SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – It was a tumultuous season for the American Hockey League. Due to travel restrictions and other COVID-19 related issues, the league decided to forgo their annual Calder Cup Playoffs. Instead, each division had the opportunity to elect to hold their own post-season play. Only the Pacific Division decided to opt-in, with the other divisions awarding the top teams in their respected division paced on points percentage.
This left many fans wondering, “what if?” Could their team have gone all the way to win the 2020-21 Calder Cup? Well, we here at The Sin Bin decided to try and answer this very question. Writers Zack Power, Andrew Rinaldi, Corey Swartz, Anthony Noffke, and AHL Editor Deana Weinheimer put their heads together using season trends, head-to-head stats, and more to hypothesize how the playoffs would have shaken out this year.
AHL Playoff Simulation Staff Picks: Calder Cup Second Round
Due to the lack of clear-cut conferences this season, we came up with our own playoff seeding and format. We seeded the teams based on their points percentage at the end of the regular season for all divisions outside of the Pacific. Since the Pacific Division played for a championship, we gave Bakersfield a bye into the conference finals.
It didn’t take long for our opinion and the NHL 21 sim to differ. So, we decided to keep going with this series. Two articles. Two predictions. Which do you agree with?
Yesterday, we played out round two in NHL 21. Today, we continue with our staff picks.
If you missed out on round one, there were definitely some surprises!
(1) Hershey Bears vs. (2) Lehigh Valley Phantoms
By: Corey Swartz
|Feb 6||Hershey||Lehigh Valley||2-1 OT|
|Feb 14||Hershey||Lehigh Valley||5-4 OT|
|Mar 3||Lehigh Valley||Lehigh Valley||4-3|
|Mar 14||Hershey||Lehigh Valley||4-1|
|Mar 24||Lehigh Valley||Hershey||6-2|
|Mar 31||Lehigh Valley||Lehigh Valley||4-1|
|Apr 21||Lehigh Valley||Hershey||6-1|
|May 5||Lehigh Valley||Lehigh Valley||5-3|
In Round Two of The Sin Bin’s simulated Calder Cup Playoffs, the Hershey Bears and Lehigh Valley Phantoms meet for the North Division crown and the right to a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The two teams finished first and second in the regular-season standings, respectively, and played a tight season series. Hershey finished with a 5-4-2-0 record with only 11 of 14 games played due to concerns with COVID-19 impacting Lehigh Valley. The two teams each earned 12 points against each other during the season series, making a compelling playoff series.
The Phantoms had the better of the season series in the early going, with the Bears winning three of the final four matchups in the late stages of the season. The regular-season series was a battle of which team could impose its will on the other with similar styles of quick-strike offense paired with strong defense. Lehigh Valley took four of the first five meetings between the two teams, but Hershey was able to find wins, particularly towards the end of the season, posting shutouts in the final two games of the season at Giant Center.
Home ice and roster health are two big keys in this series. Hershey won ten straight games at Giant Center to close out the season and 14 of 17 overall, with their last home-ice defeat happening on March 14 to Lehigh Valley.
Hershey’s variety of scoring would be a big threat for Lehigh Valley, as the Bears showed they could get offense from several sources. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby had a lot of success in the season series, including a shorthanded goal as well as Shane Gersich and Brett Leason. That’s all boosted by Matt Moulson and Connor McMichael, who were dynamite on the power play, and if the series took place around the time of Washington’s elimination, could receive back Garrett Pilon, who was more than a point-per-game player prior to his recall in mid-March.
It’s hard to speculate if Hershey’s roster situation at the end of the season would be improving, as the Bears were a man short and utilizing defensemen as forward to conclude the season. Still, Hershey dressed eight defenders in their final matchup with Lehigh Valley in a 3-0 shutout.
Lehigh Valley Pros
Lehigh Valley’s strength lies in its balance of veteran experience and youth, and it’s been evident in the season series between the two teams. Cal O’Reilly and Ryan Fitzgerald led the way as consistent veteran presences. Meanwhile, the late reinforcements of Wade Allison (who scored his first AHL goal against Hershey) and Cam York added to an impressive stable of rookies, including Zayde Wisdom, Tyson Foerster, and Max Willman. Those players would be doing the hard work of pushing Hershey’s defense and testing their goaltenders.
Lehigh Valley Cons
Lehigh Valley’s cons perhaps lie within what may be Hershey’s con. Even with a depleted Hershey roster, Lehigh Valley was unable to convert and lost in a shutout.
This series has the potential to be among the best in the American Hockey League, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see it go the distance, much like the last time the teams met in 2017. The way the series played out in the month of May is perhaps the most important side of the season series to compare a potential playoff series to, and Hershey’s strength at Giant Center factors in big.
My prediction would be a seven-game series that sees the Bears walk away with the win. Home-ice advantage and a fantastic seventh game from Pheonix Copley would be the difference, with a clutch goal from McMichael likely supplying the offense.
