Sep 272011
 

Yesterday I posted my 100% statistics based predictions for the eastern conference, today here are the predictions for the western conference.  See the eastern conference predictions for more details on how these predictions are calculated but generally speaking I use my player rating system and combine them with my estimates for ice time for every player to come up with a predicted goals for and against for every team.  I haven’t converted the goal differentials to won-loss records because I actually think looking at the predicted goals for and against and goal differential provides better insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each team.

Predicted Last Season
Team GF GA GF-GA GF GA GF-GA
Chicago 235.6 205.0 30.6 252 220 32
Vancouver 238.7 213.0 25.8 258 180 78
San Jose 228.3 208.2 20.1 243 208 35
St. Louis 233.3 217.9 15.4 236 228 8
Calgary 234.1 223.2 11.0 241 230 11
Detroit 241.7 233.9 7.8 257 237 20
Los Angeles 216.6 211.5 5.0 209 196 13
Nashville 214.0 210.3 3.7 213 190 23
Anaheim 237.2 234.7 2.5 235 233 2
Dallas 221.7 221.6 0.1 222 226 -4
Phoenix 210.5 217.9 -7.4 226 220 6
Minnesota 210.7 230.1 -19.4 203 228 -25
Columbus 216.9 239.4 -22.5 210 250 -40
Colorado 205.4 239.5 -34.1 221 287 -66
Edmonton 204.9 252.0 -47.1 191 260 -69

As I mentioned in the eastern conference predictions, while I think the above standings seem for the most part reasonable I think there will be more spread in the goals for column.  The top offensive teams will probably end up scoring 20+ goals more than is predicted above.  Last season Vancouver had 258 goals to lead the conference and that was a low total for a conference leader.  The prior 2 seasons the leader had 268 and 289 goals scored.

As far as surprises go, seeing St. Louis fourth and Calgary fifth were definitely surprises but then Calgary’s goal differential is predicted to be the same as last season and the Blues goal differential only rises moderately from +8 to +15.4 based mostly by reducing the goals against.  These teams weren’t that far from making the playoffs either so while a little surprising on the surface, might not be all that unreasonable of a prediction.  Los Angeles being predicted to score only 5 more goals than they give up is a surprise too.

Team GF Team GA
Detroit 241.7 Chicago 205.0
Vancouver 238.7 San Jose 208.2
Anaheim 237.2 Nashville 210.3
Chicago 235.6 Los Angeles 211.5
Calgary 234.1 Vancouver 213.0
St. Louis 233.3 St. Louis 217.9
San Jose 228.3 Phoenix 217.9
Dallas 221.7 Dallas 221.6
Columbus 216.9 Calgary 223.2
Los Angeles 216.6 Minnesota 230.1
Nashville 214.0 Detroit 233.9
Minnesota 210.7 Anaheim 234.7
Phoenix 210.5 Columbus 239.4
Colorado 205.4 Colorado 239.5
Edmonton 204.9 Edmonton 252.0

It looks like it could be another tough year for fans in Edmonton and Colorado as they are predicted to be the bottom 2 teams in goals scored as well as be the bottom 2 teams in goals allowed.  I am sure the fans in Washington are smiling since they have Colorado’s first round pick which they acquired in the Varlamov trade.  Based on the predictions above, I’d say there is a more than decent chance it is a top 5 pick overall.

The final interesting thing is that these predictions predict the eastern conference to have a better goal differential than the western conference.  This is a change from recent seasons when the west has generally been the better conference.  Not sure if this will become reality or not but it is worth watching.  There were a number of quality players that moved from the west to the east this summer (Brad Richards, Ilya Bryzgalov, Brian Campbell, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr, Tomas Fleishmann, Scottie Upshall, Steve Sullivan, Matthew Lombardi, Joel Ward, etc.) which probably weren’t fully offset by the players going west (Carter, Richards, Wisniewski, etc.).  Whether the shift is enough to make the east as good or better than the west we’ll have to wait and see.

 

Sep 262011
 

A week or two ago I presented a prediction of the eastern conference using a purely statistics based analysis.  There were a number of limitations with the process which I outlined at the beginning of the post but I have fixed some of those so this is version 2.0 of the prediction algorithm.  Let me summarize the process.

