The regular season is over, and it’s time for everybody’s favourite game: bragging to each other how correct we were, and mocking each other for how wrong we were. With that in mind, I prepared myself for the worst in October, whipping up a substantial prediction post in the span of an hour on opening night; a format that allowed for held beliefs, but inprecise work to come through, and gut feelings to prevail.
Not that I would’ve battled 1.000 had I given myself a little more time to think about it. In fact, I don’t know how many of these I would have changed had I started working on this 2-3 days earlier; some slight tweaks maybe, but some fundamental learned lessons were going to be necessary no matter what. Let’s dive in.
There’s a lot to unpack here. We’re just going to focus on the biggest whiffs here.
Tier 7: Vegas Golden Knights
The NHL’s newest team was, evidentally, the crowd’s biggest whiff; myself included. Now, to admit just how bad I screwed up here, I will note that one of the biggest reasons they ended up at the bottom of the Pacific is because I had realized at the end of whipping up these charts that I had forgotten about their arrival, and still didn’t know what to make of them. Had I had more time, though, I probably would have only jumped them above Vancouver, so I can’t pat myself too much on the back.
My mistake with the Golden Knights, which I believe others got suckered into as well, is treating the regular season like the playoffs. Come playoff time, you need to ride hot streaks, and no one is more likely to deliver a hot streak than a star player. The Golden Knights still don’t have much star talent, so they lose that coat of shine (Coincidentally; might not be bad to become a skeptic again now that the playoffs are rolling around, but who knows. The playoffs are weird.)
But what Vegas does have is depth, and a lot of it, because they got to pick from the middle of the lineup of every team in the league (and, well, were gifted a first line by the Florida Panthers). They’re a fast skating team that doesn’t really have a line or pair that can be beat up on, and over the course of 250 or so periods, that leads to more success than we gave them credit for. Enough to win the division again in a do-over? Maybe not, some luck went their way along the way, but we probably should’ve had them as a playoff team.
Tier 5-6: Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres
I believed in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and it backfired on me. Not because they disappointed me, but because I asked too much of them.
With respect to the Oilers, I think it was easy to get caught up in 97’s spectacular 100-point season last year, knowing that he was only going to get better, all while ignoring the blind spots that the team had in the process. Much of their success in 2017 came from Cam Talbot giving them 73 games of 0.919 goaltending, and when that fell through this year, that took a lot of wind out of their sales. The Eberle for Strome trade was the backfire we expected it to be, losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a considerable amount of time was rough, as was losing Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, and Adam Larsson (who, infamous trade aside, is still one of their better defencemen) to injuries.
Simply put, the Oilers still don’t have depth beyond their stars, and shedding stars without getting multiple pieces in any of the processes has just stood to weaken them. They’re probably better than how they finished, but it was shortsighted of me to think that they were going to get better, despite their flaws. They likely need a front office clearing house at some point, but barring that, they at least have to address their special teams and around-the-edges depth. How they’ll do that with cap space starting to become difficult to find is anyone’s guess.
In Buffalo, a similar problem arose. The Sabres are slowly starting to come out of the “scorched earth”, and are beginning to find young/early prime aged support talent to surround Eichel, O’Reilly, Ristolainen, and company, but they don’t have enough of them yet, and betting on Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson to stand give them support in goal was a fools errand. Just the netminders alone delivered an absurd -26.6 goals saved below average, but with a -80 goal difference on the year and a league-bottom 199 goals for, that might not have helped them enough.
These two picks are the antithesis of Vegas; betting on one or two stars to lead the entire team to success. My three biggest whiffs are the teams I’ll learn from the most; not because of how bad I mis-swung, but because I miss-swung for reasons that feel so much more obvious now.
Tier 3-4: 8 Teams (DAL, ARI, PHI, DET, CAR, NYI, NJD, COL)
I won’t touch as extensively on all of these, but let’s go over them really quick:
- Dallas: Their division ended up being a real bloodbath. I expected that out of the central, but figured they’d be able to score away the pain. Didn’t work out quite as expected, as the Benn/Seguin/Radulov/Klingberg contingent ripped it up, but everyone else failed to really deliver. All that said, despite being a four-spot gap, Dallas was only three points away from making that two spots, so I’m not too stressed about it.
- Arizona: Clearly not as deep as I thought they’d be, though they had an unexpectedly disasterous start. Injuries hurt them, and Antti Raanta’s first ten games left people just a little bit concerned. With that said, the Coyotes went 19-14-7 with a near-even shot differential in the second half, so the team that some saw as a possible wildcard club still exists, to some extent; they just needed some time to get there.
- Philadelphia, Carolina, NY Islanders, New Jersey: The Metropolitan division is a bloodbath and anyone who tries to maek a prediction there is asking for mockery. I had a feeling the only real safe bets were Pittsburgh and Washington atop. Two of these teams swung low based off of bad goaltending, two of them swung high because their Hart Contender star forward led the way into dragging them to the postseason. Obviously, to get into the specifics of their successes and failures requires more nuance, but that’s where the big swing comes from. The Devils, in particular, will be interesting to see come playoff time: They finished 29th in last-25-game possession, which leads one to question their cohesiveness, but again, hot sticks go a long way.
- Detroit: Not too fussed here. The Wings were still bad, and got help from being 5-1 in the shootout while Montreal (two points back) were 2-6 and Ottawa (six back) were 2-7.
- Colorado: Similar to the Devils and Flyers. Nathan MacKinnon and Miro Rantanen were unbelievable this year. The Avalanche got slaughtered on the shot clock when they were off the ice, but the top line dragged them in. I’ll take it for the Matt Duchene memes, though.
