At the time of this writing it was January 1st, so first, Happy New Year everyone. Now, onto the more important manners, shall we?
Entering January, all 31 National Hockey League franchises have played at least 36 games. Only the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues have played at least half a season (41 games played) so far, while the San Jose Sharks have played the fewest games (36) through December. Everyone else falls somewhere in between– and that’s not including Monday’s 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which would bring both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers to 39 games played thus far.
Considering there’s no perfect way to slice it, we’ll consider this the midpoint of the 2017-18 regular season.
In the Western Conference, at least seven teams are destined to reach the 100-point plateau on the season, with the Los Angeles Kings (106 projected points) leading the charge followed by the Winnipeg Jets (102), Vegas Golden Knights (101), St. Louis Blues (101), Chicago Blackhawks (101), Sharks (101) and Nashville Predators (100).
Last season’s dominance of the Metropolitan Division alone– where four teams reached 100-points or more in 2016-17– has migrated west this season.
The Washington Capitals (118), Pittsburgh Penguins (111), Columbus Blue Jackets (108), Montreal Canadiens (103) and New York Rangers (102) tipped the balance of the 100-point plateau to the Eastern Conference last season, with five members of the NHL over 100-points compared to the Western Conference’s four teams over 100 members (Chicago, 109, Minnesota Wild, 106, Anaheim Ducks, 105 and Edmonton Oilers, 103).
This season, the West takes the reigns of the 100-point guild, with seven projected members while the Eastern Conference may only amount to four teams with over 100-points on the league table at the end of the regular season.
Everything seems to be going the Western Conference’s way, except for the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning exist and they are here to make a claim to this season’s President’s Trophy with a projected 110 points on the regular season.
Meanwhile the Battle for Second in the Atlantic Division is hotly contested between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs with the three divisional spots in the playoffs (TB, BOS and TOR, in no particular order) all but a sure lock at this rate.
Despite everyone’s fears that the Capitals might not be able to pull it together this season, they emerge on top of the Metropolitan Division once again in April with 103 points on the season– and a two-point lead over the biggest surprise of the season (Golden Knights aside), the New Jersey Devils.
Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Matthew Murray, and the Pittsburgh Penguins may be outside of the playoff picture right now, but they’ll slide their way into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. An exciting rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and the Lightning would be exactly what the league needs for a 2018 First Round matchup.
2017-2018 Projected Standings after Three Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 110 points (38 GP so far)
- x-Boston Bruins, 106 points (37 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 99 points (40 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (38 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 84 points (39 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 79 points (38 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 78 points (37 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 67 points (38 GP so far)
It’s no surprise for the top-three teams in the Atlantic, then it’s all downhill from there. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens find that being average plagues them. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators exist in mediocrity (‘sup Erik Karlsson free agency watch 2019). There’s not much to say for the Sabres other than, well… how early can you schedule a tee time?
- z-Washington Capitals, 103 points (40 GP so far)
- x-New Jersey Devils, 101 points (38 GP so far)
- x-New York Rangers, 97 points (38 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (40 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 94 points (40 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 93 points (39 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (38 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (38 GP so far)
The Metropolitan Division is stacked with teams on top of one another. Thankfully, by April, the division sorts itself out just enough with Washington, New Jersey and the Rangers rising as its leaders. Despite their ongoing struggles, there’s nothing to fear if you’re a Blue Jackets or Penguins fan and all you care about is making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first place.
Apologies to the New York Islanders, but it’s not their year in more ways than one *ahem, John Tavares free agency watch*.
Somehow the Carolina Hurricanes are making noise right now, but that should quiet down. And for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, at least you’re better than five of the Atlantic Division teams in these projections.
- y-Winnipeg Jets, 102 points (40 GP so far)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (41 GP so far)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 101 points (38 GP so far)
- x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (38 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 93 points (40 GP so far)
- Minnesota Wild, 91 points (39 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 83 points (38 GP so far)
If it’s any consolation to the Nashville Predators, being a wild card team isn’t always a bad thing– oh wait, they figured that out last season en route to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? Okay, they should be fine.
Otherwise, look out for the Winnipeg Jets, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve been skyrocketing all season long and they look ready to control the skies of the league. It’s a shame the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will have to play each other in the First Round in April– not like that series will have any excitement or anything.
Despite their recent success and uptick in game-play, the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild lost too many times to recover earlier on in the season.
- z-Los Angeles Kings, 106 points (39 GP so far)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (37 GP so far)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points (36 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (40 GP so far)
- Calgary Flames, 84 points (39 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (39 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (39 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 56 points (41 GP so far)
All three California teams in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Consider me hooked.
The Vegas Golden Knights continue to write history as they knock off the San Jose Sharks in the First Round of the playoffs– in their first playoffs appearance which just so happens to come in their inaugural season. It’s pure insanity, but it’s bound to happen.
If you were worried about the Anaheim Ducks, worry not. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers know not what they are doing. Unfortunately for Calgary and Vancouver, they play in a division with the State of California and Vegas.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are eating $21 million in salary cap space next season. They’re not bad players, but that’s bad asset management when you consider other large contracts on the books (Milan Lucic, in particular).
Arizona, how does Seattle sound if the league is foolish to not take $650 million in expansion fees and run?