Ramblings: Playoff format and reviewing predictions

Michael Clifford

2020-05-21

The new Dobber Hockey has launched! Our development team has been working at this for months and the day finally came yesterday as we were able to launch in full. We had a re-design months ago, but now this battle station is fully operation.

Again, kudos to our dev team as they're the ones that made this all happen. There may not be much to talk about hockey-wise right now, but there will be again, and we'll be here ready to serve our fantasy hockey readers.

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I've been thinking about the 24-team format that is being proposed for the 2019-20 season's playoffs. It's a real bad idea. Let's get into it.

For the record, my submission is a 20-team format. We don't need to worry about conferences or divisions if teams are going to be in a hub city. We have the top-12 teams (by points percentage) take a bye, and then 13v20, 14v19, 15v18, and 16v17 in best-of-threes to get down to 16 teams, and a normal playoff bracket. It gives the playoff bubble teams a chance while not expanding so far as to include 80 percent of the league in the postseason.

It's pretty obvious it's a money grab. The owners are upset they're taking a loss so they want to include more teams (some of whom are among the biggest markets in the league) and more games. Of course, if we add four teams, we're adding hundreds of points of potential contamination. There is this little virus going around right now that I hear is kind of bad. It's about money, not safety. Let's just all get on the same page here.

One area that works in favour of a 24-team, round robin format is giving everyone the same opportunity to play. These NHLers are going to be returning after months off and no exhibition season. If we were to do some sort of play-in, it would give the worse teams some games to knock the rust off. We know teams with time off are at a disadvantage, so whichever team gets through the play-ins would be much more likely to win their next game – the first in the real playoffs – than they otherwise would have. Maybe it's a small trade-off that needs to be made at the altar of economics (altarnomics?) but it's something that we should keep in mind.

Whatever they decide to do, it's going to be a nightmare. If we just stick with 16 teams, those that were on the rise get screwed (looking at you, Rangers). If we expand to 20, we probably have to have play-in games, which gives worse teams an advantage (if they get through). If we go to 24, we're adding considerably more people to an already undesirable situation in a transparent money grab.

No matter the final plan, this is going to be a nightmare for the teams, the players, and the league. I saw someone express it this way not long ago, "There are no good options, only varying degrees of bad." I think that's something we all need to get on board with here. If sports are going to return – and they are – then we need to come to terms with the fact that there are no good scenarios here. They're all bad, it's just some are worse than others. This isn't going to be a celebration; it's going to be harm reduction.

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Now that that's all out of the way, I can't wait to watch the Habs knock the Lightning out of the playoffs for some reason. Or Chicago taking out Vegas. Something really stupid is going to happen and it'll be at that point we'll know for sure: hockey is back.

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That notion of the Habs (or the Blackhawks or the Coyotes) knocking out a top team isn't just a concern or wish that I have. Rather, it's apparently something a lot of teams are thinking about. Legendary Rangers writer Larry Brooks wrote a column recently, using Carey Price as the reference. If you're a top team, do you want to face Carey Price in a short series or round robin format? Probably not. (Look, I'm also of the belief that Price is past his prime but he clearly still has a lot of respect around the league. It's a factor, somehow, even if we can't quantify it.)

I wonder if this is a result of what happened to Tampa Bay last year. We saw one of the best regular season teams this century get swept in the first round by a good defensive team and goalie. I'd assume that teams like Boston, Vegas, and St. Louis would prefer to not have to play games against bad divisional opponents in the playoffs. Even bad teams have, roughly, somewhere around a 40 percent chance of winning.

Maybe it's not Price. Let's try a better one: how many teams would be lining up to face Darcy Kuemper and the Coyotes in a short series? Probably not many.

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I just wanted to do a quick review of my 2019-20 predictions. A week before the season, I summarized a lot of my stances and calls by Conferences, both East and West. Let's start with the East, see where I went wrong, and how it could inform our decisions for the 2020 playoffs and into next season.

Being leery of drafting anyone from the Bruins' top line because of Patrice Bergeron's lingering groin issue feels like a lifetime ago, but that was included in the article on the Eastern Conference. Not drafting Bergeron may have worked out just fine, but forgoing both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak may have been a mistake. I had neither in any league outside of one dynasty league. It seems they don't need Bergeron to be monsters. Duly noted.

One of my most consistent predictions was that Nino Niederreiter was being widely undervalued and that after showing well post-trade in 2018-19, he was finally going to show what he could do in a full season with genuine top-line minutes. Well, by the time March rolled around, he was playing about 12:30 a game and had his lowest point total (29) of his career. There was a chance he would post a career-low in points. I was wildly wrong. He had career-lows in IPP and on-ice shooting percentage at 5-on-5, and his second-lowest individual shooting percentage. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. At least he'll be cheap at the draft table next year?

Sergei Bobrovsky was the one goalie I was high on because I figured he was a near-lock for 70 starts. In reality, before the season was suspended, he lost the net to Chris Driedger. Goalies, man.

My hope was that this would be the season we'd see the breakout for Nico Hischier. The team added some weapons in the offseason, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri were still around, and Hischier was coming into his third full season. I thought all the stars were aligned, and the team hit the ground running with all the pace of a sloth. I still think Hischier will have a full-fledged breakout, it just didn't happen this year.

Shayne Gostisbehere was a guy I had pegged as a bounce-back candidate and that did not happen by any possible measure. I mean, the guy was a healthy scratch at times, while Ivan Provorov took over the blue line. It's weird because I was watching a game from the 2016 World Cup and was reminded that Gostisbehere, once upon a time, was highly coveted not only by fantasy hockey owners, but obviously by those involved in the game, as he was selected to Team North America. This is now two terrible years in a row, though. What to think?

It's hard to say what to make of Andreas Johnsson. He had a decent start to the season but he eventually lost his role both at 5-on-5 and on the top PP unit, due to injury and under-performance (and how those two may be related, I won't even make an attempt). He went from playing nearly 18 minutes a night in November to fewer than 12 minutes a night in February. What that means for his future, I really don't know right now. I'm still a believer in his offensive talent, but if he's not in the top-6, it doesn't matter.

Jakub Vrana was a player I've been high on for years but wasn't excited to draft in 2019-20 because I didn't see him taking over any role on the top PP unit. While he hasn't grabbed the reigns outright, he did get some time on the top unit this year over Evgeny Kuznetsov. Now, if someone were to tell me they were from the future and said that Jakub Vrana would play 82 games next season on Washington's top PP unit, there would probably be an argument for him being picked in the first three or four rounds. Until we have that security though, I'm leery of drafting him inside the top-50 players.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency MIN Players
23.5% KEVIN FIALA JORDAN GREENWAY ERIC STAAL
17.5% JOEL ERIKSSON EK LUKE KUNIN ZACH PARISE
15.1% MARCUS FOLIGNO ALEX GALCHENYUK MATS ZUCCARELLO

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