Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Remember that prediction contest that was supposed to be easy? So far, it hasn’t been

Back in January, when the season was days away from starting, I decided to try something new. It would be a prediction contest, but with a twist: It would be super easy. Or would it?

The rules were simple. I’d ask eight straightforward questions about how the season would play out, like “Name a team that will definitely miss the playoffs” or “Name a coach who will definitely keep his job”. You could give me at least one and as many as five answers to each of them. You’d get points for each right answer, and the points increased the more answers you gave, so it made sense to give as many as you could. But if you got even one of them wrong, you scored a zero for the whole question, meaning you had to figure out how confident were you that all of your obvious answers were sure things.

If you missed it the first time, or could use a refresher on who you picked, the original post is here. I thought it might be fun. The readers apparently agreed, because over 800 of you entered the contest. That was, uh, a bit of a problem, since I hadn’t really thought through how I’d do the actual work of scoring this thing. Still haven’t, in case you were wondering. Any students out there looking for an offseason job?

With that many entries, and only one first-place prize up for grabs, it quickly became apparent that playing it safe wouldn’t win the day. Sure, you could have given one sure-thing answer for each question and banked points on all eight, but it wouldn’t be enough to win. Somebody was going to have to run the table with eight perfect questions, each with multiple answers.

The contest covered everything from opening night through the first day of free agency, which means we’re right around the halfway mark now, so I thought it would be worth it to check in on how you’re all doing.

Answer: Not great! In fact, despite the over 800 entries, there’s a decent chance that we won’t get a many perfect entries after all. It’s possible we won’t even get one.

This was, of course, the whole point. The “easy” contest wasn’t ever supposed to be easy in the first place. Instead, it was a way to remind us that an NHL season always seems predictable until it starts to play out, at which point things go off the rails quickly. In fact, I originally assumed nobody would get a perfect score back when I figured I’d get 100 entries; when the number kept ballooning, I started to have my doubts.

I still do, and we’ll see how it plays out. But for now, let’s run through all eight questions and see where things are at.

1. Name up to five teams that will definitely make the playoffs this year.

This was arguably the easiest question, and with some teams already clinching and several others all but there, we’re close to being able to mark it complete. As you’d expect, the same handful of teams showed up in just about every entry, and the Lightning, Leafs, Avalanche and Golden Knights will all hold up their end of the bargain for the hundreds that took them. There may have been a few nervous moments for the 300 or so who picked the Bruins, but they seem safe now too.

But even on this one, there are a handful of possible problems lurking. About 20 of you took the Canadiens, and about 30 had the Stars, and both still have work to do. A far bigger problem looms with the Blues, who showed up in over 150 entries. And the Flyers weren’t far behind, meaning some of you are going to lose your perfect entry status on question one.

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