Friday, May 25, 2018

NHL Playoffs Predictions 2017-18: The Stanley Cup Championship

A month and a half of playoff hockey took the 16 qualified teams and eliminated 14 of them, leaving us with an unbelievable matchup for the Stanley Cup Final:
Both teams were, essentially, built by GM George McPhee.

The Vegas Golden Knights are an expansion team, so as its main architect, he put every piece in place, but he was also the Washington Capitals' General Manager until 2014, and the likes of goalies Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, defensemen John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov, and forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos were all acquired via draft, trade, development or signings in his era.

That's pretty much half the team in sheer numbers, but in terms of impact, it's more like over 80% of it. Although many will mostly remember that he was fired for trading an up-and-coming superstar-to-be in Filip Forsberg for an outdated periphery player in Martin Erat for a failed Cup run.

The top two Conn Smythe front runners so far are of course Ovechkin and the Knights' Marc-André Fleury, who has more Cup Finals on his resume than all of the other 45 players involved in the Final put together - all wins since 2009 - but there are other players worth noting.

Kuznetsov has taken Backtrom's place as the Caps' second-best offensive weapon and Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly have found their niche, but the G-Knights' Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, James Neal et al. have all proven to be too much to handle for such strong teams as the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. Not only are they extremely quick and talented, but they've also proven to be opportunistic, scoring at back-breaking times, such as mere minutes after the opponent scored a tying goal, or at the end or beginning of periods.

Ironically, win or lose, the Golden Knights stand to become the best expansion franchise in NHL history, but the Caps, when they started playing in 1974-75, were the worst team ever,as can be attested by this except from their Wikipedia page:
The Capitals' inaugural season was dreadful, even by expansion standards. They finished with far and away the worst record in the league at 8–67–5. Their 21 points were half that of their expansion brethren, the Kansas City Scouts. The eight wins are the fewest for an NHL team playing at least 70 games, and the .131 winning percentage is still the worst in NHL history. They also set records for most road losses (39 out of 40), most consecutive road losses (37), and most consecutive losses (17).
 So this series will be historic in many ways.

I don't want to jinx it, and I won't be sad if it goes the other way, but I see Vegas taking this one.

Golden Knights in 6.

Friday, May 11, 2018

NHL Playoffs Predictions 2017-18: Round Three

These have been exciting playoffs and the quality of hockey played just seems to get better every round.

Only four teams remain. Here's how they stack up.

For the record, my heart's with Fleury and Ovechkin, but as you'll see, my head doesn't fully agree...

Western Conference

Vegas Golden Knights (2) vs Winnipeg Jets (1)
My heart's with current playoff MVP Marc-André Fleury and the rest of the Golden Knights, but my head says it won't even be close. The way the Jets disposed of the Nashville Predators and dominated the important games tells me these guys are on a mission and virtually unstoppable. I mean, Vegas plays their extremely effective system at 99% capacity with a bunch of guys who rank anywhere between 70 and 87% (with most guys in the late 70s) on the "pure talent" scale, whereas Winnipeg plays their 90% effective system at 90% capacity with guys whose talent level ranks between 79-95% with three full lines of guys over 82%.

They're simply too big, too fast and too good.

Can Fleury steal one? Definitely. Two? Probably. Three? Possibly. Four? C'mon, he's not Patrick Roy, for the simple reason that no current NHL goalie can just decide to be infaillible and deliver on it. On the other side of the ice, Connor Hellebuyck probably had four "let's give 'em four" games to give this postseason, and not only did he already have them, he won a couple of them, too.

Jets in 6.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals (2) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (1)
Alex Ovechkin is a man on a mission: he wants that Stanley Cup and nothing will be able to stand in his way. The caveat? The guys who are determined to stop him are Norris nominee Victor Hedman, perennial All-Star and former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, legitimate top-2 defender Anton Stralman, future Norris hoarder Mikhail Sergachev, and finally-in-his-right-spot-as-a-number-five Dan Girardi with Anton Sustr and Braydon Coburn rounding out the D for good measure, and that's without mentioning that the Bolts have two Ovechkins of their own in former 50-goal menace Steven Stamkos and current top-5 world beater Nikita Kucherov while the Caps do not have top-level shut-down defenders.

Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins just won consecutive Stanley Cups with essentially an AHL defence, but they had their entire offense; Washington is playing without Nicklas Backstrom, and should Lars Eller effectively replace him, there's no one to take Eller's 3C spot to shut down Tampa's offense.

Bolts in 7.