Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Predicting the predictions

The dog days of hockey's off-season are nearly over. Soon, the weather will cool, the leaves will start to change color, and training camps will open up around the league.

And that means it's officially prediction season.

Making predictions is tough. In today's parity-stricken NHL, the gap between the best and worst has never been smaller, and nothing ever feels like a sure thing. Simply coming up with an accurate forecast of which teams will be good and which ones will be bad is hard enough.

But of course, that's not really what making predictions is all about. When you sit down to list your picks for the playoffs, the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup, you're not just trying to guess the future. You're also trying to stand out from the crowd by hitting on a few long shots and underdogs along the way. Anyone can predict that the Pittsburgh Penguins will be good or that the Vegas Golden Knights will struggle. You want to aim a little higher.

It all adds up to some interesting psychology. So today, instead of making our own picks – those will come later – let's try something else. Let's predict the predictions, using some basic rules to help us figure out what the coming wave of forecasts might have in common.

Rule 1: Find a team that looks like an underdog but really isn't.

Picking a few playoff teams that missed out last year is just common sense – we typically see a turnover of about a half-dozen teams each season, so just picking the same 16 teams from last year would doom you to failure.

But just picking a handful of non-playoff teams to sneak into the postseason isn’t enough – you have to have at least one of those teams as a real threat to make some noise once they get there. And if you really want to raise some eyebrows, you'll pick a non-playoff team to make it all the way to the final.

Most years, that's a tough pick to make. But not this year. Which is why we can start with a reasonably safe prediction: everyone is going to love the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It's not hard to see why. On paper, the Lightning look like one of the league's better teams, and have for the past few seasons. Nobody saw last year's playoff miss coming, and plenty of us picked them as Cup champs. Then everything fell apart, and the team ended up being the most stunning postseason miss in recent history.

Normally, that might give us all pause, wondering if the Lightning are a team that missed its window and is on the way down. But the laws of hockey predictions say you need to get solidly behind at least one non-playoff team each season, and the Lightning are this year's easiest choice. The Dallas Stars are certainly in play here, too, and will get most of the Western Conference love, and don't sleep on the Los Angeles Kings or Florida Panthers. But the Lightning will be just about everyone's sweetheart comeback story.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

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