Numbers Game: March to the Playoffs

First of all, it’s March, which means it’s officially the best month of the year, but not for any of the reasons you’re thinking. College basketball can stay on the back burner– especially when there’s playoff hockey to look forward to next month when, oh yeah, that NCAA championship game actually occurs.

Save your “March is the worst month of the year” takes for the next person in line, thanks.

Anyway, at this point in the season it’s worth noting that the trade deadline has come and passed. While acquisitions like Rick Nash for the Boston Bruins, Derick Brassard for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Tatar for the Vegas Golden Knights and Paul Stastny for the Winnipeg Jets will certainly impact their teams, the following projected standings are merely an educated guess at how things should pan out.

There are simply too many variables that Microsoft Excel cannot account for, namely injuries, roster changes and well, whether or not a player woke up on the right side of the bed that day.

To that end, some projected points totals had a little Gut Feeling 2.0 added to them. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to end up with 130 or 131 points like a couple of models showed– there’s simply not enough games remaining for them to almost match an NHL record.

Therefore, more realistic measures have been added for some teams to account for “reality”.

Some teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, had a little win-percentage on the season taken into account for their 19 remaining games on the season– and then reflected in the total number of points they should earn.

As with all stats and analytics, try not to get too bogged down on one or another. A holistic viewpoint goes much further than trying to survive on heart and grit alone.

Especially in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are more present than ever before.

With that, here’s a glance at how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL clubs based on their performances through February 28, 2018.

As always, my degree is in communication, not math. In other words, throw everything mentioned above out the window, strap yourself in and good luck surviving the adrenaline rush that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh, your team’s not going to make it, you say?

My condolences, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes fans. Next year is totally your year.

Maybe.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points (61 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (66 GP so far)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 75 points (60 GP so far)
  7. Buffalo Sabres, 68 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (62 GP so far)

The Atlantic Division was already determined in December. Nothing should surprise anyone, except for how close it should be coming down the wire for first place in the division.

It might seem crazy considering the Tampa Bay Lightning really bolstered their defense with Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Boston and Toronto have as much speed and offense to remain in the hunt for that little “Y” next to their names down the stretch. Plus it helps that the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs aren’t playing each other every night, so that has to factor in their somehow.

Between 4th and 6th in the division it’s anyone’s game. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all teetering on the edge of either a rebuild or just a few steps away from a re-tool-on-the-fly.

Neither of them are inherently “ideal”, but they can’t do anything else to compete with Tampa, Boston and Toronto.

It’s worth noting that the Buffalo Sabres will barely climb out of the basement of the division this year. And that’s without Jack Eichel (fractured ankle).

Simply put, the Ottawa Senators are beyond bad.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 108 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 99 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points (63 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (63 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Washington Capitals, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 87 points (64 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  8. New York Rangers, 72 points (64 GP so far)

After much turbulence leading up to this month in the Metropolitan Division, it seems by the end of the month, we’ll have a clear picture of who’s really a contender, who’s making a Second Round exit and who’s just pretending to be on the ice when they’re actually sending out some pretty high-tech holograms on the ice.

In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins are suited for a three-peat as long as Matt Murray can stay healthy. Even still, they’re beginning to peak at the right time as they have done every year with Mike Sullivan behind the bench.

But who’s that neighbor of theirs in Pennsylvania? They might have to re-grease some poles in Philadelphia, because the Flyers are surging right now and it should carry them into decent playoff position.

The New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals all remain competitive, but sadly fall victim to First or Second Round exits simply because have you seen the rest of the Eastern Conference? Yeah, I thought so too.

One of these years if the Carolina Hurricanes look to actually spend a little more money they’ll be able to take their money-puck approach back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but this year is not that year. They didn’t do anything at the deadline and it shows.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. p-Winnipeg Jets, 116 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 104 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (62 GP so far)
  4. wc2-St. Louis Blues, 92 points (65 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 92 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (63 GP so far)

Your President’s Trophy winners, ladies and gentlemen, entering March 2018 should be the Winnipeg Jets.

That’s right, the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a seating capacity of a little more than 15,000 fans at Bell MTS Place. That one. Winnipeg. The Western Conference’s Carolina Hurricanes. They aren’t big spenders, yet they bought exactly what they needed at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny.

Meanwhile, apparently Eric Staal‘s first hat trick in a little over five years is enough to catapult the Minnesota Wild on a surprising run down the stretch. Though they are currently 3rd in the Central Division, Minnesota is coming alive.

It’s hard to knock the Nashville Predators off of their game– especially while they’re in command of the division– but something just doesn’t go exactly as planned this month for the Preds.

They’ll still beat Minnesota in the First Round and set themselves up for quite a matchup with Winnipeg in the Second Round though. Obviously the winner of that is going to battle the Vegas Golden Knights for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

A warning to the St. Louis Blues– keep up this downward trend and the Dallas Stars will replace you in the wild card.

Whatever upper body injury is plaguing Corey Crawford is only making things worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.

In some models, they should be a lot better than they are right now, but that’s due to their impressive streak of success from 2010-17. Now, in 2018, the wheels fell off and the floor fell out from under them– on top of the Crawford injury.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points (64 GP so far)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 100 points (64 GP so far)
  4. wc1-San Jose Sharks, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 78 points (65 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 63 points (62 GP so far)

The Vegas Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, come up three points shy of winning the 2017-18 President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record. The Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the push from all of the California clubs, this is Vegas’s division title to lose. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs too.

No amount of onslaught from the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks should be able to stand a seven-game series with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Golden Knights. Having said that though, it’s a shame the San Jose Sharks will likely pair-up with the Jets, because we’ll never get to know if Vegas could single handedly defeat all three California teams en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

That’s assuming a lot, but let’s roll with it.

All season long the Calgary Flames have been a lovable underdog. Unfortunately, their time is cut short. All good things must come to an end and again, if you’re going to do nothing at the deadline as a fringe competitor, you can’t expect to improve.

At least you shouldn’t, otherwise well, you know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result).

Better luck next year, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes.