NHL Playoff Predictions and the Seven Player Profile: Cup Final Edition
The Seven Player profile approach to picking playoff winners went perfect in round 3 setting up a head on collision between two of the most complete profiles in the playoffs. Injuries have taken their toll on both teams over the first three rounds. Here’s how I expect it to play out based on what we have learned thus far.
EASTERN CONFERENCE - SUMMARY
New York Rangers (4) vs Tampa Bay (5)
Prediction: Bolts in 5
Result: Bolts in 6
I have been harping on the Rangers lack of depth down the middle since round one and it finally caught up to them. The Bolts didn’t have Brayden Point, yet they were able to overcome through depth, experience, and Jon Cooper’s use of the match ups to take Zibanejad’s line out of the game at home. When the Rangers weren’t on the power play, Zibby was not nearly as effective. His half wall play on the man advantage was impressive, but you will need to produce at five on five and having a better option in the two-hole would have made a difference. Shesterkin did his best to keep his team in the games but having an equally great goalie at the other end of the rink negated that advantage when it mattered most.
Nick Paul is proving to be a great pick up by Julien Brisebois at the deadline and he is lining himself up for a nice pay day in the off season. Word is that Brayden Point will be able to return for the finals and that spells trouble for any opponent as their profile will be entirely intact.
The Rangers are close. The experience they gained in this run will pay dividends in the future and Zibanejad simply reinforced how badly the Senators got fleeced on that trade. However, their profile wasn’t complete, and they lacked experience. If they can upgrade on Ryan Strome in the number two center slot, they could make some serious noise next spring.
Colorado Avalanche (1) vs Edmonton Oilers (5)
Prediction: Avalanche in 5
Result Avalanche in a sweep
Despite having their jugular exposed by losing their starting goalie in game one and their number two center in game three, the Avalanche proved to be too much for the Oilers and, once again, the reason why is in the profile.
The Oilers have the best two center combination of any team in the league, and they played like it. McDavid and Draisaitl, with the exception of game two, were able to impose themselves on the game yet it wasn’t enough to win a single game.
In the end, if you have two players playing at the level they were and you get swept, it suggests that your team isn’t constructed properly. This is particularly true if your opponent loses two key elements of their seven-player profile during the series as well.
The Avalanche are built properly around a complete seven player profile, and this allows them to backfill and be effective. With the Oilers having two much cap space tied up in too few players, it forces them to have to try to make a go of it with a forty-year-old goaltender and no legitimate shutdown defenceman.
I understand that Draisaitl and Nurse were also playing at less than 100%. However, if the pillars aren’t in place before something goes wrong, the ability to stay upright becomes untenable.
Like the Rangers, the Oilers are close and gained a lot of valuable experience. That said, their drafting, or lack thereof, has forced them to have to go outside the organization to fill their profile pieces and that comes at a cost. If they don’t address defensive depth and get a legitimate number one goalie, I am going to be writing the same obituary this time next season.
CUP FINAL PREDICTION
Tampa Bay Lightning (3 - East) vs Colorado Avalanche (1 - West)
1. #1 all star center Steven Stamkos Nathan MacKinnon
2. #2 all star center Brayden Point (inj.) Nazem Kadri (inj.)
3. Top power forward Alexander Killorn/Nick Paul Gabriel Landeskog
4. Specialist/Utility Player/Agitator/ Corey Perry JT Compher
5. All star offensive d-man Victor Hedman Cale Makar
6. Top shutdown d-man Mikhail Sergachev Devon Toews
7. All star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy Darcy Kuemper (inj.)
When fully healthy, these profiles are virtually even in quality. That said, health is an issue heading into the final round. Here’s how I rank them by profile piece:
#1 All-Star Center:
Stamkos and Mackinnon have both had great playoffs. Stamkos is more experienced, and Mackinnon is more explosive. The Avalanche have made quicker work of their series, but save round one for the Bolts, neither team has been taxed to the limit. I don’t see rest as a real advantage with neither team having played 20 games yet. Give the edge to the Avalanche with MacKinnon’s game breaking ability. I think he will be harder for Hedman to neutralize and he does more damage five on five.
#2 All-Star Center:
Point and Kadri will both be at less than their best if they are able to play at all. Point plays big for his size and has experience. Kadri is more injured than Point and normally I would give his size and ability to impose himself on the smaller Point as an advantage. Not this time. Point and his intelligence in game is the difference. Give the edge to the Bolts.
Top Power Forward:
Killorn and Paul have been effective in having big body presence and creating chances. That said, their production added up doesn’t equal what Landeskog has done in the playoffs. He is a quiet leader who is having a great playoff, and this is an edge for the Avalanche.
