NHL Yearbooks: Comparing Last Year’s Predictions to Actual Results (Part Two)

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Updated: September 29, 2013
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I subscribe to a few magazines that range in interests – PC stuff, science, and hockey. The Hockey News is my main source of, well, hockey news, but I do enjoy buying all kinds of books that preview each NHL season. The mags call them “Yearbooks” while I just call them “good reads” and leave it at that.   The thing about these magazines is that they all have experts – people who have watched, read, and written about hockey for the better part of half their lives. They clearly know what they are talking about. We trust these guys because they are experts who give us an overview of our teams and, while you may agree and disagree, they get paid for it and you do not.

Until now I have hardly ever really questioned their thoughts and recommendations, and have never thought to return to past seasons to see if they really are any good at giving predictions in the first place.  Have I been reading these blindly accepting what they tell me, or do they actually have the ability to predict the standings better than you or me?  So let’s take a look back and compare three books to see who did a better job predicting a team’s position.

For this three-part series, I have decided to compare three very respected sources of hockey  – the the Hockey News Yearbook, Sports Forecaster, and McKeen’s Hockey Pool Yearbook with my own from last year. (West and East)

15th – Florida Panthers
They went from the worst team in the East to the top of their division within two years, only to return to the basement of the East again. The 2012-13 season was one to forget for the Florida Panthers because for the first time in franchise history, they finished at the very bottom of the NHL standings.

Some could blame it on their inability to score goals. The Panthers offense finished dead last in that category. Others would point out that the Panthers team lost a combined total of 361 man games due to injury. Among them were Kris Versteeg (38 games), Scottie Upshall (21), Stephen Weiss (31) and Ed Jovanovski (42). Even goaltender Jose Theodore was bitten by the injury bug, recording his last start of the season on March 2. The penalty kill? Atrocious and dead last in the league – just like the team. They even saw the first overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft slip through their fingers, settling for the second pick overall and taking centre Aleksander Barkov.

Needless to say, once the Panthers raised their division title banner to the rafters, the roof came down on their 2012-13 season.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 14th
  • McKeen’s – 8th
  • Sport Forecaster – 7th
  • The Hockey News – 10th

 

14th -Tampa Bay Lightning 

There was no issues with scoring goals last season – 148 goals was good for 5th in the league. The issues were in net. Anders Lindback was brought in to stop the bleeding and, while he and Mathieu Garon split the time in net, both could not stop the puck often enough. Lindback has a .902 SV% and Garon finished with .897 SV%. The sloppy defense and lack of really good netminding caused Steve Yzerman to go out and get another goalie. Ben Bishop was brought in at the trade deadline for Cory Conacher from the Ottawa Senators. He was the fourth goalie to start for Tampa Bay last year and performed well enough to earn him a two-year extension worth $4.6 million.

Guy Boucher could not get the team to stop letting in goals and found himself out of a job. To replace him and his coaching staff, Steve Yzerman brought in Jon Cooper, George Gwozdecky, and Rick Bowness. Jon Cooper was the head coach of their AHL squad and led them to a Calder Cup in 2011-2012 season. Gwozdecky has spent the last 19 years coaching University of Denver and Bowness has over 24 years of NHL experience with teams like Vancouver, Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa, New York Islanders, and Phoenix.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 10th
  • McKeen’s – 11th
  • Sports Forecaster – 12th
  • The Hockey News – 6th

 

13th – Carolina Hurricanes
Things started off exceptionally well for the Hurricanes in 2013 as many believed it would. With a revamped roster and surprise performances from players like Jiri Tlusty the team looked like a playoff lock in the early going. Then Cam Ward suffered a knee injury and their entire season went south. They ended up finishing a stunning 13th place in the conference, and any perceived progress from the off-season was quickly forgotten. The season shed some light on a few things that the they would have very much liked to keep buried away. For one they are the worst special teams squad in the league. This is a surprising fact considering their powerplay (28th in 2013) features the names mentioned above. Likewise with the Penalty Kill (27th in 2013), which features one of the best defensive forwards in the game in Jordan Staal. Moreover, the Hurricanes don’t have great goaltending depth. Injuries are starting to define Cam Ward and a Dan Ellis/Justin Peters combo was not able to maintain the quality that Carolina needed to make the postseason. Other big injuries to Eric Staal, Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu crippled the team further.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 7th
  • McKeen’s – 3rd
  • Sports Forecaster – 13th
  • The Hockey News – 9th

