Rangers Are Toast But How Did My Other Pre-Season Predictions Fare?

Before the season started, I submitted my predictions on “another hockey website,” on which shall go unnamed here. However, with the regular season ending yesterday and given the fact that in my extreme disappointment in the Rangers, I don’t want to discuss yesterday’s game, I figured now would be a good time to see how my predictions panned out.

While I may not want to talk much about yesterday’s contest, I would like to say this; how can we allow meaningful games to be decided by shootout? Some may say it’s sour grapes but I’ve felt this way for a long time. The shootout was a novelty at first and it does provide with some excitement in otherwise boring games but to allow two teams fighting for the final playoff spot to have their futures determined by shootout just doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, I’ll probably delve further into this topic when I’ve had the benefit of time to clear my head and restore my objectivity.

Before heading into the predictions, I want to also point out and explain my frequent reference to a team’s goal differential when explaining a team’s performance. For the last 7 months, I’ve written a column on another hockey website (no, not that one) dedicated to the science of statistical analysis. One of the more interesting things I’ve found during that time is the Pythagorean win Expectation Formula.

This formula was adapted to hockey from a formulation originally developed by baseball statistics guru Bill James. He originated this calculation as a way to predict how many games a team should win based on run differential. After settling on his formula, James applied the math to seasons past and discovered that run differential was an excellent predictor of win/loss records. For hockey, the formula has been adapted and utilizes goal differential in place of run differential.

I won’t go into the specifics of the math but I have seen enough to convince me that this is a good indicator of whether a team is over-achieving, under-achieving or performing in line with their goal differential.

Now, for the predictions; I’ll start by listing the teams in order of how they finished and then follow with where I had them predicted to finish. I’ll then offer some comments in defense of my picks as a quick overview shows me that I really missed on some.

1. Wahington (predicted – 1)
This one was a no-brainer for me and I’m thrilled to get started with a “W” on the ledger.
2. New Jersey (predicted – 7)
I gave the Devils credit in my prediction blog for always surviving the loss of key players but still being good enough to get into the playoffs despite many picking against them. Obviously, I didn’t give them quite enough credit as they won the Atlantic and finished as the #2 seed in the East.

3. Buffalo (predicted – 9)
Another miss by me here. I did say that in order for Buffalo to have a chance to make the post-season they would need superb play from Ryan Miller. They definitely got that as he is a favorite to win the Vezina this year and even backstopped the US team to a silver medal at this year’s Olympics. I also indicated a healthy season from Tim Connolly was necessary and he delivered 73 games and 65 points. Those factors plus the surprising rookie emergence from Tyler Myers propelled this squad to a Northeast Division Crown and the #3 seed.

4. Pittsburgh (predicted – 4)
Hit!!! This prediction wasn’t meant to be an insult; it was more of a realization that the Pens have played a lot of hockey in recent seasons. They’ve won a cup. They don’t need to prove anything much in the regular season. As long as they qualify for the playoffs, they will be a factor. That’s exactly what they’re set up to do.

5. Ottawa (predicted – 14)
A big miss for me on this pick. I didn’t like the Kovalev signing nor the Heatley deal. Mialn Michalek did chip in 22 goals but blew his knee out late in the season. Jonathan Cheechoo was a disaster scoring just 5 goals in 61 games before being demoted to the AHL. Kovalev had only 18 goals before suffering a knee injury. How they are in a spot for the playoffs is a mystery to me. Their -13 goal differential is the worst among all playoff teams. In fact, they played about 5.3 wins above their Goal Differential/Win Expectation formula prediction. If they performed at their predicted level they would have finished with 11 fewer points and would have tied Atlanta for 10th in the East instead of 5th.

6. Boston (predicted – 3)
This team struggled offensively all season after trading Phil Kessel and losing Marc Savard for 41 games due to injury. That is the primary reason they fell from Northeast champs in 2009 to fighting for a playoff spot in the last days of the regular season.

7. Philadelphia (predicted – 2)
I expected the acquisition of Pronger to push this team to an Atlantic Division crown and to threaten for the top spot in the East. Instead, the Flyers Achilles heel, goaltending, let the Flyers down again. By the time the season ended the Flyers were on their 3rd different starter. Ray Emery, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher all appeared in at least 27 games. Leighton, who probably played the best in net, was a waiver wire pickup from Carolina.

8. Montreal (predicted – 10)
Considering the Canadiens finished just 1 point ahead of the Rangers for the final playoff spot, I don’t feel I missed this pick by much. They, along with the Senators, are the only teams to make the post-season but finish with a negative goal differential.

9. New York Rangers (predicted – 6)
The Rangers were eliminated from post-season contention on the final day of the regular season in a shootout loss to the Flyers. They ended up just 4 points behind 6th place Boston so I wasn’t far off on this pick either. If a couple of bounces had gone the other way then the Blue Shirts could have been playing for the cup instead of packing their bags and making travel arrangements to go home.

10. Atlanta (predicted – 13)
The Thrashers, despite having to deal off franchise icon Ilya Kovalchuk, stayed in the race until the final few days of the season. I was not sold on this team but they played pretty well, which is why I find it stunning they would consider firing head coach John Anderson.

11. Carolina (predicted – 5)
After last year’s impressive playoff performance I thought Carolina was a shoo-in for the playoffs. An injury to goaltender Cam Ward hurt and it seemed as if some of the ‘Canes top players got old real quick. GM Jim Rutherford flipped several veteran players at the deadline so I am curious to see what type of team Carolina ices next year.

12. Tampa (predicted – Cool
Ok, I must have drunk the kool-aid. That’s the only defense I have. I really thought the additions of Ohlund, Foster and Hedman would improve the team’s defense enough to push them up to the 8th spot. Unfortunately for Team Dysfunction, a 5 – 12 – 1 stretch immediately following the Olympic break doomed the Lightning. On the bright side, Steve Stamkos scored 51 goals as a sophomore and Hedman scored 20 points and was a -3 in 79 games as a rookie.

13. New York Islanders (predicted – 15)
Well, the Isles showed some improvement from last year. They have a bright future led by Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Josh Bailey. They’ll get another high pick this year too.

14. Florida (predicted – 12)
Another tough, non-playoff year in South Florida. GM Randy Sexton promised big changes leading up to the deadline but apart from dealing veteran Center Dominic Moore, it was pretty quiet for the Panthers. That’ll probably change this off-season. I wouldn’t expect much improvement next year either.

15. Toronto (predicted – 11)
I thought GM Brian Burke had done enough in the off-season to at least keep his team competitive but the Leafs really stunk at the beginning of the year. Burke began making major changes like dealing Jason Blake to Anaheim and acquiring Dion Phaneuf from the Flames. That bodes well for next year but hurts them this year. The acquisition of Phil Kessel is going to cost the Leafs a pick in the first round which is likely going to be a top 3 choice.

Overall I hit on just 62.5% of my playoff picks (5 of Cool. That’s not a great ratio. Although, all-in-all, I feel ok about my predictions and how they turned out. My biggest misses were Carolina and Buffalo but I probably wasn’t alone in thinking along those lines.

That’s it for today, thanks for joining me. I ask you to follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/gkmkiller). I also encourage you to take a gander at my own website, www.socalsportsnet.blogspot.com. I don’t do much hockey talk there but we cover all of the Southern California teams in all sports. Eventually we’re adding some local high school stuff too. Check it out and let me know what you think.