Underlying lesson learned: Don’t underestimate depth, and teams reliant on a couple stars are voodoo, so maybe leave them on the bubble to be safe. Goalies are a safe space.
The Sportsnet List
Sportsnet did a big list with their insider staff that I decided to match. Let’s see how how I did.
Team most likely to exceed expectations: I went with Carolina, believing that they had the skater depth to succeed and that they finally had some answers in net. Scott Darling did not deliver in the way that was hoped. The Hurricanes will likely make fools of us all next year, when they show up with a bunch of promising young Charlotte Checkers added to the core, sound stacked again, and decide to play the second half of the season with the goalie pulled.
Team most likely to disappoint: My pick was the Ottawa Senators, given that many were still hyped up about their playoff run. They proved to be abysmal, even after acquiring Matt Duchene as a bit of a hail-mary. I don’t know what that team is going to do next and I feel bad for the fans.
Canadian team with the highest point total: I wanted to pick Toronto here, but figured that would be too homer-y. That wasn’t dumb, given that the Jets ended up winning out, but picking the Oilers and calling it an easy bet was a collossally dumb move. I even said they’d win the west. Goodness, that was foolish. Again, lesson learned.
Number of Canadian Teams in the playoffs: I said four, picking Edmonton, Toronto, Calgary, and Winnipeg. The Oilers threw egg on my face and the Flames were a disappointment as well, but at least I didn’t call the two that made it to miss.
Art Ross Trophy: I said Connor McDavid. He won handily. This was easy.
Hart Trophy: I said Connor McDavid here too. Who knows how this goes. Probably not him, even if he’s been the league’s best player this year, and as you all know, I have feelings about this.
Calder Trophy: I was very much correct in believing that a New York Islanders rookie would find their way into a prominant lineup role, dominate, and be the league’s best rookie. I was incorrect in believing that it would be Josh Ho-Sang instead of Mathew Barzal, and also incredibly wrong about Anders Lee’s shooting percentage regressing (It went up! UP!)
Norris Trophy: I just blindly pick Erik Karlsson every year because it’s hard to bet against him. He probably won’t win because he missed some time and the Senators were bad, but he had another monster possession year and led all defencemen in points-per-game again, so I don’t feel bad about this pick at all.
Vezina Trophy: I said Matt Murray, having fully bought into his history and hype. He struggled with both injuries and puck-stopping this year, so that dream is dead, though I have faith in his ability bounce back at some point. I’m not sure who I’d pick this year, but in the future, if I’m going for safety rather than leaps of faith, I’d probably pick someone with a bigger body of NHL work.
Jack Adams Trophy: I made this Mike Babcock’s due year, but while he did a heck of a job (even when he had his blind-spot moments) this year, I wouldn’t consider him a finalist. Gerard Gallant is going to win this in a landslide given Vegas’ success, though I feel like Paul Maurice deserves consideration for how thoroughly well the Jets have done this year.
Coach on the hottest seat: I said Paul Maurice. That wasn’t to say that I believed he was the worst coach in the league, rather that I figured that Winnipeg was all-in this year and that a struggle out of the gate could have been problematic. Of course, he cleared that seat by a mile. Really, the worst part of this was predicting that a coach would have a hot seat: Alain Vigneault was fired by the Rangers yesterday, but the main point that delivered was that every single coach survived their year, at the minimum.
GM on the hottest seat: My guess was Marc Bergevin, because I figured that Montreal would be the most frustrated with a worst-case scenario season. Oddly enough, the Habs had even more misfortunes than I expected, didn’t really do much to correct it in the long term, and there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure yet. I don’t get it, but I don’t make the rules.
After the trade deadline, John Tavares will be a member of: I said he’d stay with the Islanders and he did. Whether or not he stays in July is a different question, perhaps with lower odds than at the start of the year, but I think they’re willing to roll the dice there.
Matt Duchene will finish the season as a member of: I said the Hurricanes, thinking they’d grab him a little closer to mid-season, but the Senators clearly got the jump start on that securing him just a few weeks in. He’s proven to be good, but probably not worth the cost, as most suspected on the day of the move.
Jonathan Drouin will score __ points for the Canadiens (assuming 75+ GP): I said 59, not having a great idea of where he’d finish, but knowing he wouldn’t be a lights out dominant player on his won. He ended up with 46; less than I expected, though I think he can bounce back a bit next year. Only one person on the Sportsnet list had him under 60.
Auston Matthews will score __ goals for the Maple Leafs (assuming 75+ GP): I said 44, and he finished with 34 in 62 games, which is a pace of… 44 and some decimials over 82. I’ll take this as a W.
Connor McDavid will score __ points for the Edmonton Oilers (assuming 75+ GP): I said 114, he ended up with 108. Good effort here too.
I did Top-5 scorers again, having come pretty close last year. Here’s where we ended up. Note that I didn’t expect all five players to play 82 games, but predicted as if they would.
The top five is correct but shuffled in order, which is close enough for me, but not exactly something to brag about. Matthews and Marner’s specific production were absolute tomahawk dunks, especially Marner’s since we don’t have to rely on pace. I expected a bit more out of the other three overall, but scoring as a bit more evenly spread on the team this year. Overall, I’m going to take this as a strong showing.
So that’s what I’ve got. I think I had some really good moments at times, and some rough ones that came through buying into some now-obvious traps. I’d like to think that I’ve learned from the whiffs throughout the year, and hopefully next year’s predictions are a little more measured. Perhaps I’ll spend more time doing my research before diving into claims next time around.---
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