Sunday, January 15, 2012

Keeping Myself Honest: Mid-Season Prediction Review

Peter Jennings once said, "I don't think a reporter should give advice or make predictions," and while I agree with the statement, I also think it's a lot of what makes reading blogs a hell of a lot more interesting than reading Steve Simmons -- that and most Leaf bloggers understand the value of research.
Blogging provides a degree of flexibility that I find fun. Newspapers generally stay away from things like complex stats, rumours, and predictions (which is fine) but these are the things that I really enjoy about sports.

From the comfort of my Mother's basement, I blog with impunity and without rules. With no risk of repercussions, I released my list of pre-season predictions late in September, prior to the start of the regular season and now, with nobody to hold me accoutable but myself, I present to you, humble reader, the results thus far.

1) Phil Kessel will have his best goals per game ratio of his career

Kessel is currently scoring at a 0.545 goals-per-game pace and if this keeps this up through the end of the season, he'll put up 45 goals. Kessel has taken his game to an entirely different level this season and for those who follow the Leafs, it's no surprise that I get full marks for this one.

2) Gunnarsson will not finish the year as a Maple Leaf

The verdict is still very much out on this one. Most Leaf fans will know that Gunnarsson has been the team's second best defenseman this season and probably the team's most consistent overall. He's a guy I've always been high on and someone I would hate to lose. Having said that, Gunnarsson and Schenn both seem to find themselves at the center of most Toronto Maple Leaf trade rumours. With Burke having told Schenn that he hasn't been offered to anyone, one has to wonder if Gunnarsson is the defensemen whose name has been bandied about in trade offers.

3) John-Michael Liles will make the Kaberle trade look like a robbery

John-Michael Liles was acquired at the modest cost of a second round draft pick. That pick was originally acquired from the Boston Bruins in the deal that sent Tomas Kaberle out of town.

Liles is currently tied with Kaberle in assists (17), has scored 4 goals to Kaberle's 1, and is +2 to Kaberle's -15. I'm comfortable saying that the Leafs acquisition of a first round draft pick, Joe Colborne, and John-Michael Liles, for Kaberle was an unqualified 'win'.

4) Tyler Bozak will make you love him again
2010-11 was a tough season for Tyler Bozak. After a strong rookie campaign, he found himself ill-equipped for the rigors of a full NHL schedule and had his share of offensive struggles. His -29 rating was more than a little mis-leading but it was also a statistic that caused a lot of alarm. This season, he's been better than ever. Prior to his injury, Bozak had put up 25 points in 35 games (just 7 shy of last season's total) and had a +/- rating of +4. Nice bounce-back by Bozak.

5) More of the same from Grabovski and Kulemin
This is where things take a bit of a turn for the worse for BCP. While Grabovski is on nearly an identical pace to last season, Kulemin has struggled to put up points after scoring 30 goals last year. As things stand now, Kulemin is on a 35 point pace. There are a lot of reasons for that (poor shooting percentage, less powerplay time, &c) but part of it is Kulemin himself. He's a great player and we expect a solid second half, but he'll be hardpressed to get close to last season's totals.

6) Expect some big trades up front

Once again, the verdict is still out but if the rumours are to be believed, we may be less than a week away from seeing this prediction bear some fruit. There are a lot of rumours about star-calibre players coming our way and while most seem highly specious, some are reasonably plausible. Whether it's a star or otherwise, I do expect the Leafs to have some fresh faces in the lineup by February; just who those faces will be remains to be seen.

7) Our special teams will be much better
Well, kinda. What I really expected when making this prediction was the the Leafs would get into the middle third of the league in both penalty killing and on the powerplay. In reality, the Leafs have gotten worse (somehow) on the PK while improving tremendously on the PP. The Leafs are currently 30th in the NHL in penalty killing and 4th in the league with the man advantage. What we're left with are middle of the pack special teams (which is much better than what we had last season) though not at all in the way I expected.

8) Colby Armstrong will get a big suspension

With NHL Chief Justice, Brendan Shanahan, running amok, Colby Armstrong did the smart thing for his bank account and got himself hurt. I say this in jest, of course, but there's little doubt in my mind that a player like Armstrong, if healthy, would have found himself suspended by now. It hasn't happened yet, but let the kid get healthy. It will.

9) James Reimer will be the first Leaf goalie in recent history to not make the fans hate him

How could anyone hate this guy? If anything, right now Leaf fans probably feel sorry for the kid. His stats aren't great this year but he really hasn't been able to recover from the headshot he took (without suspension, somehow) earlier in the season. That said, he's a respectable 7-4-4 and I think it's safe to say that Leaf nation is pulling hard for the affable Reimer.

10) Kessel's line will not include both Lupul and Connolly by season's end

This prediction felt safe, at the time, for two reasons. First of all, Connolly is always hurt and I liked what I saw from Bozak in the pre-season and secondly, I didn't have a lot of faith in Joffrey Lupul. Well, Lupul looks like he's on the first line to stay and Connolly, when healthy, has been a great cog between the two wingers. Provided Connolly remains healthy for the better part of the second half, I'll happily eat some crow on this one. Congrats to Lupul, he's looked fantastic.

All in all, not a bad set of predictions from yours truly. I'm no Nostradamus but I've hardly been a Matt Hasselbeck either. I still hope I'm wrong on the Gunnarsson prediction, but the cost of a top six forward isn't going to be a package of easy-to-part-with futures. You've gotta love where the Buds are so far this season and where they look to be heading longterm. 

Here's hoping for a strong second half!

For more of my brilliance, check us out at @bcphockeyblog

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