  1.  I took each teams current rosters and estimated the amount of even strength, power play and shorthanded ice time each player on the roster would play.  For veteran players, the estimates were loosely based on previous years ice time which should give us a pretty accurate number for the majority of the players, serious injuries aside.
  2. I then combined the ice time data with my 3-year 5v5close, 5v4 power play and 4v5 shorthanded HARO+ and HARD+ ratings.  I used 3-year ratings because I think they more reliably reflect each players true abilities where as one year, and even two year, ratings have significant margins of error associated with them.
  3. For rookies and other relatively un-established players I had to take guestimates at their ratings and their ice times.  Most rookies or players with little NHL experience to develop ratings with I guestimated them to be below average players, except for players who are premiere prospects in which case I rated them more like an average player.   It is actually somewhat rare for rookies to perform significantly above average, especially defensively.
  4. Unlike my previous ratings, I did make adjustments for strength of schedule.
  5. Also, unlike my previous ratings, I did make adjustments for teams that might get more or less than an average number of power play or penalty kill opportunities.  To do this I used each teams total power play and short handed situations over the past 2 seasons and compared them to the league average.  For teams which more powerplays than the average team had their power play goal production increased and those with less had their power play goal production decreased accordingly.  The same was done for the penalty kill.  Of course, if a team changes their playing style to take or draw more or fewer penalties than in the previous 2 seasons the reliability of the predictions will be degraded somewhat.

As with the previous post, I haven’t converted goals for/against into points in the standings but this gives you an indication of how the numbers seem to view the teams talent levels.  So, with that said, here are your eastern conference predictions.

Predicted Last Season
Team GF GA GF-GA GF GA GF-GA
Boston 227.1 203.5 23.5 244 189 55
Pittsburgh 242.0 219.9 22.1 228 196 32
Buffalo 235.4 217.7 17.6 240 228 12
Washington 236.3 218.9 17.3 219 191 28
Philadelphia 239.3 222.1 17.2 256 216 40
Toronto 245.3 235.6 9.6 213 245 -32
Tampa Bay 233.6 224.4 9.3 241 234 7
NY Rangers 217.5 210.8 6.8 224 195 29
Montreal 226.5 225.6 0.9 213 206 7
Carolina 227.5 231.0 -3.5 231 234 -3
Florida 211.4 216.6 -5.2 191 222 -31
New Jersey 202.3 210.1 -7.8 171 207 -36
NY Islanders 227.4 240.5 -13.1 225 258 -33
Winnipeg 210.3 235.5 -25.2 218 262 -44
Ottawa 189.5 251.8 -62.3 190 245 -55

Before getting into some team specific observations, a first observation worth noting is that the goals for and against predictions seem to be more compressed than what typically occurs in the NHL standings.  The predicted goals for totals range from a high of 245 to a low of 189.  The low of 189 is perfectly reasonable (the lows from the previous 3 seasons are 171, 196 and 190) but the high of 245 is well below the high totals of previous years.  Last season the Canucks scored a high of 258 goals, the previous season the Capitals led with 313 followed by the Canucks with 268 and in 2008-09 the Red Wings led with 289 goals.  I am not sure if this is evidence of increased parity or whether it is a flaw within the ratings system and/or the prediction algorithm.

Team GF Team GA
Toronto 245.3 Boston 203.5
Pittsburgh 242.0 New Jersey 210.1
Philadelphia 239.3 NY Rangers 210.8
Washington 236.3 Florida 216.6
Buffalo 235.4 Buffalo 217.7
Tampa Bay 233.6 Washington 218.9
Carolina 227.5 Pittsburgh 219.9
NY Islanders 227.4 Philadelphia 222.1
Boston 227.1 Tampa Bay 224.4
Montreal 226.5 Montreal 225.6
NY Rangers 217.5 Carolina 231.0
Florida 211.4 Winnipeg 235.5
Winnipeg 210.3 Toronto 235.6
New Jersey 202.3 NY Islanders 240.5
Ottawa 189.5 Ottawa 251.8

 

The teams with the largest predicted improvements in goal differential are the Leafs (42 points), the Devils (28), Panthers (26), Islanders (20), and Jets (19) while the teams predicted to fall back the most in terms of goal differential are Boston (-31), Philadelphia (-23) and the Rangers (-22).   The predicted top 6 scoring teams in the east are Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo and Tampa while the lowest scoring teams are predicted to be Ottawa, New Jersey, Winnipeg and Florida.  The teams with the predicted worst defense are Ottawa, Islanders, Toronto, Winnipeg and Carolina and the predicted best defensive teams are Boston, New Jersey, NY Rangers, Florida and Buffalo.  While there are a couple of surprises in there, most of those seem quite reasonable.  Now for some team specific observations.

Washington Capitals – The Capitals played a different game last season from the previous two seasons.  In 2008-09 they scored 268 goals but gave up 240, in 2009-10 they scored 313 and gave up 227.  Last season they improved significantly defensively giving up just 191 goals but their offense also suffered as they scored just 219.  The predictions are predicting the offense will come back next season but will cost them a little defensively.  Mathematically speaking it makes sense, but in reality it is difficult to say whether they will change their playing style back to a more offensive game or not at the cost of defense.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Toronto Maple Leafs – One of the biggest surprises in these predictions is the offense of the Maple Leafs.  They are predicted to score the most goals of any team, eastern or western conference.  A big reason for this is both Joffrey Lupul (who played just 28 games with the Leafs) and Tim Connolly have very good HARO+ ratings as do many of the returning Leaf forwards including Kessel, Kulemin, Grabovski, and MacArthur.  Even projected third line players Armstrong and Bozak have solid HARO+ ratings.  If the ratings are true, scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem for the Leafs and in fact the late season surge last year was predominantly a result of increased goal production and not solely due to the play of James Reimer.  The Leafs problematic defensive ability is still an issue for the Leafs though.

New York Rangers – It is difficult to fathom how a team that added Brad Richards will see their goal production drop from 224 to about 217.  This is a little dumbfounding, but the Rangers did lose 16 goals from Frolov and Prospal and the algorithm is certainly not predicting another 21 goals from Brian Boyle (his previous career high was 4) so it is certainly possible that Richards won’t dramatically increase the Rangers offensive output.  We’ll see.

Philadelphia Flyers – Unless some of the younger players really step up their games it is difficult to see them being as good a team as the Flyers from last season.  They are predicted to score 16 fewer goals but give up 6 more (despite Bryzgalov).

New Jersey – The Devils will be a dramatically better team this year, but they still may not be a very good one.  They have some highly talented forwards (Parise, Zajac, Kovalchuk) but they depth is weak and they will produce very little offense from the back end and who knows what Brodeur has left in the tank.

Florida Panthers – They brought a lot of players in this past off season and they should have an improved team but like the Devils it might be a stretch for them to make the playoffs.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the predictions for the western conference standings.

 

Sep 132011
 

I have spent a lot of time and effort putting together player ratings so I decided it was time to finally put them to good use and attempt to use them to predict results for the upcoming season.  This is my attempt at the eastern conference and time permitting I’ll tackle the western conference in the future.

To accomplish this goal I used my 3-year (2008-11) offensive (HARO+) and defensive (HARD+) ratings at 5v5close, 5v4 powerplay and 4v5 penalty kill situations and combined all of the ratings for all of the players on each team and then converted them back to goals to come up with a predicted goals for and goals against for each team.  In doing this I estimated the ice time of every player so first and second line players will have a greater weight than third and fourth line players as well as reserve players and I also estimated how I believe each team will use their players on the power play and penalty kill.  I did this largely on each players PP and PK ice time last season.

I have made a few assumptions in these predictions.  First, teams will not suffer significant injuries.  Generally speaking, I cannot predict injuries so I have to go with this assumption.  There are a few exceptions though.  For example, I predicted that Sidney Crosby would miss the start of the season and miss about 1/4 of the season. There were one or two other players (Matthew Lombardi comes to mind) that I did this for but none were of the talent level of Crosby so the effects on the results will not be dramatic.  In any event, any significant injuries that occur will have an impact on results.

The second assumption I made was how to rate rookies and second year players that may not have a lot of ice time and thus not have reliable ratings.  For rookies, for the most part I rated them as slightly below average but it varied a bit depending on whether they are a big time prospect or not.  That said, if a team has a rookie or two that has an exceptional season it could affect the accuracy of my predictions.  For second year players or players without a significant history to develop ratings from I manually adjusted their ratings if they seemed to be out of whack (i.e. I manually regressed their ratings to the mean).  Some got their ratings bumped up, some bumped down.  For the most part these guys are not going to be key players to a team so errors in their guestimates are not likely to have a significant impact on overall team predictions.

The final assumption I made was that all teams will spend an equal amount of time on the power play and on the penalty kill.  This does not happen in reality and I am sure some teams are more prone to taking penalties (and drawing penalties) than other teams but I haven’t spent any time to attempt to predict that so for now I haven’t factored it in at all.

Oh, just remembered another assumption so this is the final final assumption I want to mention.  I have not factored in quality of competition.  If a team plays in an easier or more difficult division than another team this will affect their results somewhat.

So with all that said, here are the eastern conference predictions for the 2011-12 season.

