in 2016 to win the right to draft phenom Auston Matthews.  In 2014, the B’s won the Presidents’ Trophy, then imploded in a slightly less dramatic fashion over the subsequent two seasons.  Now we’ve got possibly the best matchup of the Eastern Conference, with both teams having something to prove and an age-old rivalry still burning hot.

These two have a lot in common; both are quick, young teams with a handful of incredible rookies, a smattering of dependable vets, and decades upon decades of history.  Toronto has arguably the better forward group, though Boston’s Brad Marchand eclipses all in points by a sizable margin.  Toronto has a higher scoring defensive core, but Boston has a better back end in general, including star goaltender Tuukka Rask, as well as boasting the best possession numbers in the league.  Honestly, I’m sensing a toss up here.  I hope it’s a brutal, seven game war of attrition, and I think that (gag) Boston triumphs over Toronto once again.  Bruins in seven.  It just feels like they’re peaking at the right time.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 112 | 50 [47] - 20 - 9 - 3 | +56
TOR: 105 | 49 [42] - 26 - 5 - 2 | +40

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 30 [0.682] | 13 [13] - 5 - 3 - 1 | +13
TOR: 22 [0.611] | 10 [ 9] - 6 - 1 - 1 | +10

Power Play%
BOS: 33.3%, 2nd
TOR: 41.7%, 1st (!)

Penalty Kill%
BOS: 85.3%,  8th
TOR: 74.0%, 23rd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
BOS: 53.10%, 4th
TOR: 52.75%, 5th

 PDO
BOS: 100.26, 15th
TOR: 101.52, 10th

 Notable Injuries
BOS: Rick Nash, Brandon Carlo
TOR: None

 Season Series
2017-11-10; BOS 2, TOR 3 OT
2017-11-11; TOR 4, BOS 1
2018-02-03; TOR 1, BOS 4
2018-02-24; BOS 3, TOR 3
BOS: 1-2-1 [0.375]
TOR: 3-1-0 [0.750]

 

M1. Washington Capitals vs M4. Columbus Blue Jackets:  Welcome to the club of perennial playoff teams, Columbus.  It’s been a long time coming.  In your first back-to-back appearance, you’ve been rewarded with a team that’s not Pittsburgh.  Hooray!  And I didn’t realize at the time, but Columbus, despite the wild card finish, has been one of the hottest teams of late.  That should terrify the Capitals, who, while winning the division, have fallen noticeably backward since last year.  Perhaps the lack of Presidents’ Trophy pressure will relax Washington into winning three rounds this time around?  I’m not sure.  Alex Ovechkin is always a force, however Columbus too comes equipped this year with a bonafide offensive dynamo in Artemi Panarin.  The Jackets are quite a bit deeper than the top-heavy Capitals but they do stumble significantly on special teams.  On the goaltending front, it’s Braden Holtby versus Sergei Bobrovsky, two of the best in the league, yet both have a bit of a playoff choking reputation, both specifically against the Penguins, funnily enough.  Oy, I have no idea what’s going to happen, so I’m going to do what I promised to do last year: never pick the Capitals to win anything again.  Blue Jackets in five.  Oh yes, I’m going there.

…congrats on your series win, Washington…

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 105 | 49 [46] - 26 - 6 - 1 | +18
CBJ:  97 | 45 [39] - 30 - 3 - 4 | +10

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 28 [0.700] | 14 [14] - 6 - 0 - 0 | +10
CBJ: 30 [0.750] | 14 [14] - 4 - 2 - 0 | +23

Power Play%
WSH: 25.0%, T6th
CBJ: 25.0%, T6th

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.3%, 12th
CBJ: 74.5%, 22nd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 48.50%, 22nd
CBJ: 52.47%,  7th

 PDO
WSH: 101.80, 9th
CBJ: 103.67, 3rd

 Notable Injuries
WSH: Jay Beagle
CBJ: Nick Foligno, Markus Nutivaara

 Season Series
2017-12-02; CBJ 3, WSH 4
2018-02-06; WSH 3, CBJ 2
2018-02-09; CBJ 2, WSH 4
2018-02-26; WSH 1, CBJ 5
WSH: 3-1-0 [0.750]
CBJ: 1-3-0 [0.250]

 

M2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs M3. Philadelphia Flyers: Awwwwww yes!  It seems the Penguins keep pulling in teams for series that I absolutely love to see, such as Columbus or Washington of late, but now we’re treated to the real Battle of Pennsylvania.  The last matchup in 2012 was a barnburner and a donnybrook, one of the most memorable series of the last decade, easily.  It featured scores like 8-5 and 10-3, 56 goals in total, and most notably, three suspensions and 258 PIMs in just Games 3 and 4.  So yeah, it was awesome.