 

12th – Buffalo Sabres

What can I say?  The Buffalo Sabres had an absolutely awful 2013 season.  Just how bad was it? Try this on for size; they ranked 22nd in goals per game, and 22nd in goals against.  Special teams?  Their power play ranked 29th in the league, and their penalty kill ranked 26th. Here’s another compelling statistic – out of 29 roster players, 17 of them were on the negative end of plus/minus.  Now, we acknowledge that plus/minus is not a perfect stat, but 17 roster players in the minus column? Really? The frustrating thing for Sabres fans must be watching their new owner bluster on about committing to bringing a Stanley Cup to the franchise in a short period of time, and just failing miserably to the point of embarrassment.

After spending a life age behind the Sabres bench, Lindy Ruff was relieved of his duties before the end of the season. Knowing Ruff, this must have been relieving, since it didn’t get much better before the season closed out.  I’m quite sure Sabres fans were quite happy to see it come mercifully to a close, especially with so many questions about the future.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 8th
  • McKeen’s – 12th
  • Sports Forecaster – 9th
  • The Hockey News – 7th

 

11th – New Jersey Devils
For the New Jersey Devils, last season was full of injuries and disappointments. The following list of players missed significant time due to injuries: Ilya Kovalchuk, Martin Brodeur, Adam Henrique, Dainius Zubrus, and Bryce Salvador. Players such as Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk saw a decline in production as the Devils missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Even though it was a shortened season, this Devils team made it feel like a long nightmare. Night in and night out it felt like the Devils out shot every team they played and lost 1 – 0. Scoring was the obvious issue, which led to the Devils finishing 19 – 19 – 10. At the end of the season, Kovalchuk was the face of the franchise, David Clarkson was going to re-sign and Martin Brodeur was the starting goaltender. Oh boy, did things change..

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 11th
  • McKeen’s – 10th
  • Sport Forecaster – 10th
  • The Hockey News – 11th

 

10th – Philadelphia Flyers

So, the good was good, as in there is a lot offensive upside in this team with its young talent. The bad? Well, there was a lot more of it than the good. We had Scott Hartnell score only 8 goals, Danny Briere looked like he completely ran out of gas and only scored 6 goals with a horrid minus 13. There was also the defensive corps that was torched for 139 goals as only seven other teams let in more goals. Well, whomever fault that was, it sure did not help that the Flyers 51 million dollar goalie had a save percentage of .900 and with that kind of a number you will be hard pressed to win games.

Really, it all came down to five-on-five play for the Flyers last season, something that they might have straightened out over a long season, but during a 48-game season every mistake is magnified. When you expect to be a playoff team and you finish outside, there tends to be collateral damage. This year for the Flyers the collateral damage ended up being two buyouts. Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov were bought out with Briere signing in Montreal while Ilya still a UFA. Flyers pretty much labeled Bryzgalov as the scapegoat for the lost season and his stats really did not help argue otherwise.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 5th
  • McKeen’s – 5th
  • Sport Forecaster – 8th
  • The Hockey News -5th

 

 

9th – Winnipeg Jets

When Cam Ward went down to injury and Carolina started rapidly declining, it seemed like Winnipeg would take the division on virtue of being a mediocre team in a division of disappointments. At that point Washington was hovering around .500 and even that had required a big jump in quality. But on the back of Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, the resurgent Capitals took the Southeast and with it any opportunity Winnipeg had of making the playoffs.

