Forget March Madness! Studies have shown that the NHL Playoffs are really the best time to fill out brackets instead of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Yes, March Madness generates a lot of excitement every year, but all the upsets generally come to an end when you get to the later rounds and the best teams always find a way to win the championship. So that leaves us with the NHL and Major League Baseball battling it out for which sport generates the most parity in the playoffs. When you consider that baseball sends six less teams out of 30 into the playoffs compared to hockey, it turns out that this is no contest.
So in conclusion, we sports fans should be calling for May or June Madness instead. I mean, my co-worker and I spent more than a half-an-hour debating who should win the Stanley Cup while discussing every team in detail. Can you imagine anyone of us debating the merits of the 16 seed in the NCAA tournament? Do we even know a single player on that team? Didn’t think so. That’s why the Stanley Cup playoffs is the most fun to predict.
As mentioned in the parity post, if you were to add all the “proper” seeds together, the average NHL playoffs in the last 25 years generated a combined total of 125. With the minimum total of 101, we need to figure out at least 24 points worth of lower seeds to advance into the playoffs. That should be easy considering that the NHL has given us last year’s Los Angeles-New Jersey Stanley Cup Final, the 2006 Carolina-Edmonton Stanley Cup Final and the 2010 Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers. To go along with that, since the President’s trophy has been awarded the team with the most regular season standings points in 1986, only seven of those teams would win the Stanley Cup. The lesson, as always, is to stop wasting our time on spending thousands of dollars on regular season tickets, because the NHL never makes the regular season matter.
So without further ado, here is my 2013 bracket for the Stanley Cup playoffs on the left. My co-worker’s bracket is on the right.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
The Pittsburgh Penguins are once again the darlings of hockey and are expected to make it out of the East to the Stanley Cup finals. Once again, all hockey fans need to bow down to the proverbial front office Pope in Ray Shero by picking up Douglas Murray, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla at the mid-season trade deadline. But as a result, this will be the third straight year that Pittsburgh’s chemistry will be messed up due to the injury layoffs as Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal have all been out at the later stages this season. Meanwhile, the New York Islanders have been the breakout team of the Eastern Conference with John Tavares now considered among the 10 best skaters in hockey. They play a break-neck offense-first brand of hockey that would make Bruce Boudreau proud and their PDO (combined shooting and save percentage during 5-on-5 play) proves that they still have more left in the tank. This series could be the most fun of them all and it may come down to which team steps up defensively. Dare I say it, but I trust the Islanders more because of the Travis Hamonic-Andrew MacDonald shut down defensive pairing. With in one series, we have our first upset on the books.
Montreal v. Ottawa
The most storied team in hockey is back in the Stanley Cup playoffs and better than ever with Norris Trophy favorite P.K. Subban leading the way. In fact, if it wasn’t for Alexei Yemelin’s knee injury, Montreal could have had the best blue line not named Chicago with Andrei Markov, Raphael Diaz, Francis Bouillon and Josh Gorges. Another team that could challenge that moniker is the Ottawa Senators and their number one penalty kill. Despite all the injuries this year, head coach Paul MacLean made a Jack Adams worthy performance by having his hockey team give up the fewest goals among teams…not named Chicago. Unlike other stereotypically defensive minded teams, Ottawa can actually shoot the puck a little. So this series will depend on which team will win the Corsi (a team’s percentage of combined shots on goal, off goal and blocked over total shots on goal, off goal and blocked) and Fenwick (exactly like Corsi, but block shots are excluded) battle as I take Ottawa as my next upset pick.
Washington v. New York Rangers
Here we go again, boys and girls! The Rangers and Capitals will square off for the fourth time in five years and three of them have occurred in round one. It has been nothing short of a dramatic season for both sides as the Rangers got off to a slow start due to the failings of their depth forwards and superstars Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. Meanwhile, the Caps got off to a slow start because of a then shoddy defensive core and a team trying to understand the tactics a third coach in 14 months has given them. In the end, both teams figured out how to make the playoffs as the performances from both sides are now back to normal. With that said, Marian Gaborik is gone, and so could Richards after this season because of his hefty $6.67 million/year contract at age 32. It is great to see Derek Brassard break out by getting away from the underworld that is Columbus, but the Rangers still struggled to score to their potential despite a great corsi and PDO. This is also despite the fact that Derek Stepan turned into an underrated superstar. Lastly, did you know that if it weren’t for the fact that point shares are biased against shut down-type defenceman (Dan Girardi is #79? Really? And where’s Karl Alzner on this list?), the Caps would have had all their starting defenceman ranked in the top 100. That’s crazy considering where Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Steve Oleksey were to start the year. Hopefully, this is a comfortable series win for the Caps.