Now we have the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, led by the arguably best player in the game and the sidekick who’s flown under the radar with 98 points in Evgeni Malkin, as well as the enigmatic Phil Kessel with 92 of his own.  The defense leaves a little to be desired, but as we know that doesn’t seem to matter, given their success in last year’s playoffs.  Matt Murray is accustomed to winning Cups, having two to his name in his first two seasons — at some point he must come to Earth.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia is an enigma of their own.  Last year they had a ten game winning streak and missed the playoffs; this year, they went on a ten game losing streak and made the playoffs in a divisional spot.  Weird, but not entirely unexpected, given the resurgence of Claude Giroux who put up 102 points — his best year since, you guessed it, 2012.

I don’t think this is a particularly hard choice.  The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of the four games with Philadelphia this year.  The Flyers’ penalty kill over the course of the season is next to second last, and Pittsburgh’s power play over that time is first.  That alone tips the scales heavily in favor of the Penguins.  Given their feisty history, there should be no shortage of special teams this series, so there’s a clear advantage here.  Penguins in six.  Honestly, it should probably be a sweep, but Philly will make it at least a little interesting.  I would prefer that this went seven though, for obvious reasons.

Notice how I set up a Pittsburgh – Columbus second round matchup?  Calculated.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
PIT: 100 | 47 [45] - 29 - 4 - 2 | +22
PHI:  98 | 42 [40] - 26 - 7 - 7 | +13

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
PIT: 24 [0.632] | 11 [11] - 6 - 2 - 0 | +3
PHI: 22 [0.550] |  9 [ 8] - 7 - 2 - 2 |  0

Power Play%
PIT: 22.4%, 10th
PHI: 18.2%, 21st

Penalty Kill%
PIT: 69.6%, 28th
PHI: 78.3%, 17th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
PIT: 51.78%, 10th
PHI: 50.44%, 14th

 PDO
PIT: 99.31, 18th
PHI: 98.41, 25th

 Notable Injuries
PIT: Derrick Brassard
PHI: Johnny Oduya, Michal Neuvirth

 Season Series
2017-11-27; PHI 4, PIT 5 OT
2018-01-02; PIT 5, PHI 1
2018-03-07; PIT 5, PHI 2
2018-03-25; PHI 4, PIT 5 OT
PIT: 4-0-0 [1.000]
PHI: 0-2-2 [0.250]

 

C1. Nashville Predators vs C4. Colorado Avalanche:  Can you believe this?  The Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs the year after they set a modern record for futility in the regular season.  Well done.  You’ve been rewarded with a date with the best team in hockey, the Nashville Predators.  And you get to go up to seven games potentially without your best veteran defenseman and goaltender.  Welp.  At least Nashville doesn’t have the best D-corps and the Vezina frontrunner to contend with…  Whoops!  Just kidding.  Colorado, if you make it out of this series, I will be damn impressed.  Without even going into Nashville’s offense, which is stellar and balanced, by the way, I don’t see the Avalanche winning a game.  Indeed, in the season series they did not.  The only way the Predators don’t win this series is if they lose a key piece to injury — like a Ryan Johansen or Filip Forsberg.  Otherwise, yeah, not much else to say here.  Predators in four.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 117 | 53 [47] - 18 - 4 - 7 | +57
COL:  95 | 43 [41] - 30 - 8 - 1 | +19

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 32 [0.762] | 15 [14] - 4 - 0 - 2 | +17
COL: 26 [0.619] | 11 [10] - 6 - 4 - 0 | +16

Power Play%
NSH: 15.6%, 28th
COL: 27.8%,  5th

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 79.5%, 15th
COL: 86.0%,  6th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 51.91%,  9th
COL: 49.14%, 18th

 PDO
NSH: 102.28, 6th
COL: 103.70, 2nd

 Notable Injuries
NSH: Calle Jarnkrok, Yannick Weber
COL: Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov

 Season Series
2017-10-17; COL 1, NSH 4
2017-11-18; COL 2, NSH 5
2018-03-04; NSH 4, COL 3 OT
2018-03-16; NSH 4, COL 2
NSH: 4-0-0 [1.000]
COL: 0-3-1 [0.125]

 

C2. Winnipeg Jets vs C3. Minnesota Wild:  Since 2011, the Jets and Wild have been geographic rivals, sort of.  It wasn’t until 2013-14 that the Winnipeg Jets finally moved into the Central Division, and since then they’ve been to the playoffs just once, failing to win a single game.  Minnesota, meanwhile, has been in the show every year since 2013, so I guess it was only a matter of time before these two finally met to consummate their rivalry.  I don’t know what to expect out of this, honestly — I haven’t watched a ton of Wild games this year, and, while the opposite is true of the Jets, they’ve been outright dominant in just about every game I saw.  So, my bias is toward Winnipeg.  In fact, they win in every category below.

That said, Minnesota is a sneaky good team.  Eric Staal has had a hell of a good year, against expectations and recent history.  And for the Wild, that’s where the good news ends.  They’ll be without Ryan Suter, and their defense will suffer greatly as a result.  On the other hand, the Jets have had an outstanding season, blowing away their team records and capturing home ice in the playoffs for the first time (out of their three franchise appearances).  Jets captain Blake Wheeler has had a career year, phenom Patrik Laine continues to make a push for future Rocket Richard trophies, and the older kids, Ehlers and Connor, are alright.  Oh yeah, they have Tyler Myers too.  Remember him?  And they have the winningest American goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck, so that’s pretty nifty I would say.  Jets in five.  A low five — four would not surprise me in the least.  Then we get our perhaps de facto Western Conference Final in Nashville-Winnipeg in the second found.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 114 | 52 [47] - 20 - 8 - 2 | +57
MIN: 101 | 45 [42] - 26 - 8 - 3 | +21

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 31 [0.775] | 15 [13] - 4 - 1 - 0 | +11
MIN: 24 [0.600] | 10 [10] - 6 - 3 - 1 |  +9

Power Play%
WPG: 19.3%, T17th
MIN: 19.3%, T17th

Penalty Kill%
WPG: 78.0%, 18th
MIN: 82.5%, 11th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WPG: 53.90%,  3rd
MIN: 48.80%, 20th

 PDO
WPG: 101.92,  7th
MIN: 100.62, 14th

 Notable Injuries
WPG: Matt Hendricks, Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba
MIN: Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

 Season Series
2017-10-20; MIN 2, WPG 4
2017-10-31; WPG 2, MIN 1
2017-11-27; MIN 2, WPG 7
2018-01-13; WPG 1, MIN 4
WPG: 3-1-0 [0.750]
MIN: 1-3-0 [0.250]

 

P1. Vegas Golden Knights vs P4. Los Angeles Kings:  Yeah, so about those Golden Knights.  They absolutely ran away with the Pacific Division, having led it since late December and finishing, albeit on a bit of slump, eight points up on second place.  The aforementioned game I attended was the night they clinched the division and it. was. awesome.  Now, the Los Angeles Kings are back in the playoffs after a brief hiatus.  I expected them to slide into mediocrity, but with a reborn Anze Kopitar putting up 92 points and the top defensive line in Cup-winning condition, they were right there fighting for the division all along.  The Golden Knights strength lies in their balance.  Due to the Expansion Draft providing no real superstars, the Knights instead have what amounts to a team of second and third liners.  Their weak spots are few, so opponents must compete against talent all game long.  They’ve also established deadly chemistry on offense, with William Karlsson’s unexpected 43 goal breakout demonstrating its effectiveness.

While Las Vegas will be pumped to host the playoffs for the first time, Los Angeles, the Knights’ de facto biggest rival, will be set on ruining their fun.  It is a new era for the Kings, but I learned not to underestimate this core a long time ago.  The Knights on the other hand have been underestimated consistently, yet they’ve always thrived against all odds.  At some point, they have to fall, right?  It’s true they’ve already been slumping for a few weeks (see their recent negative goal differential — thanks, Calgary), so I don’t really know what to expect with them.  The Golden Knights moving on the second round would be the best story, but I think it’s going to be the Kings in seven.  Los Angeles is used to winning, especially as a low seed, and the pressure is rising for Vegas.  Experience wins here.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
VGK: 109 | 51 [47] - 24 - 4 - 3 | +43
LAK:  98 | 45 [43] - 29 - 7 - 1 | +35

