World Cup of Hockey Predictions (9/13/16)
With the 2016 World Cup of Hockey set to get underway on Saturday, we've done our best to project each team's win probability for the tournament. It should be noted that projecting a tournament like this--which hasn't occurred since 2004--is very much an inexact science. We have been monitoring exhibition play as much as possible, but just like exhibition play in any other sport, there's not a whole lot to be gained. Line combinations are constantly changing, starting goalies aren't set in stone yet, and in general, parts are still moving. With that being said, we can make some assumptions and use the overall talent level of each team to draw some conclusions.
It's no surprise that we make the Canadians the tournament favorite, hoisting the World Cup Trophy in approximately 38.7% of our simulations. Unlike the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the semi-finals are decided in knockout style, and the finals are decided in a best-of-three series. If the tournament format was a best-of-seven format (we fully understand why it's not), Canada would have a much higher likelihood of capturing the crown, but as we've seen in other sports like football and soccer, anything can happen in a one-game knockout format. In fact, Canada largely dominated the U.S.A. in their first exhibition matchup, but the Americans came out ahead on the scoreboard; something that would not shock us at all in a tournament of this style.
Speaking of the Americans, while most oddsmakers are giving them the second-best odds of winning the World Cup, we see them as the fourth most likely team to win it all at approximately 12.3%. Granted, there's not a huge difference between the Americans and the two teams that we project ahead of them, but still enough of a difference where we wouldn't recommend placing any futures on the U.S. at their current odds.
Coming in as the second-most likely team to win the tournament, with a 17.6% projected win expectancy, is Sweden. The Swedes don't exactly have the deepest set of forwards, but they are by far the best team on the back end in this tournament (yes, offensive defensemen can still be really good defensemen), and they are anchored by an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Sweden will be in for a tough test in their Group B action against Team North America though; a collection of under 23's that are captained by phenom Connor McDavid. North America has a 14.9% of taking down the entire tournament, and probably makes for the best bet at most sportsbooks right now.
So, I know what you're thinking... Surely a team comprised of players under the age of 23 does not have the experience to be better than the likes of the United States, Russia, and Finland. How can that be? Well, as the founder of this website once wrote, "intagibles are myths; everything is either quanitfiable, measurable, and useful, or irrelevant". People often try to use experience as a way of justifying their predictions, but there is no correlation between experience and success in hockey. There is however, a strong correlation between talent (puck possession skills) and success in hockey, and the North American roster is littered with great talent from top to bottom. We really don't see the North American squad as having any glaring weaknesses, whereas the Russian defensive core is awful, the Americans opted to bring a lot of "gritty" players that are void of talent, and the Finns, well, they have holes pretty much everywhere.