Friday, March 25, 2011

2011 QMJHL Playoff Predictions

QMJHL playoffs are underway, and these predictions wouldn’t truly be mine if they weren’t late due to nothing but pure laziness. Game one in each series is underway – the Halifax-Montreal series is ahead of the curve, with game one having been played on Thursday. I took the pre-emptive strike of calling that series early on Twitter.

Before I make playoff predictions, let’s see how my attempt at regular season predictions held up. This is how I ranked it, with each team’s actual finish in brackets:

1. Saint John (1)
2. Acadie-Bathurst (2)

3. PEI (4)
4. Moncton (3)
5. Halifax (5)
6. Cape Breton (6)

Telus East:
1. Rimouski (4)
2. Quebec (1)
3. Lewiston (2)
4. Chicoutimi (5)
5. Vicoriaville (3)
6. Baie-Comeau (6)

Telus West:
1. Montreal (1)
2. Drummondville (2)
3. Gatineau (3)
4. Shawinigan (4)
5. Val-d’Or (5)
6. Rouyn-Noranda (6)

So I somehow managed to nail the Telus West division and did pretty well with the Maritimes. Also: lol Rimouski. What a bad season they had. Hopefully my playoff predictions turn out as well as the regular season ones did.

(1) Saint John vs. (16) Cape Breton

78 point & 40 win differential. This one is going to be absolutely hideous. I’ve seen these two match up three times this season and the Sea Dogs played pretty poorly every time. They still managed to win two of them and hold the Eagles to four goals in the three games. The Eagles should count their blessings if they can win a period in this series.

Prediction: Saint John in 4 games.

(2) Montreal vs. (15) Halifax

Montreal shouldn’t have too much trouble with Halifax. They basically ran away with game 1 aside from two late Mooseheads goals to make it close and it’ll probably be much of the same throughout the series. I give the Mooseheads the benefit of the doubt that they might be able to surprise the Juniors at the Metro Centre, as I’d expect there will be quite a crowd when the series shifts to Halifax.

Prediction: Montreal in 5 games.

(3) Quebec vs. (14) Val d’Or

I’m not as sold on Quebec as a legitimate threat to the title as I am for some teams that they finished ahead of. That said, they should be able to handle the Foreurs fairly easily. These are a couple of teams I haven’t seen a whole lot of this season, unfortunately.

Prediction: Quebec in 5 games.

(4) Drummondville vs. (13) Chicoutimi

The Voltigeurs have added some solid pieces for a run this year. With Sean Couturier leading the charge, anything could happen, though they’re a long way from favourites. Having said that, they shouldn’t have much of a problem with Chicoutimi. Chris Gibson might be able to steal a game or two for the Sags but I’d expect this one to be another laugher.

Prediction: Drummondville in 4 games

(5) Gatineau vs. (12) Rimouski

This one has the potential to be an entertaining series. Gatineau geared up for a run by adding league scoring leader Philip-Michael Devos, not to mention the return of captain Hubert Labrie from an injury that kept him out nearly the entire season. Rimouski hasn’t played to their potential all season and I’m not inclined to expect them to now.

Prediction: Gatineau in 6 games

(6) Acadie-Bathurst vs. (11) Victoriaville

The Titan are an odd one. They clearly indicated their intention to gun for it this year by trading the farm for Olivier Roy in the summer, but haven’t done a whole lot to solidify themselves as a favourite. Roy could carry them far, but he’s had an off year. They should be able to get past Victoriaville, at least, without much trouble.

Prediction: Acadie-Bathurst in 5 games

(7) Shawinigan vs. (10) PEI

Shawinigan has a great team, and one that seems to play a style that would be successful in the playoffs. They work hard and get contributions from the whole lineup. However, they don’t have Evan Mosher. The Rocket goaltender has been a total monster all season and could easily come in and steal two or three games in this series. PEI has a good enough team that they could win another game or two without Mosher standing on his head, and that’s why I’m calling an upset here.

Prediction: PEI in 6 games

(8) Lewiston vs. (9) Moncton

This is a tough one to pick. Lewiston could hand this series to Moncton if they get into penalty trouble. Moncton also has some players still on their roster that won the President’s Cup last year en route to the Memorial Cup, so that experience could pay off. But goaltending could shoot them in the foot, too. Lewiston probably has the better team on paper, but there aren’t many players in the league who can control the game like Wildcats D Brandon Gormley. Difficult call? Yep.

Prediction: Moncton in 7 games

I doubt I’ll get to many playoff games this season as the two Nova Scotia teams are likely to be decimated early. Maybe a Saint John-Cape Breton game next week if I’m feeling masochistic, and if Halifax does indeed manage to steal one from Montreal, a road trip could be in order next weekend. In any case, I’ll be watching along with the Telus package before casting it off into the abyss at the end of the playoffs, never to be seen again. What a terrible service. Really looking forward to seeing how the 2011-eligibles boost their draft stock before June, along with watching the Sea Dogs win 16 straight en route to the Memorial Cup and thinking the whole time, “These guys are planning to peak NEXT season.” Enjoy the playoffs, folks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

QMJHL Thoughts Explosion

Image from Rogers Sportsnet

Tons of things have gone down in the last week, so I’ll try to knock down some of the key topics all at once.