Specialist/Utility Forward/Agitator/Shutdown Center:
This element of the profile has many options. They don’t have to be the same kind of player. However, Perry and Compher have had very similar production through three rounds. Perry has been remarkably effective given the miles on his odometer. He knows how to disrupt the opposition. Last year’s run with the Habs was no fluke. Compher has also had a productive spring and is able to play a 200-foot game that will be needed to beat the Bolts. Unlike item #1, I am going with experience over pure speed. Give the edge to the Bolts.
All-Star Offensive D-Man:
With special teams likely to play a huge role in the outcome of the series, this element will play a critical role. Both Hedman and Makar are up for the Norris trophy and for different reasons. Hedman is likely to go head-to-head against Mackinnon to try to take him out of his rhythm. He will play the power play. However, the Bolts success rides largely in how few points Mackinnon gets versus how many points Hedman produces. Makar is the opposite. He can defend will likely get a steady diet of Stamkos. However, the Avalanche success will depend more on his ability to generate offence rather than prevent it. Neither of these guys are likely to edge Roman Josi for the Norris. Hedman will have more difficulty slowing down MacKinnon than Makar will have in generating offense. Edge to the Avalanche.
Top Shutdown D-Man:
Mikhail Sergachev and Devon Toews are not similar in terms of playing styles, but they suit their team rosters perfectly. The Lightning can generate offense. However, they take care of their own end don’t rely on quick strikes but rather capitalizing on the opponent’s errors. The Avalanche defend through their offense. They can defend their own end. However, they defend primarily by attacking and generating waves of offense from turnovers and relentless pressure. Sergachev is more of a stay-at-home defenseman who can deliver offensively at times. Toews is part of that two-pronged attack where he can generate offensively and still take care of his own end. Sergachev’s +/- was +6 whereas Toews was +52. On the surface, this might suggest a discrepancy in ability. However, it tells me that Sergachev takes care of his own end first and doesn’t impact game offensively at even strength. Toews on the other hand, playing with Makar, does more damage offensively at even strength rather than simply keeping it clean in his own end. In the end, I do believe Toews has more to offer and will neutralize Stamkos’ line by taking the fight to them. Edge goes to the Avalanche.
This one isn’t even close and that isn’t a reflection of Darcy Kuemper’s ability but rather how great Andrei Vasilevskiy is. Kuemper’s health has been suspect throughout the playoffs which doesn’t re-assure anyone. He has played well when healthy, but he just missed the majority of the previous round.
Vasilevskiy’s ability to rise to the occasion is unmatched. The bigger the game, the bigger he gets. Until proven otherwise, advantage Bolts.
Word is that Brayden Point will return for the final round. That said, the fact that he didn’t play in the series clinching game in round three tells me that even if he does return, he will be at less than 100%. Three days isn’t going to make that kind of difference. Then again, the fact that they didn’t need him to close that series out is a testament to how they are built.
The Avalanche are expecting to get Darcy Kuemper back for the start of the finals and that is good news for them. Pavel Francouz can play but, against an opponent like the Bolts, he can’t win. They showed themselves capable of backfilling the loss of Kadri against the Oilers. Again, this is a testament to how they are put together. Word is that Kadri will return for the finals. Like Point, he will not be 100% after just having surgery on his thumb.
We have learned two key things in these playoffs. The first is that having a complete profile is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another altogether. The second is that goaltending can help overcome any profile deficiencies in a playoff series.
Both Jon Cooper and Jared Bednar have shown themselves capable of squeezing every last drop out of their rosters to get it done. Cooper clearly has the edge in experience with two previous Cups in his back pocket. He also has a future Hall of Fame goaltender with nerves of steel.
Straight up on the profiles, I might give this to the Avalanche. However, with the health of their number one goalie in question and the Bolts having a proven coach and goalie, I think the Senators expansion brothers are looking at a three-peat.
Prediction: Bolts in 6
It’s not a surprise that two of the best three profiles heading into the playoffs are in the finals. The seven-player profile is clearly the way to build a team and, if you can do it largely organically (drafting and player development), you can have a nice run of success and keep your costs down. You can be successful through free agency as well. This will limit your ability to be successful long-term as your profile will cost more.
If nothing else, we know that the Senators should worry less about spending to the cap and more about allocating their funds properly to allow for a seven-player profile to develop naturally.
The Leafs and Oilers should serve as cautionary tales about cap spending. The way they are doing it, you might win a round or two. You won’t win the Holy Grail of Hockey without a properly constructed roster.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey