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MOUNTAIN IRON… In the last two weeks I previewed the National Hockey League Eastern and Western Conferences for the regular season. Now I would like to speculate on the 2017 Stanley Cup tournament. Who will make it and who will win it? That is a very tough call. It is easiest to first eliminate the clubs that are most unlikely to get into the tourney and then ferret out the possibilities for an eventual Champion. I have checked out about 10 sources for preseason predictions between noted hockey publications and then a couple of Vegas betting lines. As of right now the one team that seems to be getting the most love is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They are not only favored to get into the SC Final, a majority of the sources have them winning the tournament.
Am I on board with that? I’m not so certain that is the way the playoff will go, but I am willing to give them ample consideration. They are a solid team. I have to tell you about one of the most interesting things I came across in this research. I googled “2016-17 NHL Predictions”. A slew of articles came up. I went to The Hockey News site and clicked on that. Once into their site then I clicked on the article and if you see below their breakdown chart of predictions, there is a listing of all teams and you can click on them individually to pull up that teams forecast. Oddly enough the Minnesota Wild’s team entry is absent! I guess they must think the Wild have disbanded or something. At any rate there is a wealth of other info included in each teams forecast such as some advanced analytics graphs and charts. There was one in particular that caught my attention.
If you clicked on the Calgary Flames, upon paging down you will see a really interesting chart. It is broken down into 4 quadrants and each one has a category. There is Good Top Players, Poor Depth, then Good Top Players, Good Depth, and then after that, Poor Top Players, Poor Depth and finally, Poor Top Players, Good Depth. Which one do you think the Wild was listed in? They fell into the final category, Poor Top Players, Good Depth. And the more I thought about that it made sense. Right off the hop you would think of the Wilds big name veterans to be their best players. But are they?
I’m not sure what your top six on the Wild are right now, but mine are Dubnyk, (obviously) Coyle, Erikkson Ek, Staal, Spurgeon and Scandella. Ok, suppose you agree with me, now how does this list compare with a top 4 NHL club? I am thinking though that THN folks used some of the Wild vets (Parise, Koivu, Suter, or Pominville) to aid their assertion that the team had poor top players. I agree though that the club has some good depth but I am concerned that some of the young players that fans have been waiting to have a breakthrough year are still left wanting that. How long have fans been waiting for Granny, Nino, Zucker and Coyle to let it rip? If it were just that easy huh?
Back to the chart, according to THN, and in this order on their graph in the Good Top Players, Good Depth quad were, and it looks like in this order; San Jose, LA King, Penguins, STL Blues, Dallas Stars, Nashville, Capitals, Tampa Bay, Florida and Montreal. Four of five of the top five are in the West. There are five each conference wise. Oddly, the team most of my resources had as the SC winner, Tampa, isn’t on the top of this chart. So how would you ferret this out? Right off the bat I see five teams here that I think have the goaltending that could win them a Cup, those are SJ, LAK, Pens, Capitals and Montreal.
That doesn’t mean that other clubs couldn’t win it, but I think their chances are lesser. Oddly, some of the articles have the Blackhawks once again emerging in the West to get into the SC Final, and some picked them to win it. However, THN has them in the Good Top Player, Poor Depth category. I can see that and that’s how I feel about them. They did some marvelous cap-related patch jobs after their 3 SC wins but they are now paying the price. Heck, you could make a pretty good half team out of the star players they parted with after winning the SC. There has also been some serious injuries to some of the contenders top players so far, but it is early enough to believe those players will be back well before the tourney.
In the tourney from the East Metro; 1. Pens 2. Caps 3. NY Rangers, and from the East Atlantic; 1. Tampa 2. Florida 3. Montreal. The East Wildcards are 1. Flyers 2. Toronto
In the West Pacific; 1. San Jose 2. Kings 3. Canucks, in the West Central; 1. Dallas Stars 2. STL Blues 3. Blackhawks, and the West Wildcards are 1. Nashville 2. Edmonton. I would like to think the Wild get the 8th spot wildcard over the Oilers, but even though they seem to be hot at the moment, they have only played 2 or 3 teams that I would consider to be pretty good, but they lost to one of them and beat two of them while they were dealing with substantial injuries. I can’t get a read on them yet.
Having said that, I see a Montreal-Pens Eastern Conference Final and I see a LA Kings-STL Blues Western Conference Final and, drum roll please…. I see a repeat of the 1993 SC Final with the same result; Montreal tops the LA Kings and brings home their first Cup in what will be 24 years by the time the Final takes place! As always these prognostications are made for fun and if you wager anything more then a candy bar or something of a like value based on these, you are nuts! So many things can happen between now and next June it will be interesting to see if I’m even close, and if I am, no one will be more surprised then me! PEACE