Boston v. Toronto
Toronto finally calms down a national media by making the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Now, they hope to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967, the longest Cup drought among original six teams by 25 years. They lead the league in hits and block shots and are second best in the penalty kill but they also lead the league in giveaways. Despite the ignorant rumors of the Maple Leafs wanting to pick up Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline, James Reimer could be the sleeper candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Meanwhile, the Bruins have finished the season on a mini-slump for the second straight year. They may lead the league in faceoffs again and they do have great forward depth in Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. However, if the Bruins ever want to generate any substantial form of offense to win the Cup again, Seguin and Marchand need to play like 80-100 point producers instead of their usual 60-point level. Also, when was the last time Jaromir Jagr has made a positive impact for his team? 2000? The curse of the Jagrmeister continues…at a later time as the B’s win in seven.
Western Conference Quarterfinals
Chicago v. Minnesota
For all the hoopla of signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise over the summer, the Wild hasn’t been able to transform into a Stanley Cup contender. In fact, it wasn’t until the final day that they clinched their playoff spot! Chicago on the other hand couldn’t ask for a better season. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are once again competing against each other for the Hart Trophy, let alone the best player on the team, Brandon Saad has been a revelation and all of Chicago’s defencemen are in the top-63 on point shares. Oh, and we haven’t even talked about Marian Hossa and Chicago’s third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg. Minnesota can only win this series if Josh Harding or Nicklas Backstrom can stand on their head and there is not enough evidence to show for it.
Anaheim v. Detroit
Anaheim’s puck luck still regressed by the end of the year, but enough of their players still had fluky seasons (hello Viktor Fasth) that make you hard to believe they happened. Detroit, on the other hand, is the wily old veteran team that has great puck possession numbers with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk getting the job done once again. Add the fact that the Red Wings added Damien Brunner and Jordin Tootoo and developed players like Brendan Smith, Cory Emmerton, Gustav Nyquist, Jakub Kindl and Danny Dekeyser and they certainly still have a bright future. In the meantime, Detroit will go on and put an end to the luckiest team in the Western Conference.
Vancouver v. San Jose
It’s the battle of the most underachieving franchises in the last decade! Both sides are aging and looking for one last shot to win the Stanley Cup until they need some form replenishing to their respective rosters. Vancouver still has their top line of the Sedin Twins and Alex Burrows while Jason Garrison has lived up to his hefty contract and teamed up nicely with Dan Hamhuis as the top defensive pair. If Ryan Kesler can get back to his old healthy self, the Canucks have a shot. With that said…uh oh! Did you hear that? Oh…my…god! It’s Raffi Torres’ music!!!! Can he bite the hand that used to feed him? I could make a case for Antti Niemi, Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski and their great faceoff percentage to give the Sharks this series, but since the trade deadline, no player has made a bigger impact for his new team like Raffi Torres. Vancouver is too decaying for me to pick them as the talent gap stops after their top two lines as the Canucks have to find a way to get younger and less expensive this offseason.
St. Louis v. Los Angeles
Poor St. Louis! If you read my Mike Ribeiro post, you would have thought the Blues would have been my dark horse candidate to win the Cup. Instead, they choked that opportunity…by winning too much (St. Louis was on pace to play Vancouver as a six seed until they went 14-3-0 in the month of April) and having to play the number one possession team in the playoffs for the second straight year. Goaltending will be the most important factor to this series as Brian Elliott is catching fire after a slow start to the season. Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick has not been able to perform at the level he was at last year, but the rest of his team has picked him up. On paper, this is by far the best series in round one. Can St. Louis’ top five forwards of Alex Steen, Chris Stewart, Patrick Berglund, David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko (and maybe a soon to be healthy T.J. Oshie) match Los Angeles’ top five forwards of Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams? Can Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk match the breakout seasons of Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov with Drew Doughty? It’s a tight one, but I would go with the Kings based on experience alone.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Washington v. New York Islanders
Now the fun predictions begin. Of all the teams the Capitals have faced this year, the New York Islanders were the team that scared me the most. However, this is a group that only has two scoring lines and Evgeny Nabokov’s .916 5-on-5 save percentage can’t last this long into the postseason. Braden Holtby’s .931 5-on-5 save percentage can. This chart below will also show that only James Reimer can argue that he has performed the best under the most duress among all qualified goaltenders (over 24 games played) than Holtby.
|Shots faced per game|
|Goalie Point Shares per Game|
In conclusion, Caps all the way.
Boston v. Ottawa
Some call it a great series and I agree too…for taking a nap! Seriously, both teams have great goaltending and play a grind it out style that will make your brain question why you watch hockey in the first place. Again, forward depth is key and the Bruins have it more than the Senators. However, that Jagrmeister curse is lurking at every chance it gets, but Ottawa’s health will be the key to their chances and younger players like Cory Conacher will have to make an impact. In the end, Boston knows how to get it done and win this year’s Counting Sheep Memorial Cup.
Western Conference Semifinals
Chicago v. Detroit
Detroit is a wily old bunch alright, but the Blackhawks have surpassed them since the 2009 Winter Classic. They are just too good in all phases of the game and unless Jimmy Howard can stand on his head, I just don’t see the Red Wings lasting that long in the second round.
Los Angeles v. San Jose
This has a chance to be a great series, if San Jose can remember how to score goals. They have the players to do that, but the Sharks have an old roster and the likes of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski will be the key to their reloading period. Add the fact that there is no shut down guy on their blue line and this should be a quick series for a too talented Kings team.
Eastern Conference Finals
Washington v. Boston
Can Washington’s poor Corsi outlast Boston’s Jagrmeister curse? I’d say yes. Brooks Laich and Joel Ward should be coming back and performing at their peak levels at this point in the playoffs. Outside of dropping maybe Eric Fehr or Jason Chimera for Laich, this should be a more flawless transition for Adam Oates’ team than what Pittsburgh has to deal with. That means that the Caps now have not two, but three dangerous scoring lines and their firepower has to be too much for the Bruins. Unless the clock strikes midnight for Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Steve Oleksy, I don’t see how the Caps lose this series. The curse of the Jagrmeister continues!
Western Conference Finals
Chicago v. Los Angeles
This, my friends, is the perfect Western Conference finals match-up. Jonathan Quick might step up and glove-save Los Angeles into the Stanley Cup finals, but he has not been himself this year. Chicago is just too complete of a team for them not to advance. However, the Kings’ two top lines can outmatch Chicago’s top two lines. Unless Corey Crawford performs like he did last year instead of this year, this could be a quick but fun series that goes to the Blackhawks.
Stanley Cup Finals
Washington v. Chicago
Can Washington’s poor possession numbers last this long? Can Washington’s lack of depth at the blue line finally cost them? Can this hockey team put an end to this terrible 21-year title drought? Can the DCSportsDork avoid jinxing the Capitals? These are the many questions that will be answered during this finals series. It has been a fantastic ride for the Capitals since St. Patrick’s day! Adam Oates has done everything you can ask for a new head coach by having the offense and the power play click to their full potential for the first time in three years. With the additions of Mike Ribeiro and Martin Erat, the men in red also have a real second line and the rest of the team can play to the roles they are expected to. That means that if or when Brooks Laich comes back, he’ll be his usual overachieving third line self instead of being pressured to be one of the few good left handed shots on the team. However, this article was nothing short of a classic as to why Fenwick matters. Stupid Habs!!! First they ruined the 2010 Caps’ chance at a Stanley Cup and now they steal a blog post topic from me! But just look at that! Only the 2009 Penguins have been able to win the Stanley Cup with a Fenwick of less than 50%. This years Caps would easily have the worst in the lockout era to win the Stanley Cup with 48.6%. So in order to avoid jinxing my team, I’ll
pull a reverse-jinx make the smart prediction and choose the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup.
So there you have it folks. Yes, I picked an almost no brainer to win the Stanley Cup, but if you go back to the original topic of parity, my bracket have a sum of all the “proper seeds” of 128 (my co-worker would get a 122). Considering the trend that is going around sports, that is not a terrible way to predict what will happen in the playoffs.