It’s still way too early to make these bold claims, but let’s do it anyway.
Using marginal goals for and marginal goals against from the 2017-18 regular season– let’s assume there were no roster, coaching or front office changes this summer that would otherwise flip everything upside-down– here are expected points totals for all 31 National Hockey League teams for the 2018-19 season.
- z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 114 points
- x-Boston Bruins, 113 points
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 108 points
- Florida Panthers, 92 points
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points
- Montreal Canadiens, 71 points
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points
- Buffalo Sabres, 61 points
- y-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points
- x-Washington Capitals, 99 points
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points
- x-Philadelphia Flyers, 95 points
- x-New Jersey Devils, 93 points
- Carolina Hurricanes, 81 points
- New York Islanders, 79 points
- New York Rangers, 78 points
2018-19 Eastern Conference Outlook
Not much is different in the Atlantic Division heading into 2018-19.
The top teams are the top teams, regardless of their additions (John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs) or subtractions (uhh, James van Riemsdyk from the Maple Leafs?) and there’s going to be a little movement in the Metropolitan Division (most notably, a new division leader from 2017-18 to 2018-19).
Carolina’s revamped defense and the Rangers post-trade deadline to present overhaul are wild cards to watch for any surprises in the standings.
2017-18 Eastern Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- y-Montreal Canadiens, 102 points (z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 113 points)
- x-Boston Bruins, 101 points (x-Boston Bruins, 112 points)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points (x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 95 points (Florida Panthers, 96 points)
- Ottawa Senators, 91 points (Detroit Red Wings, 73 points)
- Florida Panthers, 81 points (Montreal Canadiens, 71 points)
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points (Ottawa Senators, 67 points)
- Buffalo Sabres, 77 points (Buffalo Sabres, 62 points)
What happened in the Atlantic? Injuries and age slowed the Canadiens way, way down, while Tampa reemerged as one of the top teams in the NHL, appearing in their third Eastern Conference Final in four years (despite losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games).
Boston proved to be ahead of schedule in their plan, while the Leafs were right on track. Meanwhile, the floor fell out from underneath the Senators and a new head coach didn’t bring the expected progress in development for the Sabres.
Florida turned a few heads, though ultimately proved to be a non-contender, missing the playoffs by a point (Columbus and New Jersey locked up the Eastern Conference wild cards with 97 points on the season), while Detroit fell within the expected margin of error (anywhere from 72-82 points on the season).
- p-Washington Capitals, 125 points (y-Washington Capitals, 105 points)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 114 points (x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 111 points (x-Philadelphia Flyers, 98 points)
- x-New York Rangers, 106 points (x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points)
- New York Islanders, 91 points (x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 85 points (Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (New York Islanders, 80 points)
- New Jersey Devils, 67 points (New York Rangers, 77 points)
What happened in the Metropolitan? Sometimes it’s not about the number of points, but rather, the divisional standing that matters.
Washington may have surprised some experts by finishing 1st in their division in 2017-18 (then going on to win the Cup), but to us it wasn’t (the division win, not the Cup). The rest was a crapshoot. Three teams (Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh) made the playoffs from our predictions heading into last season, while one (N.Y. Rangers) fell flat and hit the reset button.
New Jersey had one of the biggest improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, while the Carolina Hurricanes hit the nail on the head (albeit one position higher than our prediction) with 83 points in 2017-18.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points
- x-Nashville Predators, 113 points
- x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 99 points
- Dallas Stars, 95 points
- St. Louis Blues, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 108 points
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 99 points
- Edmonton Oilers, 81 points
- Calgary Flames, 80 points
- Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
- Arizona Coyotes, 73 points
2018-19 Western Conference Outlook
Before the additions of Ryan O’Reilly (via trade), Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon (via free agency), the St. Louis Blues were destined to slide through another season of mediocrity. Now, they’re the most unpredictable team of the Central Division– and, yes, that’s even acknowledging what kind of season Jake Allen has in net.
Allen could make or break St. Louis’s season, though Mike Yeo will have to balance Allen’s starting time with Chad Johnson‘s play as a solid backup, but enough about the Blues (for now).
Everything else looks just the same in the Central with Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas as the teams that are most likely to change places and hit or miss one of the last playoff spots in the West.
In the Pacific, the arms race for the top of the division rages on with the Golden Knights, Kings and Sharks auditioning for the role of top-dog and the Ducks bumbling their way into a wild card spot.
It’s status quo in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the Arizona Coyotes entering the 2018-19 season as the biggest underdogs (hint, if they had played the way they did from February through April 2018 all season last season, they would be a lot higher up in these expected totals).
2017-18 Western Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- z-Minnesota Wild, 115 points (p-Nashville Predators, 117 points)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 104 points (x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (x-Minnesota Wild, 101 points)
- x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (x-Colorado Avalanche, 95 points)
- Winnipeg Jets, 89 points (St. Louis Blues, 94 points)
- Dallas Stars, 76 points (Dallas Stars, 92 points)
- Colorado Avalanche, 47 points (Chicago Blackhawks, 76 points)
What happened in the Central? Simply put, the stars aligned.
The Blackhawks were kept far away from the 90-point plateau (and a playoff spot) by virtue of injuries to their starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, while the anemic offense of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche was no more in 2017-18.
Both are surprises– by definition, given expected points totals are driven by an equation that takes last season’s offense into account for the following season– but any inherent intuition would show that Colorado was destined to improve (by that much, perhaps not).
St. Louis fell out of the race while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 50-plus win season and the Wild surged quietly. The Stars were thought to be further off the path back to the playoffs than they turned out, but alas, Dallas was still 6th in the division at season’s end.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (y-Vegas Golden Knights, 109 points)
- x-Edmonton Oilers, 106 points (x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points (x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points)
- x- San Jose Sharks, 100 points (x-Los Angeles Kings, 98 points)
- Calgary Flames, 94 points (Calgary Flames, 84 points)
- Los Angeles Kings, 90 points (Edmonton Oilers, 78 points)
- Vancouver Canucks, 67 points (Vancouver Canucks, 73 points)
- Arizona Coyotes, 66 points (Arizona Coyotes, 70 points)
What happened in the Pacific? One of the best things about making predictions using a set of data is the outliers that cause some people to doubt all of math in its entirety. Nothing is concrete in the world of projections and expectations. The 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers are a great example of that.
Based on a spectacular breakout 2016-17 season, the Oilers should’ve done a lot more than *checks notes* leave Cam Talbot in the net for too many games, facing too many shots, while Milan Lucic exerts some type of energy in the midst of another 100-point season by Connor McDavid only to miss the playoffs (by a lot) and still receive enough pity votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy to finish 5th in the voting. Hmm.
One player does not make a team. One expected points total before a single puck drops on the regular season does not guarantee anything.
Meanwhile, Vegas surprised everyone, Anaheim and San Jose hit their expected points totals, Los Angeles was ahead of schedule (though the core is still aging), Calgary regressed and the rest was as expected (again, given the margin of error– about +/- 5 points).