March 20, 2014

WRA 3/20 and a guide to relevant teams

These stats are interesting. First, here are the current WRA numbers. (And a link to the formula in case anyone needs a refresher.)

1. Boston (3.86)
2. St. Louis (4.00)
3. Pittsburgh (5.29)
4. San Jose (7.57)
5. Chicago (8.86)
6. Anaheim (10.29)
7. Colorado (10.86)
7. NY Rangers (10.86)
9. Montreal (11.14)
10. Tampa Bay (13.43)
10. New Jersey (13.43)
10. Philadelphia (13.43)
13. Los Angeles (13.57)
14. Minnesota (14.14)
15. Columbus (14.29)
16. Washington (15.14)
17. Detroit (15.71)
18. Phoenix (16.43)
19. Toronto (17.29)
20. Dallas (17.43)
21. Winnipeg (18.29)
22. Vancouver (19.71)
23. Ottawa (20.00)
24. Carolina (20.14)
25. Edmonton (22.71)
26. Buffalo (23.00)
27. Nashville (23.43)
28. Calgary (23.83)
29. NY Islanders (24.57)
30. Florida (27.14)

Taken as they are, these numbers are not a great guide. For example, Colorado and the Rangers are not equal teams, but they show up tied. To help with this, I've separated the teams into four categories: the Elite, the Very Good, the Rest and the teams not even worth mentioning. Here's what you need to know about them as playoff teams.

The Elite (should win)
The Bruins and St. Louis are both in the top 10 in all five categories I use. It is rare to have two teams that are that strong in everything--last year there were none. It's also rare for those teams to win a Cup (just ask San Jose in 2010, Vancouver in 2011, Nashville in 2012, and Vancouver again in 2012).

Pittsburgh narrowly missed being another super-balanced team, but their SV% is 11th in the league. Despite being close to the top 10, goaltending is actually a pretty big weakness for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury has been worse in the playoffs than the regular season every single year of his career, including juniors and AHL, except for one, 2008. Every year besides 2008--and remember this is his entire life we're talking about, not just with the Penguins--he has collapsed once the regular season ends. Pittsburgh should plan accordingly.

San Jose was also close--everything but their PP (22nd) was top-10. Unlike the Penguins, this isn't a huge weakness. Many, many teams have had strong playoff runs without a strong power play. In fact, last year's Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks were also in the top 10 in every category but PP. Their PP rank? Also 22nd. The Sharks shouldn't worry too much.

The Very Good (could win)
Some combinations of weaknesses send up a red flag, fairly or not. One of them for me is a weak PK and a weak goaltender. If you can't shut down an opponent's best, your goalie better be able to bail you out (2011 Boston Bruins: 16th-ranked PK, 1st-ranked goalie). Or, if your goaltender is weak, you better know how to keep the puck far, far away from him (2010 Chicago Blackhawks: 23rd in SV%, 4th in PK). The 2014 Chicago Blackhawks are sending up that red flag, hanging in the bottom half of the league in both PK and SV%. Crawford has always been hot and cold, and the Blackhawks have always been able to bail him out when he's cold. But this year it seems he's cold, and they might not have the defensive team in front of him to hide it. This is why they aren't in the elite category.

Anaheim, at one point the team to beat, has fallen a bit due to their weak special teams and a lackluster statistical year from Jonas Hiller in net. While their lack of coordination on the PP/PK may indicate a coaching weakness (but probably not), Hiller can stand on his head whenever he feels like it. He's second behind Tuukka in shutouts despite being 25th in SV%.

Colorado clearly lacks defense, but they can score and they have a fantastic goalie, which can be a killer playoff combination. A disciplined, veteran team could find a way to exploit their defense, and the West is full of those types of teams. However, Patrick Roy is much, much crazier than his coaching rivals. I doubt Bruce Boudreau could put himself deep enough into Patrick Roy's crazy shoes to figure out what he's thinking. I know I can't. The Avs aren't a bad team to bet on.

The Rest (shouldn't win, but might)
Do you know who the coach of Tampa Bay is? No, it's not Guy Boucher. If it were still Guy Boucher, they would be in the above category. It's Jon Cooper. Jon Cooper and his team are going to do well in the playoffs. They can score goals and Ben Bishop has proven he is a top goaltender in the NHL. But their special teams leave something to be desired, and I blame Jon Cooper. Unlike Guy Boucher, who is 100% Bond villain, Jon Cooper looks like the dad from a Disney Channel show. After playing hockey at Notre Dame, but not the Notre Dame you're thinking of, Jon married a woman named Jessie and promptly named their kids Julia, Josephine, and Jonathan. Guy Boucher, on the other hand, won't even tell his kids where he got his awesome scar because it was "not hockey-related" and he wants it to be "a little enigma". Yeah, Jon Cooper sucks.

In my mind, Montreal and the Rangers are ranked too low in GF to be a threat to win the Cup. Statistically, they are very similar teams. Montreal is 20th in GF and the Rangers are 18th. Both have mediocre power plays, excellent defense and a star goaltender. They won't be easy to play in the playoffs, especially Montreal, who acquired Tomas Vanek to help their offense. But if their numbers are any indication of their offensive capabilities, they're both beatable, and the best teams should do just that.

You know who's fun? Philly. They're back to being that wacky team that scores a ton of goals and then looks back, dejected, as their goaltender lets in even more. Their PP is pretty good and, in spite of a bad goaltender and defense and the fact that a PK is nothing but those things, their PK is even better. Nobody is going to bet on the Flyers to win, but by god, they're going to do something. If the Bruins get knocked out, I'm rooting for a Flyers/Colorado final, because there is no possible way that doesn't end in Patrick Roy fighting Ray Emery on the Philadelphia bench, and I need that in my life.

Los Angeles and Minnesota are the same as always--boring, defensive teams that can't score, ever. Dallas can sort of score, and Phoenix has no strengths whatsoever. The West will be won by the top. (Important to note: I also thought this the last time LA won the Cup.)

The only other teams worth mentioning are Columbus and Toronto. Columbus is better than their numbers, as they were missing Sergei Bobrovsky for 12 games but now have him back. Not only that, but he's getting better. His SV% was .910 when he returned from injury; now it's .919. They're not great by any means, but they can score and they have the goalie, and that counts for a lot.

If it weren't for Jonathan Bernier, Toronto would not be in a playoff spot. Bernier alone won't get them far in the playoffs, though. I would love Toronto as a first-round matchup.

I don't expect things to change much between now and the end of the season, so for all intents and purposes this is what the playoffs are going to look like. Enjoy.