Predicted 2011-12 Actual 2010-11
Team GF GA GF-GA GF GA GF-GA
Washington Capitals 248.0 224.6 23.4 224 197 27
Boston Bruins 236.1 216.2 19.9 246 195 51
Pittsburgh Penguins 241.4 222.3 19.1 238 199 39
Buffalo Sabres 242.1 225.3 16.8 245 229 16
Philadelphia Flyers 242.7 226.7 16.0 259 223 36
Montreal Canadiens 229.2 225.1 4.1 216 209 7
Tampa Bay Lightning 230.7 231.6 -0.9 247 240 7
NY Rangers 219.4 223.0 -3.6 233 198 35
Toronto Maple Leafs 241.0 248.4 -7.4 218 251 -33
NJ Devils 214.2 225.4 -11.2 174 209 -35
Florida Panthers 216.2 227.5 -11.4 195 229 -34
NY Islanders 230.5 244.6 -14.1 229 264 -35
Carolina Hurricanes 220.4 242.1 -21.7 236 239 -3
Winnipeg Jets 212.7 244.4 -31.7 223 269 -46
Ottawa Senators 195.5 258.1 -62.6 192 250 -58

As you may have noticed, I haven’t predicted won-loss records, just goals for and against which correlates fairly well with won-loss records.  I have also included last years goals for and against for reference.  Generally speaking, the good teams are at the top and the bad teams are at the bottom.  If my predictions are reasonably accurate the Capitals, Bruins, Penguins, Sabres and Flyers look like they should make the playoffs fairly easily while the Hurricanes (a bit of a surprise maybe), Jets and Senators are likely on the outside looking in come playoff time.  That leaves Montreal, Tampa, NY Rangers, Maple Leafs, Devils, Panthers and maybe the Islanders fighting for the final 3 playoff spots.  Generally speaking, that makes sense to me.

Let’s take a look at this data in a slightly different way.  Lets look at who has the greatest improvement in goal differential (GF-GA) from last season to m predictions for this upcoming season.

 

2011-12 2010-11
Team GF-GA GF-GA Diff
Toronto Maple Leafs -7.4 -33 25.6
NJ Devils -11.2 -35 23.8
Florida Panthers -11.4 -34 22.6
NY Islanders -14.1 -35 20.9
Winnipeg Jets -31.7 -46 14.3
Buffalo Sabres 16.8 16 0.8
Montreal Canadiens 4.1 7 -2.9
Washington Capitals 23.4 27 -3.6
Ottawa Senators -62.6 -58 -4.6
Tampa Bay Lightning -0.9 7 -7.9
Carolina Hurricanes -21.7 -3 -18.7
Pittsburgh Penguins 19.1 39 -19.9
Philadelphia Flyers 16.0 36 -20.0
Boston Bruins 19.9 51 -31.1
NY Rangers -3.6 35 -38.6

Generally speaking the teams that have the highest predicted improvement were teams that had poor seasons last year and the teams with the greatest predicted fall back are teams that had good years last year.  There is probably a regression to the mean happening here.  The good teams last year probably had some luck going their way and the teams at the bottom of the standings probably had some bad luck.

For the gainers, the Devils potential gain is fully understandable.  They had a horrendous first half of last season but played much better in the second half.  They should be closer to their second half performance this upcoming year.  The Florida Panthers spent a lot of money on free agents and should have an improved team, but still may not make the playoffs.  The Maple Leafs, Islanders and Jets are probably more in the had some bad luck last season and will regress to the mean category though their young players should be a bit better too.

The Rangers predicted fall back is a bit of a surprise considering they signed Brad Richards but they lost Drury, Frolov, Gilroy, McCabe and Prospal.  Their projected defense looks potentially very weak.  After Staal and Girardi you have Sauer, McDonagh, Erixon, Del Zotto, and Eminger all of whom are very young with little or no experience or in the case of Eminger a one time quality prospect that never really established himself as an NHL regular.

The table below shows the predicted top offensive and defensive teams.

Team GF Team GA
Washington Capitals 248.0 Boston Bruins 216.2
Philadelphia Flyers 242.7 Pittsburgh Penguins 222.3
Buffalo Sabres 242.1 NY Rangers 223.0
Pittsburgh Penguins 241.4 Washington Capitals 224.6
Toronto Maple Leafs 241.0 Montreal Canadiens 225.1
Boston Bruins 236.1 Buffalo Sabres 225.3
Tampa Bay Lightning 230.7 NJ Devils 225.4
NY Islanders 230.5 Philadelphia Flyers 226.7
Montreal Canadiens 229.2 Florida Panthers 227.5
Carolina Hurricanes 220.4 Tampa Bay Lightning 231.6
NY Rangers 219.4 Carolina Hurricanes 242.1
Florida Panthers 216.2 Winnipeg Jets 244.4
NJ Devils 214.2 NY Islanders 244.6
Winnipeg Jets 212.7 Toronto Maple Leafs 248.4
Ottawa Senators 195.5 Ottawa Senators 258.1