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
VGK: 23 [0.548] | 10 [ 8] - 8 - 2 - 1 |  -7
LAK: 27 [0.675] | 12 [12] - 5 - 2 - 1 | +16

Power Play%
VGK: 20.0%, 15th
LAK: 22.6%,  9th

Penalty Kill%
VGK: 83.6%, T9th
LAK: 92.3%,  1st

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
VGK: 49.20%, 17th
LAK: 50.05%, 15th

 PDO
VGK:  99.02, 19th
LAK: 101.87,  8th

 Notable Injuries
VGK: Luca Sbisa, David Perron
LAK: Jake Muzzin, Alex Iafallo

 Season Series
2017-11-19; LAK 2, VGK 4
2017-12-28; VGK 3, LAK 2 OT
2018-02-26; VGK 2, LAK 3 OT
2018-02-27; LAK 4, VGK 1
VGK: 2-1-1 [0.625]
LAK: 2-1-1 [0.625]

P2. Anaheim Ducks vs P3. San Jose Sharks:  Our final matchup of the first round is an old favorite.  The third leg of the Battle of California has been dormant since 2009, when the Ducks upset the Presidents’ Trophy winning Sharks in the first round.  In intrastate rivalries since then, the Ducks and Sharks have played the Kings in the playoffs one and four times, respectively, with the Kings winning three of five series (and two Cups).  That said, there’s never a dull moment between these two.  They really don’t like each other.  And how can you blame them?  The Ducks are horrible.  Just the worst.  They’ve been the bullies of the Western Conference for years and they just never seem to stop.  Unfortunately, they were able to secure home ice on the last day of the season due to the Sharks cooling off down the stretch.

But, seeding doesn’t matter, especially to the Ducks who are prone to losing Games Seven on home ice.  The Sharks, despite being a point behind in the standings, are simply the better team.  They score more, have better special teams, possession stats, and fewer wounded goaltenders.  I just can’t see the Ducks winning this series.  Sharks in six.  Get it done.

Regardless of any result in the Pacific, the second round is sure to be a bloodbath.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
ANA: 101 | 44 [40] - 25 - 6 - 7 | +22
SJS: 100 | 45 [40] - 27 - 7 - 3 | +21

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
ANA: 27 [0.750] | 13 [13] - 4 - 1 - 0 | +21
SJS: 25 [0.658] | 12 [11] - 6 - 1 - 0 | +15

Power Play%
ANA: 17.5%, 22nd
SJS: 16.7%, 26th

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 86.7%, 5th
SJS: 87.5%, 4th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 50.86%, 12th
SJS: 51.45%, 11th

 PDO
ANA: 104.19,  1st
SJS: 101.19, 11th

 Notable Injuries
ANA: John Gibson, Cam Fowler
SJS: Joe Thornton, Eric Fehr

 Season Series
2017-11-04; ANA 1, SJS 2 S/O
2017-11-20; ANA 3, SJS 2 S/O
2018-01-21; SJS 6, ANA 2
2018-02-11; SJS 3, ANA 2 S/O
ANA: 1-2-1 [0.375]
SJS: 3-0-1 [0.875]

We’ve got exactly as much turnover as last year, and somehow despite that, still only seven Cup virgins.  I guess bringing back New Jersey, Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Tampa will do that.  The rivalries here though might just be the best of the divisional playoff system.  It’s guaranteed to be a good time in the first round.

One other related fun fact to note: not only are there only two Original Arbitrary Six teams in the first round, one of which is guaranteed to go home, but the last five expansion teams, those no older than twenty years, are all in the playoffs together for the first time.  Nashville, Winnipeg (formerly Atlanta), Minnesota, Columbus, and Vegas collectively outnumber their rivals from antiquity five to two.  Pretty neat.  Maybe one of them will win a Cup?

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  7 — CBJ, MIN, NSH, SJS, VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  4 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), LAK (’12, ’14), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17)
Longest Cup drought:  TOR — 49 seasons
Returning teams:  9 — ANA, BOS, CBJ, MIN, NSH, PIT, SJS, TOR, WSH
Fresh blood:  7 — COL, LAK, NJD, PHI, TBL, VGK, WPG

Only minor tweaks were made in the offseason — none of them particularly notable.  I like where I’m at with the bracket.  If anything changes, I’ll be sure to let you know when they happen.

