2012 Yelnats Cup Playoffs: Round 1 Preview

Will this man win his second Non-Stanley Cup championship in the last year?(Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Well, it's time Wilderness: The Yelnats Cup is back. For those who forgot or don't yet know what I'm talking about, here's the refresher. I've decided on the dates for the start of the playoffs and the due date for the bracket. I will start the simulations next Monday, which falls on May 7th. The due date for the submission of your bracket will be 5 days later, May 12th. Here is the Yelnats Bracket 2012 template.

Right now, I will take a quick look at all the matchups as if they were real life matchups, discuss and compare strengths and weaknesses. I'll also give you the in-game ratings, but I don't put too much stock into them as some are quite horribly off. (Example: Flyer's offense is rated 85 and the Blues' offense is rated 91. That's just ridiculous.)

Join me after the jump.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

#10 Dallas Stars vs. #15 Columbus Blue Jackets

In-game ratings:

DAL:

OFF: 79

DEF: 87

GOA: 79

CLB:

OFF: 80

DEF: 82

GOA: 77

Key players:

DAL: Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen, Loui Eriksson, Brendan Morrow

CLB: Rick Nash, R.J. Umberger, James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson

Dark horses:

DAL: Steve Ott, Alex Goligoski

CLB: Derrick Brassard, Ryan Johansen

Offense: Ignore the in-game ratings, the Stars have the clear advantage here, as Columbus basically just have Rick Nash, Umberger and the top defensive pair going for them in terms of offense whereas the Stars' top two lines have some considerable firepower and they have some good powerplay quarterbacks in Sheldon Souray, Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas. The dark horses for Dallas are Steve Ott and Alex Goligoski because Ott always seems to produce way more than he should in the game and Goligoski is on the first powerplay unit, so he could be a big part of the offense. For the Blue Jackets, I chose Brassard because he'll be centering Nash and Johansen because he's a good, young player and he'll be on the second PP unit. He could post some surprising numbers. ADVANTAGE: Stars

Defense: While the Blue Jackets have some nicely rated defensemen in the game, most people know Johnson can't play defense and neither can Brett Lebda. They have a pretty good 2nd pairing composed of Marc Methot and Fedor Tyutin, but the Stars have Trevor Daley, Mark Fistric and Stephane Robidas. I'm giving the advantage to the Stars again here. ADVANTAGE: Stars

Goaltending: In real life, there's no contest here between Steve Mason and Kari Lehtonen, but in the game, Lehtonen in underrated (87) and Mason is overrated (84). As far as backups go (because they also count towards the team's GOA rating), it's about the same thing: I'm pretty sure Richard Bachmann of the Stars is better than Curtis McElhinney, but in-game, Bachmann is 75, mostly because he was in the AHL when the developpers made the game. McElhinney is rated 80. Of course, in playoff mode, backups are rarely used, so this is a Mason-Lehtonen duel, which I believe Lehtonen comes out on top. ADVANTAGE: Stars

Special Teams: PP: Both teams have very respectable powerplays. Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski are excellent PP performers and the 1st unit is completed by Nash, Umberger and Brassard, which actually makes it pretty scary. The 2nd unit is considerably weaker though, composed of Kristian Huselius, Vaclav Prospal, Ryan Johansen, Fedor Tyutin and Radek Martinek. The Stars have an equally dangerous 1st unit as far as I'm concerned, with two strong powerplay quarterbacks and stronger forwards. It's formed by Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, Sheldon Souray and Alex Goligoski. The second unit trumps the BJ's second unit, as it's composed of Brendan Morrow, Vernon Fiddler, Michael Ryder, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas. There's simply more firepower on both PPs combined for the Stars and firepower is what it's all about on the powerplay. ADVANTAGE: Stars

Special teams: PK: The Stars' first PK unit is Jake Dowell, Steve Ott, Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray. Their second unit is Adam Burish, Loui Eriksson, Trevor Daley and Mark Fistric. The Blue Jackets have Derek Mackenzie, Jared Boll, Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin on their first unit and Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Marc Methot and Jame Wisniewski on their second unit. The Blue Jackets' PK strikes me as unimpressive, but Jack Johnson's defense in the game is highly overrated, so it lessens the blow. In real life, it would likely be disastrous, but Tyutin would be a good compliment and Mackenzie and Boll are not bad. I made one small change here: the computer had Brendan Morrow on the second PK unit, but I put Eriksson because I know for a fact that he's one of Dallas' top two-way players. It only made sense. Once again, I have to give the advantage to Dallas because they have better defensive options on their PK. ADVANTAGE: Stars