It is probably not a surprise that the Capitals, Flyers, Sabres, Penguins, Bruins and Lightning are among the top offensive teams but it is interesting to see the Maple Leafs move up the offense list.   It is a common belief that the Leafs late season success last season was because of the play of goalie James Reimer and Reimer did play a part, but in reality, much of the reason for the success was actually due to the fact that the Leafs scored a lot of goals.  Add Connolly and Liles into the mix and the Leafs can put out three lines who can score so while they may not have the elite offensive players some of the other teams have, they have depth (not unlike the Bruins actually whose top point producer was Krejci with just 62 points – Kessel had 64 for the Leafs).  Defensively it seems the Leafs may continue to struggle.  They are not a good defensive team and they desperately need to figure out how to improve their penalty kill.  Defense could be a problem, even with improved goaltending (which may or may not be reality – Reimer had success over a somewhat small sample size and Gustavsson has never performed well).

It is probably worth saying a word or two about the Ottawa Senators.  It seems they will struggle to score and will struggle to keep the puck out of their own net.  The Senators may be in for a tough season but it will be a season of evaluation of young players and hopefully (for Sens fans) progress.  On any given night they will potentially have 6-8 rookies in the lineup.  Expect to see rookie forwards Bobby Butler, Mika Zibanejad, Erik Condra, Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Nikita Filatov and Stephane Da Costa in the line up through out the season as well as defensemen Jared Cowan, David Runblad, Patrick Wiercioch.  If some of these guys are truly ready to become solid NHL regulars they might not be as bad as the above tables suggest, but they will still likely be competing for the first overall draft pick (which is probably a good thing for them anyway)

Finally, let me suggest that you not all take these too seriously.  While I do think there is some merit to these predictions, if you think your team is ranked too low or another team is ranked too high, no need to have a fit over it.  I really don’t know how accurate they are and a lot can happen to alter what really happens anyway.  I wanted to post these in part to generate a discussion but also in part so I can track these predictions as the season progresses and come the end of the season look back see how well this unbiased, mostly mathematical prediction system performs.

 

Oct 072010
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions.  Basically there are 6 teams that I think should make the playoffs followed by another 6 teams that will battle it out for the final two playoff spots followed by 3 pretty bad teams.

1. Washington Capitals, 116pts – Washington is far and away the best team in the eastern conference.  They had 121 points last year and will come close to that again.  Playing in the worst division in hockey helps too.

2. New Jersey Devils, 105pts – A first line of Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk has the potential to be as good as any in hockey.  Offensively at least.  I like the addition of Jason Arnott as well making the Devils strong down the middle.  They need an offensive defenseman but otherwise they are a solid all-round team.

3. Boston Bruins, 97pts – They will get to 97 points if they maximize the usage of their two goalies, Rask and Thomas, because they are probably going to struggle offensively again, especially if Savard doesn’t get healthy.  Gets third seed as top northeast team.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins, 99pts – I am not certain the defense shuffle in Pittsburgh made them a better team, but probably not a worse team either.  They will come close to their 101 points from a season ago.  If Fleury plays better in goal they might challenge the Devils.

5. Philadelphia Flyers, 95pts – The Flyers could be a great team if only they had a good goalie.  Instead they have chosen to go with a pair of backups in Boucher and Leighton in hopes they can maximize the ‘ride the hot goalie’ theory.  Unfortunately that doesn’t often work and a potentially great team will be merely good.

6. Buffalo Sabres, 94pts – Ryan Miller had an exceptional year last year pushing the Sabres to 100 points.  Miller will still be good, but can he repeat that?  Probably not so expect a small fall back in the standings.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs, 89pts – This is predicated on Giguere/Gustavsson providing reliable, if unspectacular, goaltending resulting in a team save% above 0.900 which still isn’t great but a significant improvement from the .892 save percentage from a year ago.

8. Ottawa Senators, 88pts – Last season the Senators rode an 11 game winning streak to 94 points and the fifth seed in the eastern conference.  Make that an 8-3 stretch and they end up with 88 points which is what I am predicting this year.  Their PP might improve with Gonchar but their PK might fall back without Volchenkov and goaltending has to be the big concern.  Might have one of the worst goalie tandems in NHL.

9. Tampa Bay Lighting, 87pts – There will be improvement in Tampa this year.  They are certainly going to score goals but defense and goaltending could be issues yet again.  They will be in the playoff hunt though.

