Friday, October 07, 2011

Your 2011-2012 Prognostos -- The Stanley Cup Playoffs

And finally, the Stanley Cup playoff prognostos…

(click on pic for larger image)

Round One Themes:

-- Toronto is in too unfamiliar a territory to stop the Capitals.
-- Hey, Tampa Bay…not facing a rookie goalie in the playoffs this time. Have a nice summer.
-- Offense…Pittsburgh. Defense…Pittsburgh. Special teams…Pittsburgh. Pity poor Henrik…again.
-- Flyers? Bruins? Flip a coin. It comes up…B’s.
-- Blue-hoo-hoo. St. Louis goes quick and quiet.
-- One line against one team? Bad math for Anaheim.
-- Plucky Nashville looks ugly doing it, but finds a way, even without Joel Ward.
-- Detroit fans won’t mind too much…their defending World Series champions will be just starting their season.

Round Two Themes:

-- Hey Timmeh… Repeat?...There ain’t no steeking repeat?
-- Miller Time, Sabres with “Fleurys” of goals.
-- Only so far pluckiness can get you, and if you’re Nashville, this is your stop.
-- The team no one wants to play is the team San Jose didn’t want to play.

Conference Final Themes:

-- Russian Machine Breaks Sabres
-- “Better Late than Early”…Kings might not have been best in the West in October, but they’re best in the West in June.

Stanley Cup Final Theme:

-- First a hope, then a dream…now, a mission. “Washington Capitals, Stanley Cup Champion”…has a nice “ring” to it.

And your Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player…

Alexander Semin (24 games, 14-18-32, +12)

Your 2011-2012 Prognostos -- The Post Season Awards

With the conference prognostos out of the way, we turn to our prognotos for the league’s awards…

Jack Adams Award

“To the NHL coach judged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season.”

It ought to read, “to the coach who did better than expected.” And that means the finalists are going to be…

Barry Trotz, Nashville. Because the Preds always do better than expected.
Ron Wilson, Toronto. Because we’ve come to expect Toronto to be bad.
Terry Murray, Los Angeles. Because no one expects a team from Los Angeles to be good.

Winner: Ron Wilson, Toronto


Frank J. Selke Trophy

“To the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.”

This really goes to the forward who won it last year. Since the lockout, Rod Brind’Amour won in consecutive years before he ended up missing 23 games in the 2007-2008 season. At that point, Pavel Datsyuk took up the trophy and won it three years running, before he missed 26 games last season. Ryan Kesler won it last year, but he is coming off a hip injury (he did not play last night in the Canucks’ season opener). The finalists will be…

Jonathan Toews, Chicago. Because he doesn’t score enough to get the Hart, and he has to win something this year.
Mike Richards, Los Angeles. Because he was supposed to win one by now.
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit. Because it’s required by league by-laws that he be on the ballot.

Winner: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit


Lady Byng Trophy

“To the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.”

Player? No goaltender has ever won, and only two defensemen have won it (four times in all), the last one being three-time winner Red Kelly in 1954. It has been won by a center 57 times. Since the lockout, only two players have won it – Pavel Datsyuk four times consecutively and Martin St. Louis the last two years. The finalists…

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit. Another league by-law thing
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay. C’mon, he’s so cute and adorable, like a plush toy.
Loui Eriksson, Dallas. “Loui” and “Byng” go together like “peanut butter” and “jelly.”

Winner: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit

Calder Trophy

“To the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.”

Perhaps the most egalitarian award of them all. In the six years since the lockout , the Calder has been won by a left wing (Alex Ovechkin), a center (Evgeni Malkin), a right wing (Patrick Kane), a goalie (Steve Mason), a defenseman (Tyler Myers), and last year by a center (Jeff Skinner). The finalists…

Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia. Fulfills the requirement for a good, sturdy Canadian name on the ballot
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton. Hypenated name?...check.
Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders. Half the voters will probably think they’re voting for “Scott Niedermayer.”

Winner: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton

Norris Trophy

“To the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

For a while, the language might have been “To the defense player from Sweden whose name rhymes with ‘Picklas Midstrom.’” Then, after the six-year run by Nicklas Lidsrom ended, it might have read, “to the defense player not named ‘Mike Green.’” Since Picklas…uh, Nicklas Lidstrom won it last year, one wonders if we are going back to an earlier time. The finalists…

Shea Weber, Nashville. Hey, he’s GOT to win it sometime, and he’s motivated…it’s a contract year.
Duncan Keith, Chicago. When in doubt, go with a guy who’s won it before
Tyler Myers, Buffalo. If by “Tyler Myers,” you mean, “Nicklas Lidstrom?”

Winner: Shea Weber, Nashville

Vezina Trophy

“To the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs.”

