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 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.