Let’s go Sharks!

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Wishes for Adidas’ NHL Takeover

With Adidas being the parent company of Reebok, they’re set to assume production of all NHL jerseys for the 2017-18 season.  Last time this happened, when Reebok took over in the offseason of 2007, all NHL team jerseys were redesigned to fit the new Edge template.  With this change being forced upon each team, some took the opportunity to rebrand or refresh their looks.  Some overhauled completely (Dallas, Vancouver, and Washington for example).  Others made minor tweaks to their jerseys.  Some made basically none.

Some teams made mistakes.  A few of them, unfortunately, still live to this day.  I’ve taken it upon myself to present a few concept logo blocks with my vision for team primary logos and colors going forward.  If these changes don’t happen, I will be disappointed, but I won’t give up hope — I’ll continue adding to this collection when inspiration strikes, provided that my ideas don’t magically come to life before then.

First up, my Buffalo Sabres:

Buffalo SabresBuffalo Sabres (Away)

Ditch the silver lines, return to a real, vibrant blue, and voilà!  That’s all they need.  This look is clear, identifiable, and timeless.  If they’re going to hoist the Cup at some point, I desperately hope it’s in these.  With the Sabres scheduled to play as the home team at the 2018 Winter Classic, we may see this jersey appear as soon as then — hopefully they do the right thing and elevate it to primary duty afterward.  If not, the likely worst case scenario is it would become a full-time third in 2018-19.  If that happens, they will have earned my money.


Calgary Flames (Third)Calgary Flames (Fourth)

Fixing the Calgary Flames would be simple: return to the 1980s.  Get rid of the black.  Promote the existing third to primary and add a road counterpart.  You won the Cup in these jerseys; why wouldn’t you want to promote them?  ’nuff said.


Carolina Hurricanes (Third)Carolina Hurricanes (Fourth)

The Carolina Hurricanes need a uniform update, badly.  Their 2013 redesign was horrendous, but thankfully they kept their unique third in reserve.  I wouldn’t mind seeing them upgraded to full-time duty.  The flag logo is far better than the swirl, even though they did win the Cup in the latter, but there’s also the fact that I’m not a fan of black primaries.  What about red?  I think that looks damn hot, even if it is a (tropical) storm warning flag.


Colorado Avalanche (Third)Colorado Avalanche (Fourth)

The Colorado Avalanche have been using the 2007 Reebok transition look for a decade; they’re the last to maintain use of the “apron string” look.  It needs a change more than any other team.  Their current thirds are decent, but I’m not sold on them being a primary.  They’re just a bit too experimental, plus burgundy has always been the Avs’ color.  How about these?


Columbus Blue JacketsColumbus Blue Jackets (Away)

The Columbus Blue Jackets‘ third is a great, great look.  I love the jersey, the color scheme, and the logo.  It’s more distinct, compared to the Jacket’s current palette which features zero unique colors.  The only problem is that vintage white cannot be used as an away jersey base, so to solve I’ve made it white across the board.  Looking sharp!


Minnesota WildMinnesota Wild (Away)

The Minnesota Wild are rumored to be going forward with a green jersey, similar to their Stadium Series jersey from last season.  I’m for it.  I think they should keep their away white jerseys and use them template for the homes.  Easy.  I bet this is exactly what we see come Draft Day, more-or-less.


Ottawa Senators (Third)Ottawa Senators (Fourth)

The Ottawa Senators are in dire need of a new look, having used the same original Reebok template since 2007.  Luckily, they’ve already created a complete set that would do nicely.  The “O” logo ties the franchise back to its predecessor in Ottawa, while ditching the tired look of the three-quarter-profile cartoon centurion.  Same as with Columbus, the vintage white is normalized to pure white.  There was a rumor swirling earlier this year that something like this was in the works for the future.  It’s been quiet on that front recently, but I’d still imagine this has a very good chance of happening.

Alternatively, they’ve been sitting on this cleaner version of their original profiled Senator logo for awhile.  It’s not on their jerseys anywhere, for some reason.  If the classic look isn’t to be, why not revamp the jerseys with this badass logo on front?  Hell, I’d be okay with a return to the black primary if this is what it looks like.


