by PuckStopsHere on 01/15/13 at 01:32 AM ET
The shortened NHL season is about to begin. It will be harder to predict than a normal season because it is so short. If a team gets hot or cold for a stretch of games, it can be quite significant. A lot will depend upon which team best stayed in shape during the lockout. There will be a difference in physical fitness in the early part of the season due to the abbreviated training camp and differing activity levels of players during the lockout. This is significant and hard to predict.
In the best of times predictions are hard. Many of the teams are in a tightly grouped bunch that should finish within a few points of one another and a few lucky or unlucky games will put a team ahead or behind the group. Many NHL games are decided based upon luck as opposed to skill. A simple argument for that comes from the success rates predicting games. Over a season it is rare if not impossible to have a 60% success rate predicting the winners in games. That is what happens when a very hockey savvy person makes their predictions. They pick the team most likely to win on any given night. That success rate would imply that 40% of the time the weaker team wins due to luck. Similarly the stronger team can win due to luck as well 40% of the time, as both teams are equally likely to be lucky. Thus there is a 20% chance (one in five games) that a stronger team wins because of being the stronger team. That is the only signal we can hope to predict and it is at best a very noisy signal.
In the next few days I plan to try to predict the NHL finish. Today I will start with the Northwest Division.
1. Vancouver Canucks - They were the only playoff team in this division in 2011/12. They start off with a higher talent level than their division mates. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are two of the top players in the NHL. Their defence is deep but lacks a Norris calibre star with Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and others. Cory Schneider looks ready to be a top NHL goalie and Roberto Luongo already is. Likely Luongo will be traded soon and a potential distraction is provided by their goaltending system. Ryan Kesler is hurt and will be out for a while. Offensive depth will have to be provided by Mason Raymond, Alexandre Burrows and others. There is a shortage of frontline talent but no shortage of proven third and fourth line veteran depth who will be tough to play against. In a best case this team could win or contend for the Stanley Cup, but there are some questions
2. Minnesota Wild - This is a team in a desperate need for an identity since Jacques Lemaire left as coach. This team has gone from a hard working team with a strong defensive system to a team with no clear plan. Hopefully their free agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will provide this. Beside them, Mikko Koivu is their most proven player. They will also rely upon Dany Heatley (who has not aged well), Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak. On defence there is Jared Spurgeon and Tom Gilbert, who provide adequate depth. Niklas Backstrom is a solid goaltender and Josh Harding is solid too if he can stay healthy. This team has the best chance of joining Vancouver in the playoffs of the Northwest Division teams.
3. Edmonton Oilers - The Northwest Division does not have a strong second team but the Oilers have the best chance of developing into one. They have a lot of strong young talent in Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and potentially in rookie of the year candidates Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov. These players have been playing and playing well during the lockout, but there will likely be problems keeping the puck out of the net. Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk is not a strong goaltending tandem. This is a team where Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry were their best defencemen last year and they don't scare anyone. Edmonton has a talented young core that is clearly in shape and that is the kind of team that could have a good run in a shortened season but they have yet to win at the NHL level and may still be a year away.
4. Colorado Avalanche - There is some young talent here in Gabriel Landeskog and the still unsigned Ryan O'Reilly. Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Steve Downie are closing in on their primes and have shown talent. Semyon Varlamov has been playing quite well in the KHL and could make a big step forward in goal. Their defence lacks any big name stars. Erik Johnson is the most proven player here. Colorado is probably a more stable pick than Edmonton. They lack as good a talented core but have not been a bottom feeder in the NHL for as long. They were not too far back from a playoff berth last season finishing 11th in the West.
5. Calgary Flames - An aging team on their way down is a poor bet to do well in a shortened season. They need a strong season from veterans like Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay and Jay Bouwmeester. It is a good bet that many of these players cannot live up to their past. Curtis Glencross and Russian import Roman Cervenka will attempt to provide offensive depth. On defence, Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman are the depth. Should Iginla or Kiprusoff take a step backward with age, it could be a long year in Calgary.
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