Numbers Game 2018-19: One Month Down

Folks, it’s no longer October.

You can once again begin asking the question “is it October yet?” without facing any legal ramifications, despite the fact that the 2018-19 regular season is very much alive and in effect.

Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone, but for all of you urban legend believers in postseason fate, American Thanksgiving has yet to pass– meaning every team’s playoff hopes is still technically alive. The majority of teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving– in this case, Nov. 22nd– make the playoffs.

If you’re new to hockey, this is a thing, but it’s not set in stone. There’s always that one or two teams that sneak their way in from outside the picture frame. Likewise, there’s always that team that blows it down the stretch.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a hot start, working their way to 1st place in the Atlantic Division by the end of October, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins hot on their tail just as we all expected.

Though the Maple Leafs have a fiery offense and solid goaltending, defense has been the most apparent area for improvement. In Boston, depth scoring, injuries and a slow start in net for Tuukka Rask have held the Bruins back from realizing their full potential, but the depth of their defenders and backup netminder Jaroslav Halak have kept them in good-standing.

In the surprise of the month for the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens sit 4th and the Buffalo Sabres sit 5th– both with 14 points on the season so far. Meanwhile, to no surprise the Ottawa Senators are 6th, the Detroit Red Wings are in a rebuild and the Florida Panthers simply haven’t played as many games as their opponents.

Taking a look at the Metropolitan Division and you won’t be surprised to see the Pittsburgh Penguins back in control with Sidney Crosby at the steering wheel, but you might be surprised by the other current divisional playoff spot holders.

The New York Islanders are 2nd and the Carolina Hurricanes are 3rd after the Hurricanes led the division for most of the month, only to begin a recent skid.

Just on the outskirts of a wild card spot are the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils.

Washington’s off to a slower start than expected, but overall not feeling as bad as a Stanley Cup hangover as it could’ve been– given how many fountains around D.C. they dove in and the number of beers consumed.

Columbus is just over .500 and the Devils have also played fewer games than anyone in their division, much like the Panthers.

The Philadelphia Flyers sit 7th in the Metropolitan Division in a tight race, but have shown weaknesses on the blue line and in the blue paint (goaltending, again) and the New York Rangers are in a full-scale rebuild to start things off this season.

In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are staking a case for defending their President’s Trophy season last year currently sitting atop the Central Division, as well as the league.

Filling out the remaining Central Divisions spots, last season’s biggest improvers, the Colorado Avalanche sit 2nd with the Minnesota Wild in 3rd. There’s two wild card berth in the Central Division, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks(!?!)– that’s right, last season’s division bottom feeders are able to keep their heads barely above the surface with Corey Crawford back in the net.

The Dallas Stars sit 6th and the St. Louis Blues have had the wheels fall off in just a month’s time.

In the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks lead the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights and the 31st place team in the league– the Los Angeles Kings.

Yes, the Pacific Division is that wide-open so far with legitimate playoff contenders from last season (San Jose, Anaheim, Vegas and Los Angeles) all over the place. The Sharks haven’t hit their stride, the Ducks are suffering from injuries and defensive breakdowns, while the Golden Knights are looking for last season’s inaugural season magic.

Oh and the Kings? Yeah, everything’s pretty bad right now and Jonathan Quick‘s out indefinitely.

Meanwhile, pleasant surprises in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona are being led by… youth?

Nothing makes sense anymore.

Luckily, that’s just a quick recap of the first month in about as bland an outlook as you can get when the meat of this post is really about what’s to come. That’s right, everything above? Forget most of it. Let’s use a little foresight and figure out how November through April should go.

2018-19 Projected Standings after One Month

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Boston Bruins, 104 points (12 GP so far)
  2. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 103 points (11 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 94 points (12 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 93 points (11 GP so far)
  5. Florida Panthers, 84 points (9 GP so far)
  6. Ottawa Senators, 84 points (11 GP so far)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 81 points (12 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 76 points (12 GP so far)

What’s bound to happen in the Atlantic?

The forecast is so close between the top-three teams in the division that none of their positions in the standings are truly set in stone, unlike how the Red Wings will undoubtedly land somewhere in the bottom-three spots in the Atlantic.

There’s a chance the Panthers never get off the ground and there’s a chance the Sabres are able to continue turning heads around the league by not currently being in the basement of the division. However, since this forecast takes into consideration recent seasons in addition to current gameplay…

Check back in another month.

(Is it too early to do one of these? Yeah, probably.)

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Washington Capitals, 107 points (10 GP so far)
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 106 points (10 GP so far)
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points (11 GP so far)
  4. wc2- New York Islanders, 89 points (11 GP so far)
  5. Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
  7. New Jersey Devils, 87 points (9 GP so far)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes, 85 points (12 GP so far)

The biggest takeaway from the Metropolitan forecast is after the top-two teams, anything goes.

Washington will be able to right the ship and land in a divisional spot– whether that’s top-dog or behind the Penguins remains to be seen. Columbus should even out as they’ve been doing as of late and settle in for another First Round exit (probably).

But between the Islanders, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Hurricanes? Yeah, anything goes.

The Islanders are better than the Rangers, but the Rangers might somehow be better than the Flyers. Meanwhile, if New Jersey can get things going like they did last season, they’ve got a chance to box out the competition. Plus, Carolina remains unpredictable and foreseeably within striking range of a wild card spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Again, it’s only been one month. There’s still a little more than five months left in the regular season.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 105 points (12 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 100 points (12 GP so far)
  3. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
  4. wc1-St. Louis Blues, 96 points (10 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Winnipeg Jets, 94 points (12 GP so far)
  6. Dallas Stars, 90 points (11 GP so far)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (12 GP so far)

In the Central Division, the Nashville Predators continue to reign supreme. Cool.

Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis are all somehow destined for the postseason. This, after the Wild make it every year, Crawford’s return lifts the Blackhawks over the competition and supposedly the Blues will figure things out.

Wait, the Avalanche can’t be that bad.

Once again, it’s an extremely early forecast that takes into account recency bias from the last few seasons. Colorado won’t be last. Winnipeg shouldn’t be a wild card team.

But Dallas? Yeah, they’re definitely not making the playoffs if they keep playing like they have been.

Pacific Division

  1. y-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (12 GP so far)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
  3. x-Calgary Flames, 89 points (13 GP so far)
  4. Los Angeles Kings, 87 points (11 GP so far)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (14 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (11 GP so far)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 77 points (11 GP so far)
  8. Vegas Golden Knights, 75 points (12 GP so far)

By now everything you’ve read should indicate what’s going to be written below.

San Jose? Good team. No surprise, given Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are on the blue line with Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Evander Kane at forward. Oh and Martin Jones in net.

Anaheim? If they can whether the storm, they can make it in one of the most unpredictable divisions based on how bad the other teams are or should be.

Calgary? Bill Peters finally coaches a team to a playoff berth? Yeah. That should happen.

The Kings can recover from this slow start– if they don’t mess things up in November.

As for the Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes and Golden Knights, well, Vancouver might make some noise. Edmonton could be a pretender as long as Connor McDavid is a contender. Arizona remains to be seen and the situation looks like it’s only going to get worse for Vegas before anything gets better– if it even does.