San Jose SharksSan Jose Sharks (Away)San Jose Sharks2San Jose Sharks (Away2)

This is more of a thought than a hope.  The San Jose Sharks used the Reebok takeover to refresh their Shark-biting-stick logo in 2007; modernizing while maintaining the overall look.  It’s been a decade since then, and the franchise has matured to a point of ubiquity and success in the Bay Area.  It’s time to grow the logo to match.  We know it’s a hockey team, so there’s no need for a stick in the logo.  This past season the Sharks released a beautiful set of “future” secondary logos for marketing purposes, which went more-or-less unused: see the clean full-bodied shark above.  There’s also a variant with a more triangular shape and a subtle SJ at the vertex.  Either one I think would be a great primary look.


Washington CapitalsWashington Capitals (Away)

Last but not least, look at this.  The Washington Capitals have used this stunning secondary logo since their transformation in 2007.  How is it not the primary?  I get that the wordmark is an update of their original logo, but come on.  This would be an incredible primary logo.  It’s simple, easily reproduceable and identifiable, and it’s freaking brilliant.  It forms a “W.” It’s got the Capitol in negative space.  The angle in the neck invokes the Washington Monument.  It’s wonderful.  After their latest playoff failure, it might just be a decent time to re-brand.  Make this the primary now.


I have a few more wants that I’m not sure how (read: am not skilled enough) to express visually:

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings would do well to add purple back to their look.  I’m not sure if that requires a whole new logo or not — I’d lean toward the latter, given all of their success with their current setup.  Perhaps just a trim on the jersey?  The league needs more purple; ie any purple.


Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have a great set of uniforms, and it hurts to suggest changes because of their mixed history.  I like the orca logo, but the “Vancouver” wordmark needs to go.   Alternatively, promote the third to full time and go full 1970s.  Either way, that’s all I want, so there’s nothing really new to illustrate here.  The design of the jerseys and their colors are perfect already.

In conclusion, I’m surprised by how content I am with the look of the NHL these days.   Only a handful of teams need a redo on the logo, jersey, and/or colors.  For the rest, a few uniform tweaks here and there would be nice, but overall I think these aforementioned changes would be enough to make the league the best it could possibly look.  Now, if only we could make color versus color jerseys for games the norm, only then would we have perfection.

Stanley Cup 2014, II: Worst. First Round. Ever.

 I  II  III  IV  V

My bracket is nearly worthless.  Woe is me.  I should have gone with my gut instead of thinking that the numbers meant anything.  Hockey is a strange beast, one that often defies the logic of mathematics or science.  Sure, when they say the team that has the puck more often is more likely to win, that sounds reasonable, but man, just look at Sunday‘s games, there’s no rhyme or reason.  Perhaps a blind coin toss would have been better than an “educated” guess.

nhl_bracket_2014_r2At least last year I had hope and apparently a decent amount of luck.  Now I’m stuck in 445,364th place (8% percentile) with little chance of moving up.  Verdammt!  Why did my Cup winner and hometown team not only have to lose in the first round, but be the 4th team ever to be reverse swept. 😡

Why you heff to be med?, indeed.  Frustrations aside, the hockey was really terrific.  Forget the negative hyperbolic title, the uncertainty, lack of safe leads, forced games, and all around terrific spectacle made for a memorable first round.  Hell, I’d go out on a limb and say, objectively, it was the actually best first round ever.  Let’s take a look:

Bruins vs. Red Wings:  I really hoped beyond all hope that the Red Wings would pull off the upset.  After Game 1, I was really really hoping that would continue.  However, it was not to be.  The juggernaut Bruins looked as such while the upstart Red Wings streak of skill and luck abruptly ended in a blazing four-game slaughter.  It’s a shame, my overwhelming dislike of the Bruins led me to pick against them out of principle, instead of doing what was clearly the smart thing to do.  Does that make me Ned Stark?

Lightning vs. Canadiens:  As for this, well, clearly I didn’t see that coming either.  I really should have, given the crucial injuries to the Lightning, who basically dressed the Syracuse Crunch for this series.  Game 1 was close, with a single defensive lapse being the difference; Game 4 was close too, ending in a desperate rally crushed by what I have to consider one of the worst penalty calls of the playoffs thus far.  The other two weren’t so tight.  Too bad.  My Atlantic Division bracket is dead.