Overall: When you look at the big picture, it would be difficult to imagine the Blue Jackets beating the Stars in a seven-game series. However, their in-game ratings aren't very different from one another and Rick Nash is an absolute beast in the game. I still see the Stars coming out on top though, because they have more than one source of offense, which is the big thing here. ADVANTAGE: Stars

#11 Colorado Avalanche vs. #14 Edmonton Oilers

In-game ratings:

COL:

OFF: 84

DEF: 81

GOA: 77

EDM:

OFF: 81

DEF: 85

GOA: 77

Key players:

COL: Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson, Milan Hejduk

EDM: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky

Dark horses:

COL: Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, Semyon Varlamov

EDM: Cam Barker, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Offense: While the Oilers' high-flying offense looks good in real life, they're not too well rated in the game. The players on the first two lines are all rated 84 except Ryan Smyth (83). Nugent-Hopkins is a third liner because of Horcoff and Sam Gagner. The Avs are stronger overall at center and quite great at RW with Milan Hejduk, Peter Mueller, David Jones and Steve Downie. I have Landeskog as a dark horse because he is only rated 81. He could still do some damage on the second line though. I have Cam Barker as a dark horse because he's much better in the game than he could ever dream to be in real life. Where the Oilers trump the Avs in offense is in offensive minded defensemen. The Avs have 5 defensive defensemen and one two-way defenseman. They don't have much else except Erik Johnson. The Oilers have Cam Barker and Ryan Whitney as offensive defensemen. I know Barker sucks in real life, but he still has hope in the video game. he's on the first pairing with Nick Schultz (sigh...) I have to give the slight advantage to the Oilers here. ADVANTAGE: Oilers

Defense: Absolutely no contest here, since we all know defense is the Oilers' achilles heel, but the acquisition of Nick Schultz helps a lot here. I don't get why their in-game defense rating is so high, but Colorado has way better defense in guys like Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda and Ryan O'Byrne. Matt Hunwick is underrated at 77 also. Jay McClement is one of the best defensive forwards around. ADVANTAGE: Avs

Goaltending: Dark horse Semyon Varlamove is capable of the best and the worst. At 84, he's only one point higher than Nikolai Khabibulin, but I believe he'll allow less goals because of better defense in front of him. It should be a close battle, but in real life, I'd give the advantage to Colorado. ADVANTAGE: Avs

Special teams: PP: This will go down to who has the best powerplay quarterbacks again, because while Colorado's offense is scary on those powerplay units (Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Peter Mueller on the 1st, Milan Hejduk, Ryan O'Reilly, David Jones on the 2nd), they really only have Johnson that can supply some offense. They would probably have the advantage if two-way defenseman Hunwick had a better rating. The Oilers have two high-flying units and Ryan Whitney and Cam Barker to quarterback them. They may not be that good in real life, but the Oilers' forwards are slightly underrated in the game too. ADVANTAGE: Oilers

Special teams: PK: It gets a bit more complicated here. The defensemen for both teams are arguably equally good in the PK (Theo Peckham, Nick Schultz, Andy Sutton, Ladislav Smid for the Oilers, Shane O'Brien, Erik Johnson, Ryan O'Byrne and Ryan Wilson) and so are the forwards if you ask me. Oilers use Horcoff, Eric Belanger, Sam Gagner and Ben Eager on their PK while the Avs use Jay McClement, Steve Downie, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly on theirs. I know McClement is one of the best PKers in the league, but the other players they use aren't really PK regulars. The Oilers use Horcoff and Belanger, who are both very respectable PKers. In terms of pure in-game ratings, Colorado has the advantage, but in real-life, I'd admittedly have a hard time deciding. ADVANTAGE: Avs

