Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Finals Prediction: The Hottest State (And City)


First of all, I promised you that I’d look back at the Stanley Cup first-round predictions and advanced statistics to see how the prognosticators fared. 

Both Hockey Prospectus and Neil Greenberg of ESPN.com missed three of the eight matchups.  They blew both the Boston and Pittsburgh picks.  Greenberg was the only one who nailed both the right winner and the number of games in one series (Phoenix over Chicago in six games).  When comparing teams by Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), the team with the better GVT only went 3-2 (the stat was not available for the other three series).  The most egregious miss was the Washington Capitals and their -8.0 regular season GVT beating the Bruins and their 61.0 GVT.  And the 5v5 +/- per 60 statistic?  The team with the lower number won four of the eight series.

What this should mean is, at the very least, sabermetrics still cannot quantify the weird bounces and strange luck it often takes to score.  I will go one step further; the extent to which hockey statheads want to “revolutionize” the sport by framing its action in these so-called sophisticated methods have blown smoke up all our asses.  This may be just one round of one year, but there was no metric, and no expert, that figured out the right outcome of these first-round matchups better than just above .500.

But the parity wasn’t confined to the first round.  You had upsets galore in subsequent matchups, and this year, routine shocks NHL fans are accustomed to mixed with the unprecedented:

·         Defeats by the Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins and Presidents’ Trophy winners Vancouver Canucks meant that division winners fell in the first round for the 27th time in the last 30 postseasons.

·         The Canucks are the sixth team to finish the season with the most points and fail to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

·         This year marks the eighth time three division winners didn’t even win their first series since 1982.

·         Both finalists, the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils and the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, had to overcome home-ice advantage (which, in the NHL, is, granted, as slippery as the ice itself) not once, not twice, but three times.

·         The combined seed number of 14 is the highest ever for a Stanley Cup Final.

·         Believe it or not, the Kings are only the second-ever eighth seed to reach the title matchup, following the Edmonton Oilers in 2006.

·         Whoever wins this series will be the lowest-seeded team to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup ever.

I renew my call to radically alter the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  There is more than enough evidence that a regular season record means jack squat in hockey that the NHL should either cut the number of playoff teams in half (in order to make winning your division worth something) or open up the postseason to every single team in the league regardless of points total.  God knows that’ll be the only way the Minnesota Wild will win the Cup.

As funny as this may sound, this matchup reminds me of the 2007 World Series.  The Colorado Rockies came out of nowhere in September to win 21 of 22 games, including sweeps in the National League Division and Championship Series, to reach the Fall Classic.  They then had to cool their heels for eight days as the Boston Red Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians and take the American League pennant.

I thought the series was going to come down to the Rockies and whether they were going to pick up where they left off.  Momentum was such a factor in the Rox’s holy roll that Game 1 took disproportionate importance; either they were going to sweep or get swept.  It turns out that all their mojo dissipated in their week-long respite, and the Bo Sox whisked them away, 4-0.

OK, so the Kings didn’t come into the postseason on a hot streak.  But they have been on a tear since they got in, dropping only two games on their way to the Finals, which start in Newark, N.J., tonight.  They have also waited eight days inbetween games, though it’s not clear whether they would have moved up the start of the Stanley Cup Finals if the Devils beat the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals in fewer than six games.

Momentum will play such a big role here that this will be a short series; I say chances that this is a sweep are 50/50.  However, the Kings have two things that make me think they will not go the way of the Rockies: Clutch scoring and goaltender Jonathan Quick.  You need some dirty goals, the ones that can’t be predicted in a hockey statistic, and a netminder standing on his head to win on the road, and L.A. has done that in every single road game this postseason.  Let me say that again: The Los Angeles Kings have won every single road game this playoff run – eight this year, ten stretching back to last year’s playoffs.

Now, the law of averages state that the Kings have to lose on enemy ice at some point.  And that’s true.  It’s also a good rule of thumb that all the upsets disappear once there are only two teams left, and that the team with more points in the Stanley Cup Finals wins the Stanley Cup Finals.  But you are talking about a squad that is still not that great an offensive team on even strength.  And even though Martin Brodeur has resurrected his career after I thought he was finished after the 2010 Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup Playoffs, he has not been a better goalie than Quick.

This is a matchup of two teams that weren’t exactly world-beaters during the regular season but got hot when it counted.  And even though my heart is rooting for L.A. to get its first Cup ever, I say the hotter team will pick up where they left off and tear through the Devils.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 4.

Posted by WilliamSou at 4:53 AM

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