Penguins vs. Blue JacketsHell of a series!  The deepest playoff run by Columbus in their history, where they won their first two playoff games ever.  Both in overtime.  Both after coming back from down at least 2 goals.  In fact, the first four games of the series were 4-3 decisions with the loser blowing a 3-1 lead, not to mention the near rally in Game 6 to make it 4-3 too!  Crazy.  The Jackets were never going to defeat Pittsburgh’s star power, but for a second the thought might have crossed my mind.  Forget the Penguins; everyone in the hockey world was rooting for #Lumbus this year.  What a great season they had, finally.  The best days are still ahead.

Rangers vs. Flyers:  There’s always a series I end up paying the least attention to.  I guess that’s what happens when you’re commuting during game time / watching the other simultaneous Eastern series instead.  I didn’t even see the fan brawl at the end of game six.  I heard Marty St. Louis was pretty good though. And Lundqvist too.  What’s he, like 5-1 in game sevens now?  Way to be, King Henrik.  Oh, right, I picked the Rangers to go to the Cup final.  At least that pick is going strong! Haha haha ha ha… oh I made myself sad.

Avalanche vs. Wild:  Alright I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but this series was ridiculous.  Late leads blown (what else is new), overtime heroics, controversial calls, etc.  The home team won every game, except seven of course, and even that was nearly a Colorado win.  Like I said, the advanced stats pointed toward the Avalanche’s demise, yet I couldn’t pick against them. It’s not like they helped pick my other series too… (facepalm).  Good for Minnesota though.  The acquisitions of Parise and Suter (as well as Moulson, Pomniville, their goalie carousel) are beginning to really pay off.  How good was Parise in game six?  Real good.  I might as well root for the Wild in round two.  I mean, I’ve got nothing else to lose.

Blues vs. Blackhawks:  For the Blues, this almost couldn’t have been more reminiscent of last year.  After Game 5, this comparison made the rounds.  Oof.  That hurts.  The Hawks would of course finish the series in six, but scoring 5 instead of 2.  Double oof.  Auf wiedersehen Sabres-west, you played okay, then fell apart.  Kinda like the Sabres!  Chicago, I really really didn’t like you after the Seabrook/Backes incident, but I suppose you’re not so bad as a whole.  What a fun series to watch this was.  Action-packed, slightly controversial, late comebacks, plentiful overtime. Really, the proto-typical divisional playoff matchup.  If only it could have been a Conference Final instead.  Hopefully this happens year after year after year.

Ducks vs. Stars:  I don’t understand how the Ducks won this series. Maybe the Stars collapsed into black holes, maybe the luck just went the Ducks’ way, I don’t know. Both teams clearly played their best hockey at home (in Dallas’ case in game six, their best 55 minutes…) There was a little bit of old Pacific rivalry residuals as well as new bad blood, especially with Corey Perry spearing nether regions and an injured captain’s wounds being targeted. I was clearly pulling for Dallas though. Like Columbus, they have some bright days ahead. As for the Ducks, well, a team from California is making the Western Conference Final, so that’s pretty good for my state of residence. Speaking of…..

Sharks vs. Kings:  In my prediction I wrote that this series would be “historically” awesome.  Well… it was absolutely historic.  Only if you’re a Kings fan, was it awesome.  As if the Sharks needed a bigger hill to climb in their struggle to shed the choker label.  I don’t even know what to say.  The Sharks were so dominant in Games 1-3; the Kings made taking Games 4-7 look easy.  When San Jose put up 13 goals in against Jonathan Quick in the first six periods, I thought the series was over.  I should have learned not to sleep on this Kings team.  Not after 2012, not after 2013, and not now.  Holy crap they’re good.  It’s almost not fair.  I bet we’ve got a repeat of last years Western Conference Final coming up.  I hope not, but what can you do with these almost-dynasties running around.

So many long series, such frustration.  Maybe it would be better if I didn’t make a bracket and just enjoyed the hockey.  Now that it’s shot, I can do as I damn well please in the later rounds.  Let’s roll the dice and draw a fresh hand from the deck:

Boston Bruins  Montreal Canadiens

A1. Boston Bruins vs A3. Montréal Canadiens:  Well, this will be fun.  I can only hope for a bloodbath.  This storied rivalry knows no lulls and there’s no chance this one goes quietly. Boston ran over Detroit, while Montréal ran over Tampa Bay.  The Habs have noted Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek, whilst the B’s have noted Canadien neck-breaker Zdeno Chara.  Whomever gets out of this series will be limping into the Conference Final.  The Bruins are the favorite, but my hatred for them has never been higher (except Iginla, he’s still cool). Canadiens in six.  And why not?  I’ve got nothing to lose at this point.  It’s a dumb move, yet there’s no way I’m picking the Bruins for anything. I hope they lose painfully.  For the next two weeks, I’ll be speaking French and wearing as much bleu, blanc et rouge as I can find.

