Well the first round is over. That went quicker than most people expected.
Only one series went to seven games? Wasn’t the divisional playoff format supposed to, like, help create matchups that generated more interest in the first round? Doesn’t seem like that worked out too well this season, which is weird because the format forced a bunch of good teams to play each other early.
No point in complaining about it now because…… oh wait the current playoff format is also forcing a bunch of good teams to play each other early in the second round, too.
Anyway, people had questions about that format — I love saying “format” this much — and a bunch of the doings that were transpiring in the first round, and what doings may soon be transpiring in the second.
So let’s just get to it:
David asks: “Is this the most boring first round in the modern era?”
It wasn’t ideal, no.
There were a lot of blowouts, a lot of boring overtime games (most notably in that LA/Vegas series). Again, it’s very rare that only one series out of eight goes to seven games. But with that acknowledgement, let’s be clear: Last year’s was arguably worse.
That might get kinda lost in the shuffle because we were all so excited to see Chicago get waxed in the first round in such hilarious fashion, but there wasn’t a single Game 7 in last year’s first round. There were a bunch more overtime games (18 out of the round’s 42 games versus just a handful in 43 this time), so if you want to call it a tie, that’s fine with me.
Eric asks: “If you can name one thing that will be the biggest deciding factor between the Preds and Jets, what would it be?”
It is, for sure, the Preds’ ability to cope with the Jets’ speed. They didn’t do it very well against Colorado (insofar as they probably shouldn’t have given up as many goals as they did, even if they still won pretty easily in six games).
All the Jets/Preds games from this season were track meets — it was 22-19 Nashville on aggregate across five games — and that’s good news for people hoping for a fun second round. But if the Preds’ D was having trouble keeping up with the MacKinnon line for most of these last six games, well, the Jets have more than one line like that don’t they?
Nashville could, I guess, reliably outscore Winnipeg as it did in the regular season and as it did Colorado, but it’s gonna be a tall task. They could also tighten up the defense because of how strong their depth is. But this is absolutely the thing to watch for in the series.
Luke asks: “I keep telling my friends that there are only 5 teams that are capable of winning a Stanley Cup and they keep disagreeing. Tell them why I’m right.”
First of all, Luke, this isn’t a question and I don’t appreciate it.
Second, I’m going to guess those five teams (you asked before last night’s Game 7) in your book are the winner of Boston/Toronto (which was Boston), Tampa, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Winnipeg.
And those are absolutely the five teams most likely to win the Cup. However, the fact that four of them are playing each other in this round really narrows those chances, right? It’s not impossible for, say, Washington or the winner of the Pacific to win the Cup, but the odds are slim, probably like a 1 in 10 or 1 in 12 chance. A handful of not-great teams have at least made it to a Cup Final in recent years, and at that point you’re just a few good coin flips away.
So Luke, you’re probably right. But if you’d said the same thing at the beginning of the season, I would have said, “Luke, you’re probably right.” So I’m not that impressed here bud.
Brandon asks: “Why does Rick Nash’s game never translate to playoff success? Coincidence or trend?”
I think a few years ago I wrote something like, “This is a guy who’s really good at generating chances but just can’t finish them. Seems like bad luck luck to me.” Now, a few years later, I’m not as sure.
The breakdown is actually pretty interesting: In the last five postseasons, Nash pretty much always underperforms his individual expected goals per 60 — meaning how many goals he “should” score if he were an average player taking those exact same shots — and that would normally be a pretty good indicator of bad luck.
After all, we’re still only talking about roughly 1,200 minutes of all-situations hockey over five playoff runs, which is about as many minutes as he played in this regular season. A 14-goal season for Nash (which is how many goals he has in these last five playoffs) would be very bad, but you’d also say “Well he only scored 14 goals on 288 shots. He’s not gonna shoot 5 percent forever.”
But also, all his “expected” numbers get worse when he gets into the playoffs, meaning he’s not playing at the level at which he usually plays.
So at this point I’m going to call it a combination of bad luck and bad performance. It can and probably is both. So let’s put it this way: Maybe don’t trade for Rick Nash to bolster your playoff chances.
Kyle asks: “Is any now-eliminated coach at risk for firing?”
I think there’s a small possibility for just one coach.
Let’s mostly go in order of elimination:
The Avs just extended Bednar
The Kings just hired Stevens
The Ducks have already said Randy Carlyle is coming back
The Devils are actually surprised it made the playoffs with Hynes this year
The Wild are getting a new GM instead, so Boudreau’s safe
The Flyers seem to love Dave Hakstol, even if they maybe shouldn’t
The Leafs aren’t gonna fire Babcock
That leaves Columbus, a very good team done in by very bad special teams. Eliminated pretty early in the first round two years in a row despite some very high expectations. I could see the Blue Jackets making a change here, and I would totally understand it, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Yanson asks: “Why are non-fans of teams playing so concerned about good teams playing each other early in playoffs? And how many of these people love the ‘Cinderella’ narrative for underdogs this format actually enables?”
This is two questions and I only asked for one. Very rude.
But the answer to the first is because people want to see two things in the postseason: a) Good teams rewarded for being good in the regular season, and b) The best possible hockey as the playoffs wear on.
Let’s use the Senators from last year as the Cinderella narrative. Was that fun and good to see them get, famously, A Goal Away From A Cup Final? Anyone who watched those games and was not a Senators fan would have told you no, and then laughed behind your back abou what a dumb question that was.
A Cinderella story is nice for awhile, sure, but eventually those teams have to play a kind of anti-hockey to stay competitive with actual elite teams; it’s rare they can run and gun with high-end up clubs. So that just kinda grinds the game to a crawl and isn’t really fun for anyone who doesn’t have any vested interest.
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All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.