Overall: I fully expect this series to be a tight one. Their in-game ratings are pretty close and I had a hard time giving a clear advantage on most aspects. Should be a pretty interesting matchup. If I'm giving a prediction, I'll say Avs win this one, because they're usually luckier in simulations. I could very well be wrong. Besides, I prefer rooting for the Avs than the Oilers. Lesser of two evils sort of thing. ADVANTAGE: Avs

#12 Minnesota Wild vs. #13 Anaheim Ducks

In-game ratings:

MIN:

OFF: 84

DEF: 75

GOA: 85

ANA:

OFF: 80

DEF: 81

GOA: 79

Key players:

MIN: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Niklas Backstrom

ANA: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne, Lubomir Visnovsky

Dark horses:

MIN: Guillaume Latendresse, Tom Gilbert

ANA: Cam Fowler, Jonas Hiller

Offense: While at first glance, it may seem like the Ducks totally destroys the Wild in this aspect, let's not forget that without injuries, the Wild actually have a very well balanced offense, at least in-game. In terms of ratings, the Wild are actually better offensively overall, but in terms of pure star-power and offense from the defense, the Ducks are better. Latendresse is a dark horse over Pierre-Marc Bouchard in my mind because Latendresse often leads the Wild in goals in simulations and Bouchard always sucks very bad for some reason. Gilbert, for all intents and purposes, is the only d-man who will contribute since only he and Kurtis Foster are rated over 80 (seriously) and Foster is considered a defensive d-man in the game (WTF?). Dark horse Cam Fowler is on the second unit, but on the first PP unit, so he could post some big numbers. I'm giving the advantage to the Ducks, but it's actually closer than it looks. Besides, I think the Ducks should be higher than 80 in offense. ADVANTAGE: Ducks

Defense: Well there's no contest here. The Wild actually have the worst defense in the league in in-game ratings. It's horrible. Steven Kampfer, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk are all rated 78. Meanwhile, every Ducks defenseman is better than the 4 I just named and Lubomir Visnovsky is 87. The Wild have much better defensive forwards in guys like Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck and Darroll Powe, but still, no contest. ADVANTAGE: Ducks

Goaltending: Well here, it would actually be close in real-life, but Backstrom is pretty good in-game (87) and good during simulations. Jonas Hiller took a hit, because he was actually much better before, but I still find Backstrom to be better. Josh Harding is also a slightly better back-up than Dan Ellis #DanEllisProblems ADVANTAGE: Wild

Special teams: PP: Here is where the pure star power kills the Wild. The Ducks' powerplay is downright scary and has to compete for best in the entire league in terms of in-game ratings. Perry, Ryan, Getzlaf, Visnovsky, Fowler. They'll score a few goals. The second unit is considerably weaker though, but still harbors Teemu Selanne. The Wild's second powerplay unit is better than the Ducks' and the first one is very respectable as well, but there's just no beating the star-studded Ducks' behemoth of a 1st unit. ADVANTAGE: Ducks

Special teams: PK: The PK is the Wild's strong suit if you ask me. Forwards are Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck. The Ducks use Getzlaf, Perry, Rod Pelley and Saku Koivu, who got his rating seriously cut from 85(if I remember correctly) to 79. While Getzlaf and Perry are very highly rated, I don't know that they would be better penalty killers. Besides, they'll get tired more quickly in-game since they'll be on the ice forever. The Ducks' choice of d-men is only slightly better than the Wild's, but I'm giving the advantage to our boys here. ADVANTAGE: Wild

Overall: The Wild's abysmal defense is very likely to kill them, especially since they get to play against the Ducks' high-powered 1st unit for 20-something minutes a game. Unless Backstrom comes up huge, this series will go to the Ducks. Since this series won't be simulated, it will be watched and recapped by me, it will be very different than the simulated ones and that's why I think the odds are even more in the Ducks' favor. I tested things out and I determined that I will watch 10-minute period games. 20-minute period games give some ridiculous shot totals (in the 70s) and 5 minute periods give very low shot totals. 10 should be reasonable. Anyway...ADVANTAGE: Ducks

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

#10 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #15 Montreal Canadiens

In-game ratings:

TB:

OFF: 81

DEF: 87

GOA: 77

MTL:

OFF: 84

DEF: 84

GOA: 89

Key players:

TB: Steven Stamkos, Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Victor Hedman

MTL: Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec.

Dark horses:

TB: Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone

MTL: The entire first line (Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Erik Cole)

Offense: You may have noticed I put the first line down as dark horses for the Habs. Since I didn't want to tinker with the lines too much, the first line's ratings are lower than guys like Brian Gionta or Tomas Plekanec. For this reason, I wonder how they'll fare in the simulations. Will Plekanec and Gionta get more points? Maybe so, maybe not. TB's offense beyond the key players I named is downright horrible. With the exception of Teddy Purcell and Ryan Malone, 5 of their forwards are rated under 80...the other two are under 75. That's just disgusting. While the Habs' forwards are all over the place (Scott Gomez and Rene Bourque on the 4th line), they're better and more balanced than the Bolts'. Andrei Markov, Tomas Kaberle and P.K. Subban bring more than enough offense from the blueline too. ADVANTAGE: Habs

Defense: This could get pretty interesting. I'll start by adressing Alexei Emelin. I compare him to Clayton Stoner's season last year: Scapegoat early on, but grew into one of the more solid d-men for the Habs. Hard-hitting and chipped in a little bit offensively. That being said, he is grossly underrated in the game (74) which bring the Habs' overall grade down, but the still have Subban, Kaberle (still highly rated), Markov, Chris Campoli and Josh Gorges, their best defensive d-man and current block champion in the league (51 more blocks than the second best!). On the other side, the Bolts have Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, Eric Brewer, Mike Commodore, Brett Clark and Marc-André Bergeron. All d-men involved are higher than 80 except Emelin. In terms of pure defense and not defense who can chip in offensively, I'd have to give this to the Bolts. ADVANTAGE: Bolts

Goaltending: No contest here, Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the game and Dwayne Roloson + Mathieu Garon don't come close to being suitable rivals. ADVANTAGE: Habs

Special teams: PP: The Habs have always had a strong powerplay because of the quality of their quarterbacks and Tomas Plekanec's wicked shot. Then again, the Bolts have a massive 1st unit with Malone, Stamkos, St. Louis, Bergeron and Hedman. The Habs have better balance in both units though, so I'm giving them the slightest of advantages. ADVANTAGE: Habs

Special teams: PK: Plekanec is a great PK man, and Gorges can also kill penalties with the best of them, but their best PKer is in net. The Bolts are stronger overall in defense on the PK, and they have some pretty good penalty killers also in Nate Thompson and Adam Hall. Lecavalier and Stamkos complete the PK to give some short-handed scoring threat. It's a tough contest here, since Carey Price is tough to score on, but I feel the Bolts have better PK players overall. ADVANTAGE: Bolts

Overall: This has the potential to be an interesting matchup. Sure, the Habs were last in the East, but that's because of the horrible circus that surrounded the team this season. The managing, the coaching, the drama, it was all a huge mess. They're better than that, at the very least in-game. Meanwhile, the Bolts are very top-heavy, which usually helps in this game. It will probably come down to goaltending and Carey Price will win them this series. ADVANTAGE: Habs.

#11 Winnipeg Jets vs. #14 New York Islanders

In-game ratings:

WPG:

OFF: 84

DEF: 87

GOA: 77

NYI:

OFF: 80

DEF: 78

GOA: 87

Key players:

WPG: Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Andrew Ladd

NYI: John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Mark Streit, Evgeni Nabokov.

Dark horses:

WPG: Ondrej Pavelec, Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler, Nikolai Antropov

NYI: P.A. Parenteau, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner

Offense: Very little star power on both sides, so it will come down to overall balance. The Isles' first line of John Tavares, P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson has a clear advantage over anything the Jets can throw at them and they have a decent second line in Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner, but they're pretty thin beyond that. They do have decent enough production from the blueline with Mark Streit and Milan Jurcina though. The Jet's top two lines don't top the Isles' but the rest does. They have some very good offense from the blueline in Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey. ADVANTAGE: Jets

Defense: The overall talent level of the Jets' defense is much better than the Isles, but I believe the Isles have better two-way forwards. Frans Nielsen is very underrated in that regard. Still though, I have to give the advantage to the Jets. ADVANTAGE: Jets

