Thursday, April 20, 2006


NHL Playoffs: Western Conference Predictions

The Western Conference, in my muddled mind, was the superior conference this season. Not only was it tougher to score goals in the Western Conference, but the West has teams that seem to be built well for the playoffs and have superior talent level to teams in the (l)Eastern Conference. The odds of the eventual Cup winner coming from the West are very strong.

Now, here's the look back and look forward.


Sure, the Detroit Red Wings beat up on their own weak division (25-3-4), but they also beat up on everyone else (33-13-5) and left a path of destruction in their wake. As Ingmar notes, the Wings finished the season with a 17-1-3 run. They were hardly 'cruising' into the playoffs.

Talk about finding the Fountain of Youth. It appears the whole team found the damn thing as guys like Nick Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider, Brendan Shanahan, and Chris Chelios all played like they de-aged 5 years. I haven't seen Shanahan skate as fast as he has been for many years. Even Steve Yzerman (34 points in 61 games) proved to be a pretty useful contributor despite his broken and decomposing body.

Goaltending? Why are mediots so afraid to give Manny Legace respect? Either it's "He's too fragile" or "He's too inexperienced". Legace gets a lot of crap that other goalies don't despite the fact that he's been a proven performer for quite some time.

37-8-3 with a 2.19GAA and 91.5SV% in 51 games. His stamina is a little questionable, but his ability is not. He should be rather fresh compared to other goalies so this is a non-issue. Legace is a hell of a lot better than Dwayne Roloson.

The Edmonton Oilers crawled into the playoffs despite some big off-season and mid-season acquisitions. Thanks to the 'New NHL', the Oilers finally loosened the purse strings and started acquiring big name talent rather than trading it away.

For all of those moves, the Oilers have a pretty decent looking team on paper, but they haven't played up to their potential. Michael Peca, Dwayne Roloson, Radek Dvorak, Dick Tarnstrom, and even Sergei Samsonov, seem capable of so much more. If the Oilers are ever able to get the maximum contributions from their players like the Wings have been getting, Edmonton could be a very dangerous team.

That said, Cinderella Teams almost always depend on great goaltending with a hint of great coaching. The Oilers do not have great goaltending, and don't appear to be a well-coached squad. I know the Detroit Red Wings have been pwned by weaker teams in the playoffs before, but it's not going to happen this time.

Prediction: Detroit in 4.

(Side Rant: I used to hop aboard the underdog Oilers bandwagon years ago when they were playing the evil Dallas Stars. I was younger and foolish and prone to believing the 'Small Market' whining from up North. Well, the recent childish gloating from Oilers fans and the constant whining over the years has turned me off of their cause.

Look, your club only made the playoffs because they happened to suck less than the Canucks. You've had 5 Stanley Cups in the last 25 years, so you have absolutely nothing to cry about.)


The Dallas Stars surprised a lot of people as Mike Modano proved his 2003/04 season was a miserable aberration, Sergei Zubov provided a Norris-worthy performance, and the Stars returned to the tight-checking form that brought them success in the early 00s. It helped that they absolutely rocked in shootouts, an advantage they no longer have as they face the Colorado Crapalanche.

The most impressive feature of the Dallas Stars is their depth and skill at forward, which includes FIVE forwards who broke the 50-point plateau and THREE who broke the 30-goal barrier in addition to Bill Guerin (who somehow struggled with only 40 points), and great compliment players like Stuuuuuuuuuu Barnes, Niko Kapanen, and Antti Miettinen.

The defence is also pretty good, with the aforementioned Zubov, the late-blooming Philippe Boucher, the steady Jon Klemm, and newer acquisitions like Janne Niinimaa and Willie Mitchell. Add in a dash of Stephane Robidas, and the Stars have a bit of everything on the back end.

Their downfall will be the goaltending duo of Marty Turco and Johan Hedberg. Turco was one of the poorer regular starters in the NHL with a paltry 89.8SV% in 68 games. Hedberg had the same SV% as Turco, and is shakier than the San Andreas Fault on an October Sunday. It shouldn't hurt them so much in this series, but it will prevent them from winning the cup.
Here's a question...
Goalie A: 34GP 14-11-6 2.86GAA 90.0SV%
Goalie B: 43GP 18-17-0 3.41GAA 88.2SV%

Who do you start in goal?

Well, if you have a functioning brain, you go with Goaltender A, Peter Budaj.
If you are the Colorado Avalanche, you go with Goalie B, Jose Theodore, who has been awful in his stint with the Avalanche after some serious sucktitude in Montreal.

Colorado has a pretty decent team and pretty good offence, but their defence leaves a bit to be desired (Brett Clark and Patrice Breezebois? HA HA!) and their goaltending is going to let them down.

Prediction: Dallas in 5.


I picked Calgary to finish higher during the regular season, but their inability to score a lot of goals held them back. Otherwise, the Flames are built Ford-tough for the playoffs with the best goalie in the NHL, Miikka Kiprusoff, an exceptional defence corps, which includes super rookie Dion Phaneuf, and plenty of experience and grit up front.

The only thing hurting the Flames is that Jerome Iginla can't do too much without a good playmaking center, and the lack of a bonafide offensive threat on the other forward lines. The Flames have some pretty decent contributors (Amonte, Langkow, Huselius, Reinprecht), but none of them match the quality of most other playoff-bound clubs. Expect a lot of low-scoring affairs when this club is playing.

Anaheim somehow went on a late-season surge after purging Keith Carney and some salary from the roster as Brian Burke made some "What the hell is he thinking, exactly?" moves. Well, the moves turned out to work just fine, and his off-season moves worked out exceptionally.

Teemu Selanne, who looked absolutely finished after his stint in Colorado, returned to fine form to lead the offence with 40 goals and 90 points! Watching Teemu this season, he was incredibly hard to knock off of the puck and he seemed to regain a bit of lost speed. While he is no longer the speedster he once was, his lower body strength and smarts have more than made up for that.

Scott Niedermayer joined up with his fat brother, Rob, and gave the Ducks a Norris-worthy performance with 63 points and exceptional defence. The goaltending tandem of JS Giguere (Who did not suffer under the new padding rules) and Ilya Bryzgalov put up a 91.0SV% and can match up well with Kiprusoff.

Let's also give credit to Andy McDonald, who broke out with 85 points and was probably the most surprising scoring sensation this season. Looking back at his past history, and the playing time he had before, there was absolute nothing to suggest that he'd achieve such a high level of success.

One of the Ducks' strengths is also going to be one of their biggest weaknesses: Youth.

The Ducks have a fine batch of young rookies such as Ryan Getzlaf, Francois Beauchemin, Corey Perry, Jonathan Hedstrom and skilled sophomores such as Chris Kunitz and Joffrey Lupul. The problem? Rookies and young players tend to underperform in the playoffs while the experienced players tend to do much better. The inexperience of the Ducks forwards and the Flames quality of depth will tilt the series in the favour of the Flamers.

Prediction: Flames in 6.


This is the 'trendy' series in the West, being that it's very trendy to pick the surging San Jose Sharks and trendy to disregard the Nashville Predators because Tomas Vokoun is out for the rest of the season.

I'll pick San Jose, but not with the same mentality as the mainstream mediots and fangirls.

The Nashville Predators made great strides as a club this season, but I look at their roster and just can't get past how small their team is. Steve Sullivan, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Johnson, Paul Kariya, Mike Sillinger, Kimmo Timonen, Martin Erat, and Dan Hamhuis are all pretty small for their positions. Given the tight checking of the playoff hockey, I'd say the Preds are at a real disadvantage.

As for their defence? Brendan Witt is a bad penalty waiting to happen, and their goaltenders often have to bail them out, since the Preds aren't all that great at clearing out the 'Red Zone'. Still, watch out for rookie Shea Weber, a mean and nasty guy with great size and great ability. He's Dion Phaneuf without the hype and goal scoring.

Poor Chris Mason isn't getting a whole lot of respect, and that's too bad because he really seems to be a good goaltender in his own right.

With Vokoun out of the lineup, Mason went on a mini tear in the last 5 games of the season (5-0, 1.38GAA, and 94.9SV%) and finished overall with a 2.54GAA (lower than Vokoun) and a 91.3SV%. Mason has the pedigree to be a successful goaltender and he's likely to surprise a few folks.

San Jose? They have some issues of their own in goal.
Vesa Toskala basically took the #1 job away and finished with a rather bland 90.1 SV%. Evgeni Nabokov's 88.5SV% is just dreadful, as he has fought with injuries and his own mental demons. It doesn't appear to me that the Sharks have any huge advantage in goal unless Mason gets injured and the Preds have to go with Pekka Rinne or Brian Finley. That would suck.

Otherwise, the Sharks have the dynamic must-see duo of Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton complimented by a speedy and gritty group of forwards such as Patrick Marleau, Nils Ekman, and Milan Michalek. I expect the Preds will have too much trouble against the likes of Kyle McLaren and Scott Hannan to win this series.

Prediction: Sharks in 6.

Go Sharks go! Sharks are cool! :p

Detriot are such a good team, but I hate them so much. They win quite a lot, and it would be nice to see a Canadian team win perhaps.
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