However, despite the disappointing end to the 2013 season, there were plenty of positives for the Winnipeg Jets. For one, captain Andrew Ladd had a stellar season, putting up almost a point per game and earning a place on many people’s projected Team Canada roster in the process. Blake Wheeler also had an incredibly impressive season alluding to the fact that he has potential to be a 30 goal+ scorer over a full 82-game season. Meanwhile, on the back-end Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien continued to headline the Jets blue line, though in Byfuglien’s case it wasn’t always for the right reasons, as whispers of his weight issues resurfaced.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 12th
  • McKeen’s – 13th
  • Sports Forecaster – 15th
  • The Hockey News – 14th

 

8th – NY Islanders

The Isles had qualified for the playoffs for the first time in six years and were paired against the number-one seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and their dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  That amount of talent was too overwhelming for the young Islanders squad to handle as Pittsburgh eliminated them in six games. Although the series lasted longer than many experts predicted, New York was disappointed with their first-round exit.

It was still a major accomplishment for a team that finished dead last in the Atlantic Division in 2011-2012.  While John Tavares enjoyed the short ride in the postseason, he has high hopes for this upcoming year.

“It’s really hard to describe what playoff hockey is like in the NHL,” Tavares told NHL.com this summer. “There’s really nothing like that. You see Chicago with the Cup and us getting a little taste of that experience, I think it drives you that much more to want to be successful and get to that ultimate goal.”

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 15th
  • McKeen’s – 15th
  • Sports Forecaster – 6th
  • The Hockey News – 15th

 

7th – Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators weathered the worst string of injuries of any team in the National Hockey League last season. They lost their big three, not for one or two games, but for huge lengths of time.  The big three I speak of includes: goaltender Craig Anderson, super stud defenseman Erik Karlsson, and silky scoring machine Jason Spezza.  They were replaced by guys that no one outside of Ottawa had ever heard of.  While some players like Mika Zibanejad, had the pedigree of a high draft pick, others like Colin Greening and Zach Smith were called upon to take the mantle of this thinned out roster of non-houshold names, coached by Paul MacLean.

These unlikely heroes took their club back to the playoffs, and in an unlikely outcome, upset the mighty Montreal Canadiens.  The series was not without drama, some of which is outlined here.  As high as the Sens were coming out of that series , these Senators were no match for the Penguins, and their fearless leader Daniel Alfredsson even openly admitted it. Even the unlikely return of Karlsson couldn’t prevent the outcome that knocked the Sens into the offseason.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 6th
  • McKeen’s – 6th
  • Sports Forecaster – 4th
  • The Hockey News – 8th

 

6th – NY Rangers

The Blueshirts came out of the lockout with so much optimism surrounding them. If you had asked most people in hockey press, the Rangers should have been awarded the Cup before ever playing a game.  Then reality hit.  This team had traded away much of its vaunted depth to watch Rick Nash perform hockey porn every night.  They made the playoffs, but there was a point when that wasn’t a foregone conclusion.  It was as if they didn’t want to make it.  Not only that, star center Brad Richards was virtually useless on the majority of nights, spending much of the last third of the season on the third line, and being a healthy scratch for the final games of their shortened playoff run.

The thing is, as talented as Nash is, they simply didn’t have enough talent to make it much farther than they did.  Not only that but the Nash trade, along with the other moves the GM Glen Sather made during the season, significantly changed the identity of this team.  They no longer could play the defensive shell game that they had been. Henrik Lundqvist, goalie extraordinaire and fashionista, kept them in games on a lot of nights despite his mates lackluster performances.  Then, almost as quickly as the season had begun, the Rangers were ousted out of the playoffs, and we were watch the King doubt his own throne in New York.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 1st
  • McKeen’s – 4th
  • Sports Forecaster – 3rd
  • The Hockey News – 4th

 

5th – Toronto Maple Leafs
For the sake of every Maple Leafs fan out there, I won’t subject them to re-live the ending of last season, I’m sure that all hockey fans, not just Leafs fans, have seen and heard about the ending of their series with Boston enough over the summer. Overall, the season was a step forward. Toronto made the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season, and things for the team look like they are on an up-swing.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 11th
  • McKeen’s – 14th
  • Sports Forecaster – 14th
  • The Hockey News – 12th

 

4th – Boston Bruins

In the lock-out shortened 2012-13 season, the Bruins finished fourth in the East, just second behind the Montreal Canadiens in their division. It took a an unforgettable comeback in game seven of the first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs to overcome a first round exit, as they were trailing by three goals early in the third before forcing overtime and eventually going on to win, sending the Toronto faithful into devastation mode.