Goaltending: Nabokov apparently kept his rating from when he was with the Sharks as he has a 89 in the game. That's massive for the otherwise weak Isles. It could make the difference in the series. Pavelec is a great, underrated goalie, but in-game, Nabokov has him beat. ADVANTAGE: Isles

Special teams: PP: This is another tough choice because while the Isles have better forwards on their PP units, the Jets have better d-men to feed their forwards. The Isles' first unit is very dangerous though (Moulson, Tavares, Grabner, Streit, Andrew MacDonald), so I'm giving them the nod in this category. ADVANTAGE: Isles

Special teams: PK: Frans Nielsen alone makes the Isles better than the Jets in this regard if you ask me. Oddly enough, I had to put him on the PK myself, because the computer just flat out refused to, even if Nielsen has the best Defensive Awareness stat on the team. Marty Reasoner will be playing with Nielsen and the second unit is Tavares and Parenteau. The Jets' d-men aren't as well suited for the PK then the Isles' D are, if you ask me and the forwards, while fine in their positions, just aren't as good as the Isles' choices. ADVANTAGE: Isles

Overall: Another doozy. Both teams are unspectacular in terms of raw talent, but both teams have elements that could tip the scales in their favor. It would all depend on what kind of situations would arise, mostly penalty-wise. In the end, the Isles' strong goaltending will frustrate the Jets' modest offense. ADVANTAGE: Isles

#12 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #13 Toronto Maple Leafs

In-game ratings:

CAR:

OFF: 82

DEF: 82

GOA: 92

TOR:

OFF: 87

DEF: 88

GOA: 72

Key players:

CAR: Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Tuomo Ruutu

TOR: Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul

Dark horses:

CAR: Joni Pitkanen, Jussi Jokinen

TOR: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Tyler Bozak

Offense: Toronto's in-game offense rating is 5 points higher than Carolina's and I think it's perfectly well justified. Toronto has the Phil Kessel - Joffrey Lupul combo, which is very deadly, and they have some killer offense from the blueline in Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles. They also have some pretty highly rated forwards across the board, such as Matt Lombardi, Tim Connolly and Colby Armstrong. The Canes have a strong top 6, but they only have Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen in terms of offensive d-men and their bottom six is a bit on the weak side. ADVANTAGE: Leafs

Defense: Brian Burke built a hell of a defensive corps on paper. While that doesn't translate as well as he wants to in real life, it works well in the game. Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn are large bruisers, who also happen to be very well rated in the game (82, 85, 84 respectively). That's not to say the Canes don't have good defense, but the Leafs' D is hard to beat in the game. The Leafs also have pretty decent defensive forwards and one of the best faceoff takers in David Steckel. ADVANTAGE: Leafs.

Goaltending: Cam Ward vs. James Reimer / Jonas Gustavsson. Enough said. ADVANTAGE: Canes.

Special teams: PP: This gets rather interesting. The Leafs have a top heavy first unit in Lupul, Bozak, Kessel, Phaneuf, Liles. The Canes' top unit is nothing to scoff at either: Ruutu, Staal, Skinner, Pitkanen, McBain. This will end up being a battle of the second units, which I think Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson unit wins over Carolina's Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, Andreas Nodl, Jaroslav Spacek, Tim Gleason unit. ADVANTAGE: Leafs

Special teams: PK: I like the Canes' PK forward pairings better (Tim Brent, Tuomo Ruutu, Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter) than the Leafs' (David Steckel, Matt Frattin, Connolly, Lombardi) but again, the Leafs' massively highly rated defense wins here. ADVANTAGE: Leafs

Overall: The developpers of this game have made the Leafs to look like juggernauts, because I find them weirdly overrated, but the weak goaltending might kick them in the ass, because Cam Ward is one of the best in the game and they still have some good offense. However, Toronto always seems to win during simulations and Carolina usually fare quite poorly. It will very likely be a close battle though. ADVANTAGE: Leafs.

So there you have it. That was my preview for round 1 of the Yelnats Cup challenge. It's difficult to accurately predict what will happen because the game can be quite random sometimes. Anyhow, don't forget to submit your Yelnats Brackets to me, my e-mail address is on the bottom of the page.

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