10. New York Rangers, 87pts –Unlike many, I think they will miss Redden.  Not having him on the team makes them a worse team though they now have cap space to add another forward if one comes along which could help them score more goals which has been their main problem the past few years.  They are a playoff bubble team.  Might sneak in, might just miss.

11. Montreal Canadiens, 85pts – If Carey Price can have a break through season Montreal should end up higher in the standings but from pre-season there is little evidence that will happen based on his pre-season performance.  The potential is there to be a playoff team, but I’m not predicting it. Getting and keeping Markov healthy is key too.

12. Carolina Hurricanes, 85pts – They have one star forward in Eric Staal and then a bunch of hope for the bests.  Mark Cullen is gone, Ray Whitney is gone, and I am not sure we can expect Jussi Jokinen to repeat as a 30 goal scorer.  Truth is, they might struggle to get to 85 points.

13. New York Islanders, 77pts –This is probably a bit optimistic considering Mark Streit is out for most or all of the season but their goaltending might be OK and Tavares and the other young forwards should take another step forward in their development.

14. Florida Panthers, 76 pts – They are not a great team despite having a very good goalie.  They just lack a go to guy up front to be a leader for the younger forwards coming along.  That makes it difficult develop young talent.

15. Atlanta Thrashers, 73 pts – Lets see, they lost Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, Armstrong, White, Kozlov, and Kubina and didn’t adequately replace any of them.  I do like Chris Mason in goal but my fear is they are going to have him split duty with Pavelec who isn’t very good.  This could be a disaster year in Atlanta which doesn’t bode well for the health of the franchise in Atlanta either.

More Predictions

League MVP: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Vezina Trophy – Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Norris Trophy Winner – Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Rookie of the Year – Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres

Stanley Cup Finals – Detroit Red Wings over New Jersey Devils

Other Predictions – Sheldon Souray will eventually find an NHL team, Wade Redden won’t (this year anyway), Tomas Kaberle ends the year as a Devil or a Bruin, Mike Comrie scores 30 goals again playing with Malkin, Washington and San Jose both fail in the playoffs again and Gary Bettman is finally forced to pull the plug on NHL hockey in Phoenix.

Oct 062010
 

The 2010-11 NHL season begins tomorrow so I should get my predictions out.  Today I’ll make my western conference predictions and tomorrow the eastern conference.

1. Detroit Red Wings, 109pts – Unlike last year, this year they are healthy.  Their third line consists of Jiri Hudler, Mike Modano and Daniel Cleary all of whom are capable of scoring 15-20 goals.  Not many teams can boast that kind of depth and their defense and goaltending isn’t too shabby either.

2. San Jose Sharks, 103 pts – Lost some depth when they lost Malholtra but their young players are another year more experienced which makes their top 2 lines as good as anyone’s.

3. Vancouver Canucks, 103pts – I am not sure the Sedin’s will repeat last years performances but as a team the Canucks are good from top to bottom.

4. Los Angeles Kings, 101pts – The Kings are the up and coming team.  They may not be quite true Stanley Cup contenders but they are getting awfully close and they will take another step in that direction this year.

5. Chicago Blackhawks, 98pts – They lost a lot of depth in the off season and a goalie tandem of Turco and Crawford isn’t without uncertainties so one has to assume they will take a big step back this season.  They will still be good though, but it will be a bit of a transition year until some of their young replacements get up to speed with the NHL game.  Long term I think they might regret not keeping Niemi though.

6. Phoenix Coyotes, 96pts – Hard to predict where the Coyotes will end up.  Two years ago they had 79 points, last year they had 107 points.  They won’t repeat last seasons success but how far will they fall?  I’ll say they will get 96 points, but I may be optimistic.

7. St. Louis Blues, 95pts – The Blues are the team in the west that I think will make big strides forward.  I like Halak in goal and I think Boyes will have a bit of a bounce back year.

8. Calgary Flames, 93pts – There always seems to be high hopes in Calary but it seems they also seem to fizzle those hopes away one way or another.  They still don’t have another high end forward to support Iginla nor a quality goalie to back up Kiprusoff.  The time is running out on the Iginla-Kiprusoff led Flames as they both are about to enter their post-prime years.

9. Colorado Avalanche, 92pts – After being a big surprise in the first half of last season the Avalanche almost fell out of a playoff spot struggling through much of the second half depending too much on a fatiguing Craig Anderson in goal.  Hard to see how they will be any better this season so will be in a dogfight with a handful of other teams for the final couple playoff spots.

10. Nashville Predators, 91pts - The Predators are neither a great team, not a bad team.  I think they will miss Jason Arnott and his 2-way play but they have enough good players to be competitive for a playoff spot, but not enough to be a great team, much like the past several seasons.