First off, Wednesday night kicks off a run of four games in five days for the Drummondville Voltiguers in the Maritimes, meaning Sean Couturier is in town. My only chance to see him live was at the Subway Super Series in Saint John in November, so I’m excited to be catching him in four games. The Volts visit the Screaming Eagles on Wednesday night, followed by an exciting back-to-back against the Saint John Sea Dogs on Friday and Saturday nights, and a matinee in Moncton Sunday. Just call it “Cou-Tour-ier 2011”.

Not entirely shocked that Couturier is ranked second among North American skaters by Central Scouting. His numbers are still great, but he hasn’t dominated the Q maybe as much as expected. Part of that can be attributed to a bout with mono that deprived him of training camp. He really turned it on late last season to take the league scoring title; he’s on pace to finish 3 points below last year in 10 fewer games played. His World Junior performance was average, certainly nothing to solidify him as the top prospect, obviously. He was a solid presence throughout the tournament, making strong defensive plays and creating some offense. Nothing spectacular, but he hardly had a terrible tournament.

Talk about the benefits of playing for a stacked & heavily scouted team. Nine Sea Dogs made the cut, plus Guillaume Cloutier who was traded last week. The scouts came for the Big Four: Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Tomas Jurco and Zack Phillips, and the secondary players enjoyed the benefits. Ryan Tesink, Scott Oke, Aidan Kelly, Gabriel Bourret and Jason Cameron are all role players on the Sea Dogs, but manage to be ranked (and ranked generously in some cases) due to plenty of scouts in attendance at each game. I’d venture a guess that MAYBE half of those players would be ranked if they played in Baie-Comeau or Rouyn-Noranda, and certainly not as high.

Great to see Jonathan Huberdeau ranked 4th among North American skaters with the beat down he’s been laying on the Q this season. While I’d be a little surprised to see him actually go in the top-10, I think somewhere in the middle of the first round is likely. Early in the season I thought he’d have been somewhere in the mid-20s. Interesting to note that Zack Phillips, who was ranked ridiculously low in the domestic rankings in the fall (11th in the Q) was at 12th among all North American skaters. Higher than I expected; same goes for Nathan Beaulieu. He’s been hot and cold in the games I’ve seen this year. He can make some excellent plays, particularly offensively, but his decision making needs serious improvement if he’s to earn his keep as the 2nd best North American defenseman in the draft. Logan Shaw was ranked much higher than I expected at 52. He might be a solid late-round project type of guy, but I’d be shocked if he went any earlier than the 5th or 6th round. Also wondering where Olivier Archambault may end up being taken; I haven’t seen much of him, but from what I have, the kid has a lot of skill.

I really like the moves made by Saint John at the deadline. The addition of Mathieu Corbeil could end up being a brilliant one. He’s had a terrible year in Halifax and seems to have little confidence, but I’ve seen a number of games where he stands on his head and still loses because the Mooseheads are terrible. He’ll split time with Jacob De Serres for the rest of the regular season, likely take a seat for the playoffs, and if his confidence returns for next season, the Sea Dogs might be as good as unstoppable.

I’m a little surprised Montreal didn’t go all in for another superstar player to make a run this year. Louis Leblanc is gone next season, so it’s now or never. Even without that superstar, the addition of Viktor Hertzberg gives them a great top-6 forward group, to go with a few standout defensemen and a solid kicker in JF Berube. You have to like that team as a favourite heading into the playoffs.

Gatineau’s deal for Philip-Michael Devos came as a bit of a surprise to me. Gatineau’s been hot lately but didn’t really seem like a team that was going to be gunning for it, at least not this hard. They gave up a massive part of their future to get the league’s scoring leader, so they’d better hope they make a deep playoff run.

I’m more than a little concerned with the direction the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles are heading in. This isn’t to say they did poorly at the trade deadline; they actually got great returns on Viktor Hertzberg and Pier-Antoine Dion. My worries revolve around the comments from the man steering the ship. Mario Durocher had said he wanted to have a team that would make the playoffs this year and contend next year, and of course, they’re also bidding on next year’s Memorial Cup. Obviously those deals don’t help them for this year, and those comments combined with the rumours floating around make it seem likely that some of those high draft picks are going back to their respective teams for 19- and 20-year olds at the draft. By that time the Memorial Cup will have already been awarded (hint: not to Cape Breton), the Eagles still won’t have a team that can win next year, and to achieve all that, they’ll have let some great building blocks slip through their fingers. If this team was going to have any shot at the Memorial Cup, it should have been selling off assets last year to build toward next year. Instead it looks like they’re going to be in a buyer’s mindset for three seasons longer than they should have been.

I’ll likely report back on Cou-Tour-ier 2011 sometime next week. That phrase is trademarked now, by the way.