(1) Chicago Wolves vs. (3) Grand Rapids Griffins
By: Andrew Rinaldi and Anthony Noffke
|Feb 26||Grand Rapids||Grand Rapids||4-1|
|Apr 26||Grand Rapids||Chicago||5-1|
|Apr 29||Grand Rapids||Chicago||4-2|
|May 7||Grand Rapids||Grand Rapids||5-4|
|May 8||Chicago||Grand Rapids||3-1|
|May 12||Grand Rapids||Chicago||7-0|
Chicago Pros: Speed in the neutral zone / PP efficiency
Chicago’s success against the Griffins could be predicated heavily on what brought them success all season – speed in their transition game that led to a heavy amount of high-quality chances, and the skill of the Wolves cashed in on their ample opportunities against the Griffins.
The Wolves scored 4 or more goals in 7 of their 10 games against Grand Rapids, specifically with a lethal powerplay that scored multiple goals in four of those games with the man advantage (including two with three PPGs).
Chicago Cons: Breaking the neutral zone trap
The numbers can also be misleading, however, especially when taking into consideration the departures of key names from the Wolves’ lineup, including Seth Jarvis and Tanner Jeannot that led the way against Grand Rapids in their earlier matchups, inflating numbers that would have no bearing on postseason battles with their absence.
More relevantly, in a pair of early May games, the Griffins had much more success in slowing the Wolves down through the neutral zone, clogging up the stretch passes from Chicago’s defensive zone and hemming them in their own end in back to back games.
Grand Rapids Pros
Something that the Griffins have on this roster is postseason experience. Many of the guys on this team have been in the postseason with the Griffins or another club. Guys like Dylan McIlrath, Joe Hicketts, Dominic Turgeon, among others, have won a Calder Cup with the Griffins.
They also have a power play that seemed to only get better as the season went on. Riley Barber loved playing against the Wolves, collecting 12 points (7-5-12) in their 10 regular-season matchups. Kyle Criscuolo also enjoyed some success against Chicago this season gathers nine points (6-3-9) in 10 games.
Grand Rapids Cons
The Griffins penalty kill was nearly non-existent when it came to stopping the Wolves’ power play. In 10 games this season, the Griffins surrendered 12 power-play goals to the Wolves in 48 penalty kill attempts. The Griffins struggled over the regular season, ranking next to last at 74.8%. Chicago has an extremely lethal power play, and all five guys on the unit have the ability to beat anyone.
Anthony’s prediction: The great thing about hockey is that whatever happened in the regular season is irrelevant. I do not see any seven or eight-goal games from either team during this series. I see more of a back and forth high-intensity series with most, if not all, games being settled by a goal or two.
I think Chicago would ultimately take this series in six games. The power play and speed of this Wolves team prove to be too much for the Griffins to overcome.
Andrew’s prediction: Despite the lopsided regular-season record and the data to back them up, these are two teams that compete relentlessly in between whistles and carry over beyond that. In the postseason, players like Givani Smith and Dylan McIlrath will come up with huge momentum plays, though oftentimes their emotion would end up seeing their team down a man and at the mercy of Chicago’s Phil Tomasino striking from the top of the right circle, or David Cotton on the doorstep to jam a rebound home. Cotton, seeing a bigger role in the offense as the season wore on and other Wolves forwards were called up, scored 5 goals in his last 5 games against the Griffins, including a hat trick to seal the Central Division title against Grand Rapids.
The Griffins have the personnel to battle in this series, and they surely will. In tight-checking games where the Wolves will be much harder pressed to find open lanes and utilize their advantage in speed, the special teams will be crucial in this series. Here, the Wolves have the advantage in both scoring on and killing powerplays, which would lead to this writer’s prediction of Chicago taking the series in six games.
(1) Laval Rocket vs. (3) Providence Bruins
By: Zack Power
Laval and Providence did not meet during the 2020-21 season.
No team has performed better on the road than the Laval Rocket. Boasting a win percentage toppling over 80%, the Rocket has had a 14-3 record and a 61-41 goal differential. While the Rocket would have home-ice advantage, there’s no question that their road record would help their case in Rhode Island.
Laval is almost like a team that has been down and out through the regular season. While trailing, Laval seems to struggle to find the umph to continue the push. And it shows. Trailing after two periods, the Rocket has a grim 1-6-2 record, with a muddy 2-3-2 record when losing after 20. Laval needs to find a way to claw back into games while against a big dog like Providence.
Like Laval, Providence also holds a prestigious away record. Holding an 8-2-2 record, Providence has been able to claw their way into the game while on the road. While on the road, their penalty kill runs at a swift 88%, and their power play runs at around 18%. Providence wouldn’t have home-ice advantage in this series.
While both teams tend to stick their nose in the box, Providence has some of the highest numbers in the AHL. Averaging north of 14 minutes per game, Providence has been short-handed almost 100 times through their 25 games this season.
Maybe this is the Montreal-Boston playoff matchup we have been waiting for! Laval led the season series in 2019-20 with a 3-1 record. Both teams haven’t played out of their circuit in over a year, and that will have a factor in the series. The result? Laval is going to take it in the 6th game and finding the series 4-2.
AHL Playoff Simulation Staff Picks: Calder Cup Second Round Results
Moving on to the conference finals, the Field Pass Hockey Staff select:
Eastern Conference Finals
Hershey Bears vs. Laval Rocket
Western Conference Finals
Chicago Wolves vs. Bakersfield Condors
Stay tuned to The Sin Bin for the third round simulation coming next week!
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