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A Guide to Playoff Prognostication: A Look at How the Experts Make Their Picks

The prognostication game is a very difficult business. There is a reason why it’s reserved only for the best and brightest of pundits—because it requires an almost preternatural ability to understand the game of hockey in a way most regular fans simply cannot. The casual fan may think he or she has what it takes but—make no mistake—their hockey acumen is no match for someone with a Communications degree and a close relative and/or fraternity brother in the business. 

Members of the mainstream North American hockey media spend countless hours watching games, considering strengths and weaknesses of respective teams, breaking down statistics…and then go on to pick the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup for no other reason than they’re from New York.

It’s this unbiased, diligent consideration of the facts that separates professionals from those who are simply fans. If Linda Cohn thinks the Rangers can beat everyone in the Eastern Conference (plus the Red Wings), rest assured it’s because of their stunning regular and post-season success over the past four years and not because the cover of her autobiography is a picture of her wearing a Mark Messier jersey. This willingness to think outside the box is what differentiates someone like her from an amateur who would take the easy route and make evidence-based predictions.

Her colleague, respected hockey journalist and fellow Communications scholar John Buccigross, is just as assiduous in his sizing up of the season to come. By rigorously uncovering clues and hidden symbols in various song lyrics from whatever adult-contemporary-posing-as-rock-bands happened to be shuffling through his iPod at the time, Bucci very astutely predicts Montreal as your 2008-2009 Stanley Cup champion. Based on sheer blood instinct—and the positive vibes of the Little River Band’s wimp-rock stylings—Bucci likes the Habs because, hey, it’s their 100th anniversary and they are “balanced, well-managed and have a positive energy.” 

That’s almost frighteningly prescient. John Buccigross is a veritable cryptographer of non-threatening male singer-songwriters. It’s somewhat shocking that the US military has not yet engaged him to lend his extraordinary services in support of the global war on terror. It’s like he’s providing ULTRA intelligence except instead of German radio communications, he’s decrypting the delicate melodies and sensitive, emotional lyrics of Ben Folds and The Tragically Hip.

As for the rest of ESPN’s preseason prognosticators, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because, really, who would’ve ever guessed in a million years that Sean Avery would be a cancer in the Dallas Stars locker room? Or that an undrafted SEL forward who never played a game of North American hockey in his life wouldn’t pot 50 goals and win the Calder? In their defense, sometimes hindsight isn’t 20/20.

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Canadian pundits present a different but certainly no less exceptional skill set when it comes to predicting the fortunes of the NHL’s 30 teams. Steeped in hockey history, made from the cloth of those pioneers who helped create and define the sport, the Canadian hockey media is uniquely qualified to understand the intricacies and subtle nuances of talent, desire, and intangibles that comprise a championship team. Their decades of intense scholarship and innate, almost genetic understanding of the game has resulted in a system of prediction so honed and razor sharp that it can be presented as a series of four simple equations:

Pre-Round 1 championship pick = Their favorite Canadian team

Pre-Round 2 championship pick = The only Canadian team remaining

Pre-Round 3 championship pick = The American team with the most Canadians

Pre-Round 4 championship pick = Any team that isn’t the Detroit Red Wings

It has been said that genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple, and it’s patently obvious that most Canadian hockey pundits are incredibly, astoundingly simple. It’s for this very reason that their opinions and prognostications hold so much import in the hockey world. It’s the kind of pedigree that you can’t buy, borrow, or steal. You either have it or you don’t.

I realize that even these titans of broadcast and print journalism can sometimes get it wrong. Everyone is human, even sports journalists who can type really fast. But I would submit to you that these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

And so many exceptions have been made this year that the rule has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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