Goaltender Tuuka Rask proved to the city of Boston that Tim Thomas was so 2011, guarding the Bruins net and back-stopping the team all the way to the finals. Although they were unable to go the distance, Rask was never the problem, posting a 1.88 goals against and a .940 save percentage. Needless to say, Rask was a force in goal.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 2nd
  • McKeen’s – 2nd
  • Sports Forecaster – 1st
  • The Hockey News – 2nd

 

3rd – Washington Capitals

With rookie head coach Adam Oates behind the bench for a shortened 48-game season, the Washington Capitals started off to an uncharacteristically sluggish start last January.  Their 2-8-1 span led many people to believe that Oates and his team would be incapable of succeeding over the course of the rest of the year.  However, a March weekend in Winnipeg that ended up in a pair of back-to-back wins for the Caps sparked an enormous turnaround that managed to save their playoff hopes and secure their fifth division title over the last six years.

Washington’s top two stars, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, propelled their team to the peak of the Southeast Division by having outstanding offensive seasons in which both of them flourished as the year progressed.  While Backstrom finished third in the league with 40 assists, Ovechkin finished third in the league in points with 56 and first in the league in goals with 32.

Unfortunately, the Capitals’ season ended all too familiarly with another first-round playoff exit by the hands of the New York Rangers in seven games.  If they hope to improve on last year’s heartbreaking yet predictable result, the Caps will have to find a way to play their best hockey when it counts the most.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 3rd
  • McKeen’s – 9th
  • Sports Forecaster – 2nd
  • The Hockey News – 3rd

 

2nd – Montreal Canadiens
While Therrien received a lot of negative press prior to stepping behind the bench in Montreal, one positive heavily covered was his ability to develop young players, of which the Canadiens had many. In fact, under Therrien’s guidance, it was the youngsters who were the biggest key to the team’s 2013 success. Brendan Gallagher was the most pleasant surprise of the entire season, forcing himself on to the team and then just about anywhere else he desired on the playing surface. Alex Galchenyuk looked every bit like his highly promising scouting reports and showed consistent signs of learning on the job. Meanwhile, on the blueline PK Subban was a revelation, scoring his way to the Norris Trophy and legitimizing himself as one of the top defenders in the game.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 13th
  • McKeen’s – 7th
  • Sports Forecaster – 11th
  • The Hockey News – 13th

 

1st – Pittsburgh Penguins

When the Pittsburgh Penguins added grit, leadership and talent towards the end of the 2012-13 post season, many believed that they were the favorites to go all the way. With arguably the two best players in the league, it seemed too good to be true. Sadly, it was.

Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow and Douglas Murray were all added to the Penguins line-up in order to make an impact and strong push towards the Stanley Cup. A long playoff run wasn’t enough for General Manager Ray Shero; it was the Cup or bust.

After a battle against the New York Islanders that saw the Penguins winning in six games, they made short work of the Ottawa Senators in the second round, defeating them in a short five-game series. Unfortunately, it was the Boston Bruins who turned out to be their Kryptonite as the Penguins were swept in the Conference Finals. In four games, the highest scoring team in the NHL were only able to muster up two goals.

Experts Predictions:

  • Max Vasilyev – 4th
  • McKeen’s – 1st
  • Sports Forecaster – 5th
  • The Hockey News – 1st

So, let us take a break here and we will take a look at the part two of this three part series where we will see how I, McKeen’s, Sports Forecaster, and The Hockey News have done in the east. Do not worry I will tally up the scores and predictions in a simple review with a spreadsheet type format to declare the winner. Last year format if you are interested can be found here

 

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