Hodgepodge by Charlie Hodge – A puck pundits’ playoff pontification, predictions

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Welcome to my annual installation of Silly Seasonal Fridge Games – better known as the Hodge Podge Clip and Laugh NHL Hockey Playoff Predictions. Maintaining a pointless tradition repeated ridiculously for too long this amusing little game is simple to play.

I publicly admit and foolishly submit my predictions for the upcoming 2017-18 NHL playoffs – after which you print off this page and stick on your fridge with some sort of tacky magnet. Periodically throughout the playoffs (usually when looking for another libation) you decide to glance at this column and chuckle or guffaw.

For some peculiar and undiagnosed reason I (and some others) find this amusing. For way more years than I care to recall (but 41 would be close to accurate) I have habitually made a fool of myself by publically forecasting the playoff results.

None of the psychologists I have dealt with over the years have offered any logical reason for this apparent desire to humiliate myself in print or online on a regular basis, however  a few have admitted to laughing loudly at said predictions over the years.

While my track record makes weathermen seem brilliant I am none the less dauntless in my desire to self-implode. Being a creature of bad habit and clearly too old to change here is my pontification and predictions of how the hockey universe will unfold. Today’s column only predicts the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs (more absurd predictions when opening round is complete). I will suggest now that the final round will see Nashville defeat Pittsburgh in six games. (My heart wants a Vegas – Leaf final – lol).

Overall analysis: First and foremost whether hockey fans like or dislike the salary cap it has certainly brought much greater parody to the NHL. Of the 16 clubs advancing into the playoffs 14 of them can conceivably win the Cup without divine intervention or a string of flukes; Minnesota, Colorado not included.

Not only does the parody of these clubs (especially the top dozen or so) make predictions difficult this year but so has the final few weeks of play. Some of the top contending or favoured teams have cooled off the past bit while lower ranked clubs have really turned on the jets and played extremely well at just the right time

There are seven key factors in deciding which teams advance and which teams dig out the golf clubs early. They are: Goaltending, endurance (depth, toughness, injuries) goaltending, third line scoring, goaltending, defensive depth, goaltending. Did I mention that I think goaltending is important?

With no further adieu let’s start with the first round in the Western Division.

Nashville versus Colorado.  Nashville wins in five games.

Led by perhaps the best goaltending and deepest defence in the league, Nashville has been outstanding all season and is strong in every position. Colorado squeezed into the playoffs in the final few days of the season however the heroics of Nathan MacKinnon will not be enough to overcome the odds.

Vegas versus Los Angeles. Vegas wins in seven games in overtime.

Vegas has been nothing but amazing in their first year led by stellar goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. This band of castoffs have gelled into a balanced, disciplined club playing largely on spirit and positive energy. Unexpected studs such as William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault will continue to dazzle for at least a round or two. LA led by the three stars of goalie Jonathan Quick, D-man Drew Doughty and sniper Anze Kopitar lead the hard hitting Kings however pure energy and headspace will win the day for the ‘nothing-to-lose’ Knights.

Winnipeg versus Minnesota.  Winnipeg in six.

The Jets have been flying all year giving Winnipeg something to cheer about. With a healthy Mark Scheifele back and stars such as Patrick Laine, goalie Connor Hellebuyck, Nikolaj Ehlers and rookie Kyle Connor the Jets are just too talented and fast for Minnesota. The Wild will miss D-man Ryan Suter and Eric Staal will not be enough to carry them.

San Jose versus Anaheim – San Jose in seven.

Not a fan of either club but the old vets of Brent Burns and Joe Thornton will be too much for the Ducks veterans led by Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry.

Eastern Division:

Upsets could take place in the Eastern Division as Tampa, Washington and Pittsburgh have lost an edge the last bit while Philadelphia and New Jersey are very hot. Columbus is a potential upset to win as well.

Tampa Bay versus New Jersey. Tampa in six.

Goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy and snipers Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, J.T. Miller and support staff will prove too much for the Devils. Having one of the two best defence corps in the NHL does not hurt Tampa either. Taylor Hall is on fire for the Devils so they will want to shut him down.

Washington versus Columbus. Washington in six.

Superstar Alexander Ovechkin and a deep Washington club had better start hot and stay that way or the Columbus will upset them. It is now or never for Washington, however a very balanced, defence strong Columbus will be on them all the time. If Washington gets by Columbus they will probably still have to face Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia. Pittsburgh in five.

Evgeni Malkin, Sydney Crosby, Kris Letang and Phil ‘the jerk’ Kessel have the ability to win it all again, Goaltending is the Achilles heel of Philadelphia. This series could get ugly.

Boston versus Toronto. Toronto in seven.

This is my long shot call. Logic says Boston is too deep and tough for Toronto to beat. Led by feisty Brad Marchand, David Backes, Rick Nash       and huge Zdeno Chara along with the skilled David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Tony Krug. Boston also boasts solid net minding. However the Maple Leafs are playing on pure emotion and the positive energy of stars Auston Mathews, Michael Nylander, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and goalie Frederik Andersen. If they can get a little puck luck and not get mowed over by the hard hitting Bruins – miracles can happen. (I am torn as these are my two favourite clubs.)

So, there it is. There is really not much left to do now except print this out, tape it to the fridge or some other very important location (beer cooler, remote control stand, side of TV). If you are a real true sportsman you will write your own prediction and stick it next to this. (Note to editor – I just told readers to stick it – do you think they will notice?)

See you for round two predictions. Okay, somebody drop the puck!

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Charlie Hodge is a best-selling author, writer, a current Kelowna City Councillor, and a Director on the Regional District of the Central Okanagan Board. He spent more than 25 years as a full-time newspaper journalist and has a diverse background in public relations, promotions, personal coaching, and strategic planning. A former managing editor, assistant editor, sports editor, entertainment editor, journalist, and photographer, Hodge also co-hosted a variety of radio talk shows and still writes a regular weekly newspaper column titled Hodge Podge, which he has crafted now for 41 years. His biography on Howie Meeker, titled Golly Gee It’s Me is a Canadian bestseller and his second book, Stop It There, Back It Up – 50 Years of the NHL garnered lots of attention from media and hockey fans alike. Charlie is currently working on a third hockey book, as well as a contracted historical/fiction novel. His creative promotional skills and strategic planning have been utilized for many years in the Canadian music industry, provincial, national, and international environmental fields, and municipal, provincial, and federal politics. Charlie is a skilled facilitator, a dynamic motivational speaker, and effective personal coach. His hobbies include gardening, canoeing, playing pool, and writing music. Charlie shares his Okanagan home with wife Teresa and five spoiled cats.

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