18: 2021 STOH preview

I’ve been waiting months to try out my ratings on a big-time curling event and finally the time has arrived. First up in the Calgary bubble is the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Let’s talk about it.

Format: This season, on account of many provinces not being able to hold playdowns, it’s an expanded 18-team extravaganza. There are two pools of nine which will compete in round-robin play. The top four teams from each pool will advance to the championship pool, where they will continue round-robin action, with the top three overall records making the playoffs.

The win probability table: Using the world rankings here at doubletakeout.com and a some lines of R code, I ran the virtual Scotties one million times. Here’s how often each team made the playoffs and won the event:

Rk  Rating  Team      Pool Playoff  Title 
 2  12.88   Einarson   A    81.2%   38.8%
 3  12.77   Homan      A    76.5    33.1
10  12.30   Fleury     B    47.1    12.1
12  12.19   Jones      B    39.4     8.9
15  11.94   Walker     A    26.8     4.5
22  11.64   Zacharias  A    13.4     1.5  
25  11.49   Brown      B     8.0     0.7  
36  11.17   Birt       B     2.8     0.2  
37  11.15   Anderson   B     2.6     0.1  
44  10.95   Peterson   A     1.4     0.06  
58  10.60   Galusha    A     0.3     0.007  
57  10.62   St-Georges B     0.3     0.006  
    10.40   Adams      B     0.09    0.002  
    10.20   Eddy       B     0.03    0.0007  
75  10.27   Brothers   A     0.06    0.0005  
97  10.03   Burns      A     0.02    0.0002  
     9.90   Hill       B     0.005  <0.0001  
     9.00   Eby        A    <0.0001 <0.0001

In a normal season, this table would require no further explanation. But this season, without many tour events and with the top teams not having played in provincial playdowns, there are some assumptions I needed to make.

First, Team Fleury is being skipped by Chelsea Carey. Fleury is ranked fifth in my ratings, but Carey’s 2020 team is ranked 17th. So I’ve subjectively estimated Team Fleury/Carey’s strength as the tenth-best team in the world for these purposes.

The other assumptions are basically inconsequential to predicting the winner. These apply to teams that don’t have recent (or any) CurlingZone-level results. Previous Scotties performance for the provinces they are representing were used to create ratings for them.

Lastly, the ratings themselves are not quite as sharp as they would be since very few games have been played in the past few months. Where a team’s rank is not listed, they have not played enough games in the past 12 months to qualify for the doubletakeout.com rankings.

Still, the bar for success is low here. Like I’m pretty sure nobody’s done a Monte Carlo for the Scotties before so just having this is a victory in itself. I think for the top teams, we’re in the ballpark of legitimate odds.

The contenders: The playoff teams will most likely come from this group of six: Einarson, Homan, Fleury/Carey, Jones, Walker, Zacharias. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that the playoffs will be Einarson, Homan and one of the the remaining four. It’s not assured, of course. Even my own simulation says Homan misses the playoff about one out of four times. And for reasons I won’t bore you with, I suspect the percentages for the favorites are slightly inflated. Still, the top six own a combined 284% chance of making the playoffs, meaning that an average of 2.84 of them got there in each simulation. And they have about a 99% chance of being the winner.

I most interested to see Team Zacharias because my impression is their percentages here and the public’s perception of their chances differ quite a bit. But the reigning junior world champions performed well against grown-ups last season, consistent with being the 22nd-ranked team or so in the world. So I think they’re legit. Now, it might make some sense that a younger team would be most impacted by the circumstances of this season, missing out on competition in a key part of their development curve and what not. But I don’t think people are thinking about it that deeply.

Juniors weren’t event allowed at the Scotties until recently, and even though Zacharias is here as a wild card based on her CTRS standings, maybe people think this is a quirk in the CTRS. It’s not. She was really good last season, not just “good for a junior”. (And while I’m here, I’d like the Scotties and Brier to give a berth to the junior champs every year.)

The darkhorses: I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience watching the Scotties, but the Canadian curling championships are designed to crush the dreams of underdogs. It’s neat that Curling Canada lets Team Yukon play against the best teams in the world, but this is serious business. There’s a berth in the world’s on the line (well, not this season) and also some Olympic trials ramifications which I don’t fully understand. The round-robin phase will be 12 games long for those that get to the championship pool and over that time, even the tiniest differences among teams are revealed.

Still, I am a hopeless underdog-supporter and if anyone outside the Super Six is going to crash the playoffs it figures to be B.C.’s Corryn Brown or P.E.I.’s Suzanne Birt. We can use history as our guide with Birt, who is appearing in her 12th Scotties. Her only finish in the top 3 was in her first appearance, 18 years ago, so that doesn’t bode well. Brown snuck into the championship pool in her first appearance last year, but it’s a pretty long way from sneaking into the championship pool and getting to the playoffs, especially this season with one fewer playoff spot available.

However, both of these teams have one thing going for them: They are playing in Pool B. The pools here are quite unbalanced and since the best two teams, Einarson and Homan, will be sequestered in Pool A, both Brown and Birt (and I shouldn’t leave out 57-year-old Sherry Anderson) will have a chance to rack up wins without being crushed by the two best teams in the field.

If they’re going to make the playoffs then simply advancing to the championship pool – which won’t be too difficult – will not be enough. They’re going to need to find a way to get a least one win against Fleury/Carey or Jones and finish in the top two in Pool B before they get “rewarded” with four difficult games against Pool A teams in the championship pool. Still, it’s doable. Jennifer Jones seems particularly vulnerable, having looked unimpressive this season in two events in Ontario before getting handled by Team Homan in Okotoks right before the curling world shut down again.

I’ll also mention Kerry Galusha here, who will be competing in her 21st 19th Scotties for the Northwest Territories. She’s ranked 57th in my ratings which includes a 2-5 performance in last year’s Scotties while she was relegated to throwing second while dealing with an injury. Now she’s healthy but she’s in Pool A and so this doesn’t figure to be the first Scotties where she will post a winning record in pool play.

Odds oddities: Look, I’m no gambling expert, but the on-line sportsbooks who bother to take bets on curling don’t seem to put a lot of effort into their lines. I’ve only seen odds for the Scotties at two locations so far: Bovada/Bodog and SportsInteraction.com.

The former, not known for providing value in a futures market, inexplicably had Homan at 5-1 through Monday afternoon. She’s now the favorite (which isn’t right, either) at around 2-1. I did not catch SportsInteraction’s openers, but Homan is listed fourth on their board which I might take to mean she was originally given the fourth-best odds to win. She now has the second-best odds there. Anyway, I don’t understand why the opening odds were so long for Homan. She is clearly the second-best option in Calgary.

Conclusion: It’s Einarson and Homan against the other 16 teams, who collectively are an underdog to win the title. In another year, I’d make a well-constructed plea to consider a format change to make this event more interesting. That will have to wait until next season. This year, I’m just happy there will be games.

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