2011-2012 NHL Regular Season and 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

nhl 12 CoverLast November, I ran the first annual FirstHour.net NHL season and playoff predictions using EA Sports' NHL 11. I think the only prediction that could even be stretched as "correct" was that Alex Ovechkin would have the worst offensive season of his career (though even my NHL 11 sim did not predict he would finish with a paltry 32 goals). And although the Atlanta Thrashers didn't win the Stanley Cup in 2011, something pretty important did happen to that franchise during the playoffs...

Well, here we are again. A new NHL season, a new NHL game. This year, we'll see if the official FirstHour.net predictions are more accurate using the new NHL 12. Don't worry about our track record: this is the year, people. Put all your money where we say to. And disregard that some of these predictions are already impossible.

End of Playoffs update: Well, that does it for NHL hockey this year. Congrats to the Los Angeles Kings on their first Stanley Cup victory. We certainly didn’t predict that. We didn’t predict a lot of things that happened this year, but we improved on last year’s airball. This post has been updated with the verdict on each of our predictions.



Regular Season Predictions

- The Art Ross Trophy will go to Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose 110 points in 74 games will barely edge out teammate Evgeni Malkin and eternal rival Alexander Ovechkin, each with 109 points in a full 82 games. The race drops heavily afterwards, as Henrik Sedin takes fourth place with 96 points.
In reality: Crosby played only 22 games this season, notching 37 points. However, we got Malkin’s point total right on the mark at 109 (50G 59A), which earned him the Art Ross. Ovechkin finished with a mere 65 points, his career low by far.

- Malkin will get a trophy of his own, as his performance during Crosby's late season absence earns him the Hart Trophy for league MVP.
In reality: Malkin is one of the three Hart candidates, and is generally considered the favorite to win the trophy at this summer’s award show.

- Ovechkin will recover from an off-year to once again reclaim his status as the league's elite shooter with 55 tallies, easily topping Crosby's 49 and the three-way tie for third place (Malkin, Vincent Lecavalier, and Patrick Sharp at 45 each).
In reality: Ovie’s 38 goals are an improvement over last year, but nowhere near the 55 we predicted. Instead, it’s the cover athlete, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning who takes his second Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with an incredible 60 goal season.

nhl 12 Points

- Riding the elite performances of its two superstars, the Pittsburgh Penguins will top the standings with 114 points, topping the 109 points accumulated by the western conference leading Chicago Blackhawks.
In reality: Pittsburgh’s 108 points was good for fourth overall, and Chicago’s 101 put them in tenth. Instead it was the Vancouver Canucks leading the league with 111, and the New York Rangers on top of the East with 109.

- With all the fanfare welcoming The Winnipeg Jets 2.0 to the NHL, it's easy to forget they're still last year's Atlanta Thrashers, a reality that will set in when they finish their inaugural season in thirtieth place.
In reality: The Jets finished 22nd. The true bottom dweller was the Columbus Blue Jackets, who lost their first eight games and never recovered in a 29-46-7 nightmare of a season.

- The Atlantic and Central divisions will prove strongest, each sending four teams to the playoffs. Sorry, New Jersey and Columbus. Every other division will have two.
In reality: We were close. The Central sent every team but Columbus, and the Atlantic also sent four, though the New Jersey Devils made the show instead of the New York Islanders. However, only one team from the Northwest qualified, and three from the Pacific.

- This year's success stories? They're the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers. These two teams have been building through the draft for years, and it'll finally pay dividends as they transform from bottom-feeders in 2011 to playoff contenders in 2012.
In reality: Nope. The Oilers and Islanders finished next-to-last in their conferences. Better luck next year.

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nhl 12 West top

- Last year, we predicted that Tomas Vokoun would take the Vezina. And now we're doing it again. And hey, he's playing for a team that actually matters this year, so I think we've got a better shot this time! His league leading 2.14 GAA will apparently deemed more important than Roberto Luongo's better win percentage and Pekka Rinne's ten shutouts.
In reality: Vokoun played only 48 games due to injuries, and finished with a middling 2.51 GAA. He was understandably never in the discussion for the Vezina.

