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April 14, 2011
Numbers On Ice
Canucks Have Best Shot To Win Cup

by Tom Awad

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Expect the unexpected. That is perhaps the only real conclusion to be drawn from the table below, which lists each NHL team's odds of emerging victorious in each round of play. These odds are based on teams' records and goal differential -- excluding shootout results -- factoring in the difficulty of opponents they faced over the regular season and giving an increased weight to more recent results, which better reflect a team's current strength. They do not explicitly include injuries to key players, trade deadline acquisitions or the presence or absence of backup goaltenders, though all of those factor into the teams' actual results.

While a very unsurprising name tops the list, there are more than a few sleeper teams that own some very respectable odds at hoisting the Stanley Cup, despite relatively low seeding.

Playoff odds percentages

Rank	Team			1st	2nd	3rd	Cup
1	Vancouver Canucks	64.0	43.3	28.2	18.5
2	Boston Bruins		65.0	37.9	21.9	11.3
3	San Jose Sharks		60.3	34.5	17.1	9.5
4	Nashville Predators	58.4	29.8	14.3	7.6
5	Washington Capitals	54.7	30.3	15.3	7.2
6	Philadelphia Flyers	54.9	28.0	14.4	6.7
7	Pittsburgh Penguins	54.9	27.0	13.3	6.0
8	Chicago Blackhawks	36.0	17.7	9.4	4.9
9	Phoenix Coyotes		51.3	21.8	9.4	4.4
10	Buffalo Sabres		45.1	21.3	9.8	4.0
11	New York Rangers	45.3	20.0	9.5	4.0
12	Tampa Bay Lightning	45.1	20.4	9.3	3.8
13	Detroit Red Wings	48.7	21.1	8.2	3.8
14	Los Angeles Kings	39.7	14.5	6.7	3.0
15	Anaheim Ducks		41.6	17.3	6.7	2.9
16	Montreal Canadiens	35.0	15.0	6.5	2.4

Western Conference

It is not surprising to see the Canucks at the top, given how clearly they dominated the regular season, but what is perhaps surprising is to see that their odds of raising the Cup are only 18.5 percent and their odds of reaching the Finals are only 28.2 percent. There is less than a 1-in-3 chance of the Canucks making it out of the Western Conference and avoiding the "choker" label that will inevitably haunt them should they falter.

Part of the Canucks' challenge is having drawn the Blackhawks in the first round; despite their No. 8 seeding, the Blackhawks are one of the strongest teams in the West, with a plus-32 goal differential. The winner of the Vancouver-Chicago series has a 37.6 percent chance of going on to represent the West in the Finals.

If there is any surprise in the West, it is the poor ranking of the Red Wings. In 2011, the Red Wings have barely played .500 hockey and have actually been outscored by four goals on the season. However, much of this performance has come during injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski and Dan Cleary. They are all back, but now an equally important player is injured: Henrik Zetterberg, who is out indefinitely. They will face the Coyotes, who have now been surprise playoff participants in the West for two years in a row, in a rematch of last season's excellent first-round series. The Coyotes continue to perform without any big names, though Ilya Bryzgalov has been irreplaceable.

The Sharks and Predators also get high marks, although that is partly a function of having drawn relatively weak opponents. The Sharks have been the NHL's hottest team since February: They obtained 58 points over their last 40 games, a pace that would have given them 119 over the full season, ahead of even Vancouver. The Predators showed with the acquisition of Mike Fisher that they were aiming for more than a first-round exit this year. They have been incredibly consistent, reaching the playoffs six times in seven seasons, but have been eliminated each time.

The Ducks, despite going on a tear down the stretch and earning the fourth seed, finished the season with a paltry plus-2 goal differential; however, they are plus-12 since the new year, with their goaltending secure in the hands of Dan Ellis and Ray Emery. The Kings have a well-balanced team, landed Dustin Penner at the trade deadline, and, unlike last year, won't be content to simply be in the playoffs. However, the injury to Anze Kopitar, their best player, has put a severe dent in their aspirations, and there are no shootouts in the playoffs, an area where they were the NHL's best team over the regular season.

Eastern Conference

Despite only being the No. 3 seed, the Bruins are the class of the Eastern Conference. They have the best goal differential in the East and have been much better than the Flyers over the past two months. The Bruins also have Tim Thomas, who, unlike many other No. 1 goaltenders that have been taxed in their team's sprint to the playoffs, only started 55 games during the season. They will face their age-old rivals, the Canadiens, who are ranked as the weakest team in the playoffs. While Montreal fans will surely cry foul at this assessment, don't forget that the Canadiens play in the weak Northeast Division, have the worst goal differential of any Eastern playoff team and have gone just 7-7-1 in their last 15 games since Max Pacioretty was injured by Zdeno Chara.

The Flyers remain one of the East's best teams and the defending conference champions, but they certainly do not look or feel like a juggernaut coming into the playoffs, and they trail both Boston and Washington in their odds to win the Cup. They have also had the misfortune of drawing the red-hot Sabres as first-round opponents. Buffalo has been the second-best team in the East in 2011 (behind, amazingly, the New Jersey Devils) and finished the season 9-1-2, outscoring their opponents by 15 goals over their last 12 games. The Sabres have rarely been at full strength this season and could be a threatening opponent.

The Penguins have managed to remain competitive despite losing Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, which speaks volumes about their blue-line depth as well as the work of Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury. Regardless, this will be a weaker team than the one from the first half of the year: The Penguins outscored their opponents by 34 goals over the first half of the year, but were outscored by two in the second half. They face a Lightning franchise resurrected by the emergence of Steven Stamkos and the moves of GM Steve Yzerman, in particular the acquisition of 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson. This Tampa Bay team feels very much like the Penguins of 2007, whose first trip to the postseason was short but set the stage for greater things to come.

Last season, the Capitals entered the playoffs as the overall favorites, but saw their dreams crushed by the upstart Canadiens in the first round. This season, the Capitals are less of an offensive juggernaut, but they have improved their goals-against to the fourth-best mark in the NHL. They still have the game's most dangerous player, whose career point-per-game average in the playoffs is even higher than his lofty 1.29 in the regular season. The Rangers always let their playoff presence come down to the wire: They finished seventh and ninth the past two seasons before finishing eighth this year. The loss of Ryan Callahan will hurt them considerably, but they are otherwise solid. The last time these teams met was in 2009, when the underdog Rangers took a 3-1 series lead over the Capitals before finally falling in seven.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.

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