The unspoken part of that citation is, “to the goalkeeper in the Eastern Conference…” In the last 17 seasons the Vezina was awarded, an Eastern Conference goalie won it 16 times. Only Miikka Kiprusoff interrupted that string, in 2006. Here is how long that string is. When Ed Belfour won it for the second time in three years in 1993, he did it with what today would be the pedestrian numbers of a 2.59 goals against average (which would have been tied for 23rd in the league last year) and a .906 save percentage (tied for 34th). The finalists…

Pekka Rinne, Nashville. Obligatory Western Conference goalie who will be the pick of all the “smart” pundits, but who has no chance of winning.
Tim Thomas, Boston. Six times in the last 21 years, the Vezina was won by the previous year’s winner; Thomas HAS to be on the ballot.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo. Three times in the last 18 seasons it was won by the goalie who won it two years earlier.

Winner: Ryan Miller, Buffalo

Ted Lindsay Award

“To the National Hockey League's most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by the members of the NHL Players Association.”

They might as well have the ceremony for this award at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, because in the last 12 years (including those in which it was awarded as the “Lester B. Pearson Award”), it was won ten times by wingers. It is worth noting that it has been won only once by a defenseman – Bobby Orr in 1975. Players don’t much like defensemen, it seems. The finalists…

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver. Why not Henrik? Because Henrik’s a center, silly.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington. Order is restored in the universe.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay. Hey, he might be cute and adorable, like a plush toy, but he can play.

Winner: Alex Ovechkin, Washigton

Hart Memorial Trophy

“To the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.”

Much is made about whether goaltenders should win, or even be eligible, for the league’s most valuable player award. But what about defensemen? Since Bobby Orr won it three-times running from 1970-1972, how many defensemen won it over the next 38 seasons? One – Chris Pronger in 2000. The finalists…

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver. In for the Lindsay, in for the Hart
Alex Ovechkin, Washington. Alexander Semin might have been nominated, except… wait for it… he has no “Hart.”
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit. Three Selkes, Four Byngs. Maybe it’s time that the "Carhartt Hardest Working Player of the Month, December 2007" (it’s true…look it up) gets this one?

Winner: Alex Ovechkin, Washington

Your 2011-2012 Prognostos -- The Western Conference

We did the Eastern Conference prognostos, now we head to the…

Western Conference

1. Vancouver Canucks

Last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up will not be the best team in the West, but they will finish atop the conference standings. Their path through their own division – the Northwest – will be easier than that of their principal competitors, San Jose in the Pacific and the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central. Not that the Canucks are a pushover. They return with their roster almost entirely intact. Ryan Kesler will not score 40 goals again (41, actually), but there are still the Sedins to challenge the 100-point mark. The only real question mark is whether Roberto Luongo suffers his own Stanley Cup hangover after allowing 18 goals in four losses in the Stanley Cup final. Last year Luongo appeared in the fewest games in a regular season in nine years (60, compared to 58 in 2001-2002). Cory Schneider appeared in a career high 25 games last season. That convergence will continue.

2. San Jose Sharks

In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon wait in vain for this Godot chap to arrive on the scene. They were practicing for waiting on San Jose to appear in a Stanley Cup final. San Jose’s formula – win pre-season plaudits from pundits, win a lot of games from October to March, drop out of the playoffs before the blossoms are off the trees, rinse, repeat. They’ve been doing that since 2003-2004 (average record, 48-23-11; number of conference finals won, zero). To their credit, they realized it wasn’t working and retooled in significant ways (Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, out; Martin Havlat, in). Like that team that plays on the Potomac River, what they do from October to March isn’t going to impress anyone anymore. Let’s see what they do in May and, if they’re still around, in June.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

The Hawks followed up their Stanley Cup in 2010 by sleepwalking through a lot of the 2010-2011 season before playing their last 26 games to a 16-7-3 record and an eight-seed in the West. Those early cobwebs won’t be there this time around. The Blackhawks have a certain familiarity insofar as their expected performance level among their skaters is concerned. One expects that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa will fall in around the 70-point mark. Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook will combine for 100 points or so. The wild card is Corey Crawford in goal. He led all rookie goalies in wins, was second among them in goals against average, and was third in save percentage. He had more than a respectable 2.21 GAA and .927 save percentage in a first round loss to Vancouver last spring. What he has for a second act will be the missing element to be defined in the Blackhawks’ effort to return to the finals.

4. Detroit Red Wings

Someday, the Red Wings’ run is going to come to an end. Twenty consecutive seasons in the playoffs, four Cups, six appearances in the Finals. An average of 47 wins a season over that 20-year period (including 33 in a 48-game season in 1995). That streak will not end this year. Whether they finish ahead of Chicago or not will largely depend on whether the Wings can: a) get another top notch season from Nicklas Lidstrom, and b) if they can fill the hole made with the retirement of Brian Rafalski. That is important because the Wings got 110 points and 20 goals out of that pair last season. Ian White might the player to watch here. In stops at Calgary, Carolina, and San Jose last season he was 4-22-26, plus-3, in 78 games.

5. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings might not finish the season on top of the Western Conference, or even the Pacific Division, for that matter. But they might be the most dangerous team in the West next spring. By that time, newcomers Mike Richards, Dustin Penner (a late arrival last season), and Simon Gagne will have a season to become acclimated to the left coast and their new teammates, and Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson will have another 82 games of experience. And Jonathan Quick could continue that upward arc that saw his GAA drop from 2.54 to 2.24 last season, his save percentage jump from .907 to .918, and his shutout total rise from four to six. He might be the best goaltender in the Western Conference.

6. Nashville Predators

There might not be a consistently better-coached team in the NHL than the Predators, nor one that more consistently applies a philosophy to its effort. Without high end talent since, well, forever, the Predators rely on balance, hard work from all four lines and all three defensive pairs, and solid goaltending. There might not be a player with more than 50 points (there wasn’t last year) or a player with more than 25 goals (there wasn’t last year), but with Pekka Rinne in goal, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter anchoring the defense, and Barry Trotz still behind the bench, 100 points is not out of the question (they finished with 99 last season).

7. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have what might be the best first line in all the NHL with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan, not to mention a legendary goal scorer in Teemu Selanne pulling down 18 minutes a night. The iffy areas for the Ducks are on defense in their own end and Jonas Hiller, who is among the more talented goalies in the league, but who suffered bouts of vertigo last season that caused him to miss more than 20 games, including six in the post-season. He says he is over it, but it remains to be demonstrated that he is.

8. St. Louis Blues

The Blues finished ten points out of the party last season, but that was without T.J. Oshie (missed 33 games) and David Perron (missed 72 games). Perron is trying to return from a concussion and is probably the biggest question mark. Not far behind is goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who had a somewhat disappointing 2.48 GAA and .910 save percentage after a big year in Montreal that earned him a big payday with the Blues in free agency.

The rest…

9. Calgary Flames

The Flames finished three points out of a playoff spot last season. But it is hard to see the Flames improving on that with the lack of balance they displayed on offense last season, entirely too dependent on Jarome Iginla (43-43-86) for consistent scoring. Then there is the matter of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who saw his GAA swell from 2.31 to 2.63 and his save percentage shrink from .920 to .906. Seeing as how he is about to turn 35 and has logged more than 4,150 minutes in each of the last six seasons, one wonders if he isn’t running low in the gas tank.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Jackets finished 24th in offense last season. Adding Jeff Carter should take some heat off Rick Nash, letting both big forwards contribute more goals to the Columbus effort. But the Jackets were also 26th in the league on defense. And that means goalie Steve Mason has to prove that his Calder Trophy rookie season was not a sign of being a one-hit wonder. He’s had goals against averages over 3.00 the last two seasons and save percentages of .901 in both seasons.

11. Dallas Stars

Brad Richards is gone and with it the likelihood that the Stars improve on last year’s ninth place finish in the West. Loui Eriksson will do his level best to prevent a slide – he finished only one goal and three points behind Richards in scoring for the Stars and was a plus-10 to Richards’ plus-1. He and Mike Ribiero (19-52-71) will probably have to have career scoring years to give the Stars a chance to get into the top eight. Getting Jamie Benn to show a similar improvement this season to the one he had in his second NHL season last year (up 15 points from his rookie year) wouldn’t hurt, either.

12. Phoenix Coyotes

Between goaltenders Jason LaBarbera and Mike Smith, the most wins either has in the NHL in one season is LaBarbera’s 17 wins with Los Angeles in 2007-2008. Last season, Ilya Bryzgalov had his 17th win on January 15th. That is the difference between this year’s Coyotes and last year’s edition. And it is magnified by the fact that Phoenix is not a team that is going to score a lot. Last season they had one 20-goal scorer and one 60-point player. Both happened to be Shane Doan, who while being a warrior, also happens to be about to turn 35 (Monday). This season will test the wits of coach Dave Tippett.

13. Minnesota Wild

These are not your father’s Wild. These are not even last season’s Wild. New coach (Mike Yeo), new attitude (bringing in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to perk up the offense). But after Mikko Koivu (17-45-62, plus-4, last season), where is the depth at center? And the defense looks as if it will be overmatched on most nights. Folks are going to find out just how good a goalie Niklas Backstrom is. He’s going to get a lot of work.

14. Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers will start the season with four top-ten overall draft picks on their roster. That would be impressive but for the fact that those four picks were taken over the last five years, a reflection of how bad the Oilers have been and how much further they have to come as those youngsters mature. They will be better late than they are early, but not nearly enough to raise them from the lower echelon of the West.

15. Colorado Avalanche

No team in the West will capture the attention of Caps fans over the course of the season more than Colorado. For the Caps own the Avalanche’s top pick in next year’s draft, and it could be a lottery pick if the Avs finish in the bottom five in the league. There is also the matter of the Avs’ new goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. He’s going to get more than the 33 games of work he got last year in Toronto, because the Avs other new goaltender, Semyon Varlamov (obtained from Washington for that top pick in 2012), has not played as many as 33 games in either of his full seasons in the NHL (his high is 27), a product of repeated leg and groin injuries that have took him out of the lineup in Washington. And Colorado’s defense is such that a goaltender is going to be tested physically. That’s not a good mix.