- The Calder Memorial Trophy for top rookie will go to Jonathon Blum of the Nashville Predators, who was drafted 23rd overall in 2007 and played 23 games as a call-up for Nashville last year.
In reality: Blum played only 33 games for Nashville, scoring 7 points and playing to a -14. Well below the performance of the Calder nominees, to be sure.

- In the surprise of the year, the Norris Trophy will be taken by Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals who racks up an impressive 50 assists from the blue line. Vegas probably doesn't even have odds set up for this guy winning the trophy. That means the payoff is infinite, right? Put a buck down on Alzner and you'll never have to worry about money again.
In reality: 16 assists and a +12 isn't bad, but it's no trophy performance. Go back in time and invest that money elsewhere.

- Pavel Datsyuk will take home his fourth Selke trophy (for top defensive forward) in five years. Seriously, guy, let someone else play with it for once.
In reality: Datsyuk's a nominee for the trophy, but it's a close race against David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. I probably wouldn't bet on him.

- Finally, the Masterton Trophy will apparently be awarded to Rick Rypien, because nothing screams "perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey" quite like nine points, 50 penalty minutes, and 82 games played from beyond the grave.
In reality: Nope.

nhl 12 Rypien

The latest roster update was last week. Apparently EA Sports still hasn't seen the obituary...


Playoff Predictions

- The Eastern Conference Playoffs will have plenty of storylines carrying over from 2011. For the second year in a row, the Tampa Bay Lightning will open the playoffs with a seven game victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, once again playing without Sidney Crosby, who sits out due to a late season injury. The Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres will also have a rematch in the first round, though the Sabres will have their revenge in a four game sweep. The Washington Capitals will take their own sweet vengeance in the second round, as they sweep the Tampa Bay team that upset them last year, followed by an easy 4-1 rout over Buffalo in the conference finals.
In reality: None of these things happened! We got five of the playoff teams right in the east, but only one of our picks even made it as far as the second round.

- In the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers will continue to be the year's top story, advancing past the heavily-favored Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks all the way to the conference finals before the comeback train derails. The perennial contender Detroit Red Wings will end the Oilers' Cinderella story with a sweep, taking the western conference crown after winning an astonishing twelve of thirteen playoff games, their one loss delivered by the overachieving Nashville Predators.
In reality: We got seven of the eight participants right, and even got the Kings' eighth seed correct. But again, we had only one second round team correct.

- The Stanley Cup Finals will feature two teams that tore their way through the opposition, the 12-3 Washington Capitals and the 12-1 Detroit Red Wings. With their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the Caps will finally shed their stigma of postseason underachievement, but it's the Red Wings who will lift the Stanley Cup for the third time in ten years after a grueling seven game series between these two playoff juggernauts.
In reality: Well...we got it right that the Stanley Cup Finals would feature one team from the East and one from the West. That's pretty good, right?

- The Conn Smythe will go to a goaltender for the second year in a row, specifically the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard. Alexander Ovechkin's impressive 29 points in 22 playoff games will go unrewarded.
In reality: No trophy for Jimmy. But another young American goaltender, Jonathan Quick of the Cup-winning Kings, took the trophy. That's good enough for me.

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nhl 12 East Playoffs
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I have to say, I'm rather disappointed that this year's predictions seem so...possible. I mean, Detroit winning another cup? BORING. Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin taking the big trophies? YAWN. Where's the dark horse MVP candidate (a defenseman, maybe)? What's stopping Evgeni Nabokov from taking the Vezina? Why can't the central Canada-based Winnipeg Jets finish atop the American Southeast division? Come on, EA Sports, give me something out of left field! Or maybe all those safe bets are just there to balance out the fact that a ghost will be playing in the NHL.

Sigh, what a boring result. Oh well. Maybe next year, we'll have some exciting NHL developments to look forward to. But this year, it's same ol' same ol'. Might as well not even watch, people.

In reality: This NHL season was much more interesting than NHL 12 led us to believe. I suppose that's just an overcompensation for the 2010-2011 predictions that were, quite frankly, impossible. We'll be back this fall with some more accurate insane predictions, hopefully.