Season Series:
2013-12-05; BOS 1, MON 2
2014-01-30; MON 4, BOS 1
2014-03-12; BOS 4, MON 1
2014-03-24; MON 2, BOS 1 S/O
BOS: 1-2-1 — MON: 3-1-0

Pittsburgh Penguins  New York Rangers

M1. Pittsburgh Penguins vs M2. New York Rangers:  With Columbus out of the picture, I once again care absolutely nothing for the Metropolitan Division.  I’ve got the Rangers going to the Cup Final and I stand by that pick.  Pittsburgh isn’t as good a team as their record suggests and if their stars continue to under-perform against a solid Rangers team, then it’s lights out.  Lundqvist had a terrific bounceback in game seven against the Flyers, and if he’s in the zone, good luck Penguins.  Rangers in seven.  I think this will be pretty evenly matched.  And once again, I think Fleury & Co are destined for a second round exit.

Season Series:
2013-11-06; PIT 1, NYR 5
2013-12-18; PIT 4, NYR 3 S/O
2014-01-03; NYR 2, PIT 5
2014-02-07; NYR 4, PIT 3 S/O
PIT: 2-1-1 — NYR: 2-1-1

Chicago Blackhawks  Minnesota Wild

C3. Chicago Blackhawks vs C4. Minnesota Wild:  Hey, who would have thought these two would meet again this year?  And in the second round?  Raise your hand.  I can wait.  Now, Minnesota clearly achieved something great in their franchise’s history by advancing for the first time since 2003, while Chicago is where they should be, where they’ve been almost every year since 2009.  As usual, I can only hope these new division rivals get heated and intense in their matchup.  Hopefully it will be a bit closer than it was last year.  Probably not.  Blackhawks in six.  Yeah, I gave the Wild another win this year, but that’ll be it.  If the Hawks do somehow find themselves on the losing side, well… that would be cool!  I love fresh faces in the final four and right now we’re looking at a strong possibility of the same four teams again this year. Blech.

Season Series:
2013-10-26; MIN 5, CHI 3
2013-10-28; CHI 5, MIN 1
2013-12-05; CHI 3, MIN 4
2014-01-23; CHI 1, MIN 2
2014-04-03; MIN 2, CHI 3 S/O
CHI: 2-0-3 — MIN: 3-1-1

Anaheim Ducks  Los Angeles Kings

P1. Anaheim Ducks vs P3. Los Angeles Kings:  Excuse me while I wipe the tears away to write this. …  For the first time in history (somehow), the Ducks and Kings will play each other in the playoffs.  Really, it’s never happened before.  Like the Sharks/Kings series, this one will be good. Maybe historically awesome!?  It can go one of two ways: 1) whomever wins is too beat up to reach the Cup Final or 2) whomever wins will cruise their way to another Stanley Cup.  I don’t see it shaking out any other way (which I guess would be to lose in the Cup Final).  The Ducks are here despite nearly reaching seven with Dallas and putting up typically bad possession numbers. The Kings became the fourth team to win a series after being down 0-3.  This is an easy pick, folks. Kings in five.  Then again, that season series might indicate another future.  Gah, I don’t even know what to think anymore.

Season Series:
2013-12-03; LAK 3, ANA 2 S/O
2014-01-23; LAK 1, ANA 2
2014-01-25; ANA 3, LAK 0 (Stadium Series)
2014-03-15; ANA 2, LAK 1
2014-04-12; ANA 4, LAK 3 S/O
ANA: 4-0-1 — LAK: 1-3-1

And finally, my homemade bracket with new pairings.  The lack of re-seeding makes life in the later rounds much easier and there’s something more aesthetically pleasing about the logos moving on in order instead of scrambling every round.  I might just continue to leave the seed numbers off too.  It’s not like they change at all.  We’ll see.

playoffs-2014-2Let’s keep it interesting.  All series to seven!  Blown leads!  Comebacks!  Line brawls!  The Bruins, Penguins, Blackhawks and Kings losing badly!  I want it all!

(and I want it in two weeks)