Or, How I Learned To Stop Taking NHL Playoff Predictions Seriously And Just Have Fun With Them. 


It’s NHL playoff time again, folks. And every year, pundits and bloggers predict which team will win each round. They’ll sagely spout off reams of statistical information, injury updates, historical match-ups and more in making their serious prognostications.

Boring!

NHL Opening Round bracketOnce upon a time, I used to do that. In this line of work, I was expected to make these predictions in a serious, professional manner. But my heart was never into it. 

As the great Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake once said, predictions are for gypsies. Sometimes a playoff series went exactly the way and sometimes it didn’t.  Like most things in life, predicting a playoff series is no sure thing.

I  also finally realized that, for the most part, nobody really gives a rat’s ass how my predictions turned out. Once a series was over, the odd sad sack might utter the equivalent of a Nelson Muntz mockery laugh if I got a prediction wrong. Occasionally, someone lacking a sense of humor would accuse me of bias because – gasp! – I didn’t pick their team to win.

Most fans, however, simply moved on to the next series. No one remembers how many of my playoff picks from last year I got right. Hell, I don’t even remember. And quite frankly, I really don’t care. I could look it up in my Soapbox archive, but I actually have better things to do with my time.

Even the best and brightest among the hockey punditry will get some of their selections wrong. Unless you make your living picking the outcome of sports events, you shouldn’t take playoff predictions too seriously. Upsets occur, the unexpected happens. For me, that’s part of what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs exciting. 

So this year, I’ve decided to stop worrying and instead just make predictions based on what I’d like to see, rather than what I expect will happen. You won’t find any serious analysis here. No deep dive into analytics or musings over the health of star players or expressing concerns over roster depth. Nope, this year, I’m just kicking back and having fun with it.

I’m starting off with the Western Conference series, because everybody and their dog starts off with the Eastern Conference. (Dons tin foil hat) I won’t be a part of the East Coast bias conspiracy, dammit!

Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks. Holy jumpin’ mackerel, this is gonna be the best of the bunch in the opening round. It better be. It’s a rematch of 2014 and must provide enough intensity to make it worthwhile for folks in the Eastern, Atlantic and Newfoundland time zones to stay up into the wee small hours. If I’m gonna be awake until 2 am watching this one, I demand to be entertained!

The Kings have had lots of championship success in recent years (2012 and 2014, to be exact) and are gunning for a third title this year. But the Sharks must avenge their epic collapse of two years ago in a manner that makes for exciting television. For that matter, they need a long playoff run to finally end their reputation as choking dogfish in the postseason. I’m sure aging Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau don’t want “chronic playoff underachiever” to be their career epitaphs. So I’m pullin’ for the Sharks in this one. 

St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are a well-built, well-managed Original Six team with a solid core of talent. They’re the closest thing to a dynasty you can get in today’s salary-cap world. But since 2010, they’ve won three championships in six years. At some point, non-Blackhawks fans are gonna get tired of all that success. If they win it again this year, folks will go, “Aw hell, not those friggin’ guys again!” As a Montreal Canadiens fan dating way back to their dynasty in the late-1970s, I used to hear that a lot from my friends. Didn’t bother me until the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers dominated the 1980s, and then I joined the whining chorus about how the same damn teams keep winning all the time.

The Blues are a great regular-season team that keeps coming up short in the playoffs. Great buildup, lousy finish. Kinda like a premature ejaculator who’s good at foreplay. They’re also the only team still in existence from the great expansion in 1967 not to win a Stanley Cup. Time for the Blues to stop singing from their tired old playoff songbook and change their tune. 

 

Dallas Stars-Minnesota Wild. I’d like to see the Wild win this one. Look, the Stars topped the Western Conference this season. They’re an emerging powerhouse led by young superstars such as Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Their gawd-awful goaltending aside, they should be a dominant team for the next several years. They’re going to have more opportunities for deep playoff runs and perhaps a championship.

The Wild, on the other hand, are an average team that every year needs some spark (trading for a goalie, firing a coach) to overcome a midseason meltdown just to reach the playoffs. Except for die-hard Minnesota fans, nobody gives the Wild a chance to beat the Stars. However, every playoff year needs a lovable underdog that makes everyone think they actually have a shot at winning it all. This year, why not the Wild?

Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators. The Ducks rose from the dead like extras in that zombie TV show everyone loves for some inexplicable reason. In danger of digging too deep a hole to climb out of by Christmas, they turned it around and rose to clinch their fourth Pacific Division title. It was impressive, something worth cheering for. But they’re going up against a team that needs playoff success more than they do.

Since the Predators joined the league in 1998, they’ve only won two playoff series. Their fans have been fantastically patient and supportive, but the Preds have done little in the postseason to reward the Nashville faithful. They have got to give ’em something more besides constant disappointment every spring. This year’s a good time to start.

Washington Capitals-Philadelphia Flyers. The recent passing of Flyers founder Ed Snider casts some sadness upon this series. An upset by the Flyers would make a great story, winning one for their late founder. However, I’m picking the Capitals for personal reasons.

As dominant as the Capitals were this season, they also have a reputation for coming up short in the playoffs. I have several friends who are die-hard Caps fans. They’ve endured so much disappointment over the years that they’re actually afraid to be hopeful this season. They’ve become so conditioned to having their hearts broken that they’ve come to expect it. So come on, Capitals, stop hurting my friends! I’m tired of seeing them looking like this every damn year!

Tampa Bay Lightning-Detroit Red Wings. Another opening-round rematch from last season, though lacking the gravitas of the Kings and Sharks. Some interesting storylines, too, with the Lightning walloped by injuries and the Wings facing the possibility this could be the last ride for the artist known as Pavel Datsyuk.

A banged-up Lightning team overcoming the odds would be a great story, but I’m pulling for the Wings. The Bolts went to the Cup Final last year. Besides, I want to admire Datsyuk’s skills for a little longer. Better luck next year, Lightning.

Florida Panthers – New York Islanders. This is not the match-up I wanted to see. Since the Islanders got good again after two decades in the wilderness, I’ve been itching to see a postseason tilt between them and their long-time arch-rival, the New York Rangers. Once again, I’m left disappointed. Sorry, Isles, it’s not your fault, but I just can’t get excited about you tangling with a Florida-based team.

Besides, this is the Panthers first trip to the playoffs since 2012, and only their second in 15 years. Jaromir Jagr could reach some playoff milestones this spring. They’ve got depth in promising young talent and that wacky “Spacey in Space” shtick. That’s a much-maligned hockey market that needs a boost, so that’s why I’m picking the Panthers to win this one.

Pittsburgh Penguins – New York Rangers. Well, these two teams do have a bit of a playoff history. Still, it’s not as exciting as a Rangers-Islanders first rounder would’ve been. No offense to the Rangers, but I want this one over with quickly. It’s heartbreaking to see the once-great Eric Staal fading before my eyes. I don’t want to see that any longer than I have to this spring.

As for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby seems to bring out the hate in some fans, often for no reason other than they just don’t like the guy. I want the Pens to win this series because I know how much it’ll piss off the Crosby haters. I’m kinda evil that way.