It’s the Brier


The Brier starts on Friday, so let’s talk about it.

This Brier is unusual is that Canada’s Olympic representative is playing in it. This has not happened before, and for good reason. Once you’ve played the Olympics, the goal of the last four years of your curling life, it’s going to be hard to get motivated for the Brier two weeks later. Mirroring the ad-hoc the format used at the Scotties, the Brier has three wild card spots this time around without the usual on-site playoff for entry into the main event.

And like the Scotties, the format is two pools of nine with the top three from each pool graduating to what is best described as a double page-playoff format. I’m not going to explain in it detail because if you’re reading this you probably watched the Scotties.

(For the record, I’d vote for keeping this format going forward provided the wild cards have to play their way into the event. I’d also prefer the wild cards get some kind of provincial designation. Wild Card Saskatchewan is better than Wild Card 2. Limit the wild cards to one per province as well.)

Team Gushue was given one of the wild card spots, and despite Brad hinting that he’s not super interested in playing, his team will be there. And that is really the story of the upcoming week. Will Team Gushue be sufficiently motivated to kick butt in Lethbridge? If so, then they are the clear favorite. My sims give them a 40% chance of winning. They’re still the best team in Canada if they want to be.

Rk  Rating  Team            Pool Playoff Title 
 2  11.76   Gushue      WC1  B    96.1    40.2
 4  11.32   Jacobs       NO  B    89.1    21.0
 5  11.08   Koe          AB  A    75.0    13.0
 6  10.86   Bottcher    CAN  A    64.3     7.5
 8  10.83   Howard       ON  A    62.6     7.0
10  10.79   Dunstone    WC2  A    60.5     6.2
13  10.56   McEwen       MB  B    57.5     3.4
19  10.29   Flasch       SK  A    31.8     1.1
24  10.07   Gunnlaugson WC3  B    27.3     0.5
31   9.74   Flemming     NS  B    14.0     0.1
34   9.64   Fournier     QC  B    11.2     0.06
62   9.25   Grattan      NB  A     3.0     0.005
72   9.18   Pierce       BC  B     3.5     0.004
67   9.22   Young        NL  A     2.8     0.003
94   8.89   Koe          NT  B     1.5     0.0004
     8.00   Smith        PE  A     0.03   <0.0001
     7.65   Scoffin      YK  A     0.008  <0.0001
     7.63   Mackey       NU  B     0.01   <0.0001

Another team that appears to be playing in its last Brier is Team Koe (Kevin, not Jamie, who will be representing the Northwest Territories long after we’re all dead). It is not clear what the future holds for each team member (except for John Morris inevitably retiring to Banff as a super sub in big events on occasion) but the team itself faces the same motivational questions as Gushue after gearing up for the Olympics and failing to make it.

That makes Brad Jacobs’ rink the best team in the field that is presumably staying together beyond the next few weeks. Jacobs’ only Brier win was in 2013, so the hunger is surely there to get to worlds and battle a field whose top teams will be suffering from a post-Olympics hangover.

Normally, Team Bottcher would be on the list of serious contenders. His team is, after all, the reigning champs here. Much was made of Bottcher’s disappointing trials but kind of like Gushue’s “disappointing” Olympics it was mostly about not being able to beat the very best teams in the field. So his demise has been somewhat overplayed. But the drama with Darren Moulding being cut mid-season takes some shine off the team.

Glenn Howard is the next team on the list, but they’ll apparently be without Glenn for the event leaving Scott Howard to take care of skipping. Does this matter? Maybe. The younger Howard was able to navigate the team through the Ontario Tankard by fending off #18 John Epping in the final, so there’s hope to make the playoff round.

Team Dunstone was quite close to winning this event last year, losing in the semifinals on a ridiculous angle-raise by Bottcher in the 10th. That performance turned out not to be a springboard to success this season, as the team failed to get past the quarterfinals of either of the season’s slams to date, was a non-factor at the trials, and then failed to win the Saskatchewan provincials. Still, it seems like their true level is higher that their recent track record indicates.

The last of the realistic contenders is Mike McEwen. Like Dunstone, McEwen’s season results have been good enough to suggest a playoff berth is legitimate expectation, but defeating the top teams will require a few breaks. They’ve won once in ten tries against the teams ranked 7th or better in the world.

You could drum up realistic scenarios for Flasch and Gunnlaugson to make some noise, too. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if either made the playoff round, but actually winning this event would be a serious underdog story.

The rest of the field is generally not contender material. The one squad worth mentioning is Team Grattan who will have Darren Moulding at third. Moulding played with Grattan at the New Brunswick provincials, where Grattan mostly had his way with a field of challengers well outside the top 100.

Teams Bottcher and Grattan ended up in the same pool and not so accidentally have a prime-time slot on Saturday for their pool-play grudge match to settle their grievances once and for all. Team Grattan is ranked 62nd and given a mere 3 percent chance of making the playoff based on their current rating. So just a playoff berth would be validation of Moulding’s influence.

Odds Oddities:

The only value at Coolbet relative to my sims is for Team Bottcher and Team Howard, both of whom have significant team changes. Personnel changes clearly have shifted the odds for some teams (even the wins over/under for Team Grattan is bumped up about a half game from what my sims suggest) but the issue motivation hasn’t, given that Gushue is shown as a clear favorite.

Let’s just say I’ll be really impressed if Team Gushue looks like peak Team Gushue. We already saw Team De Cruz essentially phone it in while going 0-4 at the Swiss Championships, a week after a disappointing Olympic performance. And with that in mind, I’ll put $1M on Team Jacobs at +330 (odds have since dropped to +275, which would not be good enough for me). They’re barely -EV based on the sims, and throw in a 5% bonus for motivation (plus reduced value in Bottcher and Howard) and it’s a reasonable choice. I’ll also show faith in Team Howard at $0.5M to persevere without Glenn and make the playoffs (+115 originally but have dropped to +105).