11. Anaheim Ducks, 89 pts – If they had a little more on defense I might have given them a playoff spot but there are enough issues with their defense and their overall depth that they will probably be on the outside looking in again this year.

12.  Minnesota Wild, 86pts – They have strengthened their team down the middle with the additions of Scott Cullen and John Madden but they lack the game breakers up front to make their transition from a defense first team to a more offensive style of play a successful one.

13 – Dallas Stars, 80pts – The franchise is going through a transition both on and off the ice.  Their goaltending is a huge question mark from the injury prone Lehtonen to the downright bad Raycroft.  They will be lucky if the floor doesn’t completely fall out and they end up merely a bad team.

14 Columbus Blue Jackets, 79 pts – Beyond Rick Nash they have some decent forwards but lack a lot of depth and their defense lacks a true top pairing guy and they have question marks in goal.  It will be yet another mediocre season for the Blue Jackets.

15 Edmonton Oilers, 76pts – The Oilers may not be good but they should be better than last season and there should be some reason for optimism about the future.  A healthy Hemsky along with some up and coming young talented forwards will help the Oilers win a few more games and as inconsistent as Khabibulin can be he would be an improvement over what Deslauriers and Dubnyk provided last year.

Sep 242010
 

While I am not yet ready to make formal predictions on the upcoming season (that’ll come in a couple weeks) I believe that the Leafs have the potential to be a dramatically improved team and could/should contend for a playoff spot.  Last year was a disaster year for the Leafs and nothing went right for the team, at least until late in the season when the team seemed to come together a bit.  Here are the three keys to watch for during the Leafs upcoming season.

Giguere/Gustavsson – The Leafs have suffered through several seasons of inconsistent and troubled goaltending, and that is being generous.  For much of the past 4 seasons it has been downright awful.  Giguere is probably past his prime and no longer an elite goalie but he is a dependable presence in goal which they haven’t had.  Even with just dependable goaltending the team should be much improved.  In Gustavsson there is more upside potential than in Giguere and combined they should provide the Leafs with the best goaltending they have had since before the lockout.

Tyler Bozak – The Leafs have an abundance of decent wingers (Versteeg, Kulemin, Armstrong, etc.) and one very good one in Kessel but their center ice position is a bit uncertain.  Bozak is the key here.  He finished strong last season and ended up with 8g, 19a, 27 points in 37 games which is pretty solid performance for a rookie.  Had he scored at that pace for the full season he would have ended up with almost 60 points to lead all rookies.  If the Leafs are to become a middle of the pack offensive team the Leafs Bozak needs to repeat that performance, if not improve on it, for a full season.  I think he has the potential to score 20 goals and 70 points which would give the Leafs an unspectacular, but more than decent first line (with Kessel and Kulemin).  Bozak also represents the down low playmaking presence on the PP that the Leafs desperately lacked for much of last season.

Phaneuf/Versteeg/Armstrong – For much of the past 5 seasons the Leafs have lacked any true identity or personality.  They had a bunch of decent players but none of whom really could light a spark for their teammates.  Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong should all play with more passion and intensity than the guys they replaced and should give this team with an identity.  It isn’t just about the truculence and toughness that GM Brian Burke desires, but the energy and passion that they bring that can be contagious.  A healthy Komisarek will help as well as might Caputi or Kadri should they make the team, either right from camp or as a mid-season callup.  These guys are like the Tucker’s, McCabe’s, Robert’s and Domi’s of the past.  Energy players that define what it is to be a Maple Leaf and have a contagious passion for the game.

If Giguere/Gustavsson can provide dependable to good goaltending and Bozak can be a 65-70 point player and the contagious energy of Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong spread throughout the team, there is no reason to believe that the Leafs cannot be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Getting off to a good start to the season to build some confidence would be helpful but there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the Leafs upcoming season.

Apr 132010
 

Washington vs Montreal

Washington was the run away leader in the eastern conference finishing 18 points ahead of second place New Jersey and 33 points ahead of 8th place Montreal. Washington was a middle of the road defensive team but was a truly dominant offensive team scoring on average 3.75 goals per game, more than a half a goal per game more than the Canucks who were the second most offensive team and 1.24 goals per game more than the Canadiens who ranked 26th in the league. Montreal has next to no chance of winning this series unless Jaroslav Halak can outright steal it for them. As good as Halak is, that is not likely to happen and Montreal should just hope they can steal a game or two. Washington in 5.

New Jersey vs Philadelphia

Philadephia is one of the most inconsistent teams in the league, largely due to their suspect goaltending but Brian Boucher has in the past shown he can get real hot for short stretches (he had 5 straight shutouts a couple years back) and the Flyers offense is pretty good so it isn’t inconceivable that the Flyers could upset the Devils. Brodeur is still a very good goalie but has from time to time over the past couple seasons show that he can be beaten and the Devils defense isn’t quite as reliable as it was a few years back. All that said, Parise and Kovalchuk give the Devils two elite level offensive stars and they have an underrated complimentary group surrounding them so I think this series will go to the Devils. New Jersey in 6.

Buffalo vs Boston

The easy prediction is that there probably won’t be many goals scored in this series, especially on the Bruins side of the ledger. Boston was the lowest scoring team in the NHL and the Sabres were the fourth best defensive team in the NHL and the Bruins were second best. Buffalo clearly has an edge having a much better offensive production but the games should all be very close meaning anyone could win with a few lucky bounces. I’ll stick with the Sabres and their better offense though it will be a long series. Buffalo in 7.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

For the third time in four years Pittsburgh and Ottawa will meet in the playoffs with Ottawa winning the first series and Pittsburgh the second so this is a rubber match of sorts. Neither Ottawa or Pittsburgh are all that great defensively as these two teams ranked 19th and 20th in the NHL in goals against average and have the lowest goals against average of any of the playoff teams. In Pittsburgh’s case they have just been consistently mediocre defensively for much of the season and in Ottawa’s case it has been result of extreme inconsistency of their goaltenders. Pascal Leclaire has had a dismal season and while Brian Elliot has looked excellent for stretches he still has too many weak games to be considered a relaible goalie. If Pittsburgh gets on Elliot early this could be a short series, but if they let Elliot and the Senators gain confidence they could be a tough opponent for the Penguins and could very well take the series. I personally am not confident in Elliot and I think the good Penguin offense will get the better of him. Pengiuns in 5.

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Oct 012009
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions:

1. Washington, 109pts – This is a bit of a gamble that the Capitals are going to get good enough goaltending from Theodore and Varlamov, but if they do, 109 points is easily within their reach. They had the pure offensive stars last season and I think that the singing of veteren and more physical winger Knuble will be one of the best free agents signings of this past summer.

2. Philadelphia, 104pts – They lost a bit of scoring up front with Knuble signing in Washington and Lupul traded to Anaheim but a healthy Briere and the progression of youngsters Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk and Pronger gives them a true stud on defense. Like Washington they are going to need better than average goaltending to obtain these lofty point totals but if they get it reaching 104pts shouldn’t be a problem.

3. Pittsburgh, 99pts (fourth seed) – They won the Stanley Cup and they are a great team, but even as a great team they have been streaky from time to time over the past couple seasons and that will probably continue and will stop them from reaching 100+ points. But they will still be a tough team to beat come playoff time.

4. Boston, 98pts (third seed) – The Bruins are going to drop off a fair bit from last season simply because I don’t really think they are really as good as they performed last year. A lot of things went really well for them and not many didn’t, plus they lost Phil Kessel and that will hurt their depth a little. But they are still a good team with Thomas in goal, Chara on defense and several very good forwards.

5. New Jersey, 97pts – New Jersey is no longer the elite team it one was largely due to a far more average defense group than they have in the past, but with some solid offensive players combined with a good team defensive system and elite level goaltending they will once again be middle of the pack of eastern conference playoff teams, right there between great and mediocre.

6. Toronto, 95pts – Now I know a lot of people will scream bias at this prediction but I truly believe that 95 points is relatively easily obtainable if they even get average goaltending. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that but with a healthy Toskala, a promising prospect in Gustavsson and a more than decent third option in Joey MacDonald not to mention one of the best goalie coaches in the game in Francois Allaire getting average goaltending is certainly within reach. They also have a good and deep defense and a significant number of forwards capable of scoring 20-30 goals so they should produce enough offensively. Goaltending is key.

7. NY Rangers, 93pts – The Rangers desperately need Gaborik to remain healthy if they want to make the playoffs. Furthermore, they could definitely use another experienced defenseman or two and I expect we’ll see them address that at some point. They have elite level goaltending and that should be good enough to get them in the playoffs so long as Gaborik can be mostly healthy.

8. Buffalo, 92pts – One could easily argue that if Ryan Miller didn’t get injured and miss several weeks last year they the Sabres would have made the playoffs. The reality is there is enough talent on this team that they could finish as high as 5th in the conference if not challenge Boston for the team lead. I am just not sure their defense is good enough right now so I’ll say they will finish in 8th spot.
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