What if the NHL Playoffs Started Today? The Western Conference Edition
On Monday, I wrote a slideshow discussing what would happen if the Stanley Cup playoffs were to start that day and predicted how the Eastern Conference would shape up.
Today, I am going to switch sides and predict how the playoffs would turn out for the Western Conference if they were getting underway tonight.
For those of you who have not yet read my previous piece, here is how this works:
I will start by listing the top eight seeds in the Western Conference and do a preview of each hypothetical series. Once all four series are predicted, I will then predict the Western Conference semifinals matchups and winners. After that, we move on to a prediction for the Western Conference Finals, which ultimately leads to which team could represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals.
All statistics and standings presented in this slide are as of the end of games on Tuesday, January 11.
The Top Eight Seeds
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Dallas Stars
4. Nashville Predators
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. Chicago Blackhawks
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. They have also eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs in 2009 and 2010.
However, Chicago has lost several players that were significant parts of their run last year, and Vancouver is on top in the Western Conference.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin lead the Canucks with 55 points and are tied for third in the NHL in scoring. Daniel has 25 goals, which is also ranked third in the league.
Ryan Kesler comes in second with 41 points, and his 24 goals are fifth in the NHL.
On defense, Alexander Edler leads all defensemen in scoring with 25 points. Kesler and Daniel Sedin each boast a plus-17 rating, while Henrik has a plus-18. Overall, 16 players have positive plus/minus ratings, and nine of those players have at least a plus-10.
Roberto Luongo is going to be the Canucks' goaltender for a good long while. He is currently ranked fourth in the NHL with 20 wins, and his .922 save percentage is ranked ninth. He also has a 2.34 GAA.
In 34 playoff games, Luongo has a 17-17 record with one shutout. He holds a .917 save percentage an 2.50 GAA.
Cory Schneider is in his first full NHL season as Luongo's backup. He has yet to lose a game in regulation this year and is currently 8-0-2 with a .925 save percentage and 2.31 GAA.
For the Blackhawks, Patrick Sharp leads the offense with 44 points, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane come in second and third with 36 and 33 points, respectively. Like the Canucks, the Hawks have nine players who have put up at least 20 points this year.
The Blackhawks' defense has taken a hit after losing Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel to the Atlanta Thrashers. Although Duncan Keith has 24 points this year, he has a minus-seven, a far cry from the 69 and points and plus-21 of his 2009-10 campaign.
Brian Campbell leads the team in plus/minus with a plus-19.
Rookie netminder Corey Crawford has taken over the starting spot from veteran goaltender Marty Turco. He has a record of 14-8-1 with a .917 save percentage and a fifth ranked 2.23 GAA.
Turco is in his first year with the Blackhawks after playing the last several years with Dallas. He has struggled in his 24 games, going 9-10-2 with a .899 save percentage and 3.02 GAA.
He has also played in 47 playoff games with the Stars and is 21-26. He averages a .902 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. However, the Stars have not made the postseason since 2008, so Turco would definitely be a little bit rusty.
Prediction: Vancouver over Chicago. The third time will be the charm for the Canucks, who are the deeper team this time around.
2) Detroit Red Wings vs. 7) Anaheim Ducks
The Red Wings and the Ducks last met in the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals. Although the Ducks put up a hard fight, the Red Wings defeated them in seven games on their way towards their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
Henrik Zetterberg leads Detroit with 49 points, and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom comes in second with 41 points. Pavel Datsyuk, despite being out with a broken hand, remains in third place on the Red Wings with 39 points.
Lidstrom's 41 points put him far and away as the leading scorer among Wings' defensemen. He is also third in the NHL in scoring among defensemen. Brian Rafalski and Justin Abdelkader lead the Wings with identical plus-12 ratings.
Chris Osgood, the goaltender who has been a key part of three Stanley Cup championships for the Red Wings, would be missing from the lineup if the playoffs got started now. He is out of the lineup for six weeks with sports hernia surgery.
Osgood has played in 129 playoff games with Detroit and the St. Louis Blues and holds a record of 74-49.
In Osgood's absence, Jimmy Howard has taken over as starting goaltender. He is first in the league with 22 wins and has a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. He played in 12 playoff games in 2010 and had a .915 save percentage and 2.75 GAA.
Corey Perry currently leads the Ducks with 45 points, which puts him in ninth in the NHL. His 21 goals are sixth in the league. Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne each have 37 points to tie for second place.
Lubomir Visnovsky is the leading scorer among Ducks' defensemen with 33 points, and Toni Lydman leads the team with a plus-23.
Goalie Jonas Hiller was recently named to the NHL All-Star Game. He is second in the league with 21 wins and has a .929 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. He played in 13 games in the 2008-2009 playoffs, where he had a .943 save percentage.
Hiller is backed up by Curtis McElhinney, who is 2-4-1 in 11 games. He has a .911 save percentage and a 3.20 GAA.
Prediction: Anaheim over Detroit. Hiller has done slightly better in the playoffs than Howard, and the Red Wings would be in trouble today with no Osgood or Datsyuk.
3) Dallas Stars vs. 6) Colorado Avalanche
Colorado is looking to get further than last year's first round exit against the San Jose Sharks, while the Stars are trying to make the most of their first postseason trip since 2008.
The Stars are led by Brad Richards, who has 50 points. Loui Eriksson is in second with 47 points. Four other players have at least 20 points this year.
Stephane Robidas leads Dallas defensemen in scoring with 19 points, and Eriksson is the plus/minus leader with a plus-17. Just seven players have a positive plus/minus rating.
Kari Lehtnonen has become the Stars' starting goaltender after playing the last four seasons in Atlanta. He is seventh in the NHL with 18 wins and fifth with a .926 save percentage. He played for the Thrashers in the 2007 postseason but only managed a record of 0-2 with a .849 save percentage and 5.39 GAA.
Lehtonen is backed up by Andrew Raycroft, who is 8-3-0 with a .934 save percentage and 2.05 GAA. In eight playoff games with the Boston Bruins and the Canucks, he has gone 3-4 with a .922 save percentage and 2.16 GAA.
Matt Duchene, a second year player, was recently selected for the All-Star Game. He is the Avs' leading scorer with 43 points. Paul Statsny and Milan Hedjuk round out the top three with 37 and 36 points, respectively.
John-Michael Liles leads the defensive corps with 30 points and a plus-13 rating. Ryan O'Byrne is tied with Liles in plus/minus rating.
Craig Anderson has the starting goaltender role for Colorado. He is 11-9 with a .902 save percentage and 3.07 GAA. He went 2-4 in six playoff games in 2010, posting a .933 save percentage and 2.62 GAA.
Peter Budaj is 11-6-3 with a .898 save percentage and 3.08 GAA. In four playoff games, he has a .889 save percentage and 3.61 GAA.
Prediction: Colorado over Dallas. It will come down to goaltending in this series, as Anderson has more recent playoff experience than Lehtonen and his record last year does not tell the whole story.
4) Nashville Predators vs. 5) Phoenix Coyotes
Both teams made the playoffs last year, but they were eliminated in the first round by their respective opponents. Who will get further in 2011?
Shea Weber is the leading scorer for the low-scoring Predators, as he has 25 points this year. He is also the leading scorer among defensemen. Sergei Kostistyn and Patric Hornqvist are tied for second with 23 points each.
Ryan Suter leads the Preds with a plus-17 rating, and 17 players boast a positive plus/minus rating.
Pekka Rinne has a record of 13-10-4 in 27 games. He is one of the NHL's top goaltenders, as his .928 save percentage is ranked fourth and his 2.11 GAA is third. In the 2010 postseason, he had a 2-4 record with a .911 save percentage and 2.68 GAA.
Rinne is backed up by Anders Lindback, who is in his first year in the NHL. Lindback has done a respectable job, posting a 10-3-2 record. His .922 save percentage is ninth in the NHL, and he also has 2.36 GAA. The two netminders have combined for five shutouts.
Keith Yandle leads both the Coyotes and Phoenix defensemen with 31 points. Shane Doan is in second with 29 points, while Ray Whitney is in third with 28 points.
Adrian Aucoin is another key defenseman for the Coyotes, posting a plus-13 rating to lead the team in that category.
Ilya Bryzgalov is currently 15-8-6 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA. He has played 23 playoff games with the Ducks and Coyotes, which includes a 2007 Stanley Cup championship with Anaheim. He has a playoff record of 12-9 with a .924 save percentage and 2.38 GAA.
Jason LaBarbera has no NHL playoff experience, but he has a decent regular season record of 6-5-3 in 14 games. He has posted a .914 save percentage and 3.02 GAA.
Prediction: Nashville over Phoenix. It's a tough one to call, as both teams are very similar, but Nashville has a slight edge in goaltending.
The Remaining Teams
1. Vancouver Canucks
4. Nashville Predators
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. Anaheim Ducks
Western Conference Semifinals
1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 7. Anaheim Ducks
Prediction: Vancouver over Anaheim. Luongo is a longer tenured goaltender, and the Canucks have the edge on defense.
4. Nashville Predators vs. 6. Colorado Avalanche
Prediction: Nashville over Colorado. Colorado gives up over three goals per game, and Nashville will be able to capitalize on that even without a power forward. The Predators have given up the second least amount of goals in the NHL.
Western Conference Finals
1. Vancouver Canucks versus 4. Nashville Predators
Prediction: Vancouver over Nashville. The Canucks have more offensive depth.
In Case You Missed It...
Check out my predictions for the Eastern Conference:
Also, stay tuned throughout the rest of the season. I intend on revisiting this topic depending on how the standings shake out.