We’re just over a week into December, I know, but let’s all hop in the time machine and take a retroactive look at how the rest of the season should pan out based on how the league standings were through November 30, 2018.
Things have started to cool in places around the league (like Carolina), while other clubs (like Buffalo) have heated up to become serious playoff contenders– so let’s take a look at how everything should shake out between now and the first couple of weeks of April.
There’s no guarantees with any forecast, but general indications start to get a little clearer once the season’s hit the quarter-mark and American Thanksgiving has come and gone.
Realistically, if your team is anywhere between 1st and 5th in your division, you’re in for the ride of your life still from now through the end of the regular season. If you’re 6th, 7th or 8th, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Draft lottery (plus the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship’s coming up at the end of the month, so that’s exciting too) or about how many games it would take to go on an incredibly hot streak and jump back into the playoff picture.
Without further ado, it’s time to glance around the league and breakdown some of the unforeseen circumstances that are yet to come.
Projected Standings After Two Months
- y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 108 points (26 GP so far)
- x-Boston Bruins, 104 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 101 points (26 GP so far)
- wc1-Buffalo Sabres, 91 points (27 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 91 points (25 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (25 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (24 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 83 points (26 GP so far)
The Tampa Bay Lightning rightfully lay claim to the crown as the leader of the Atlantic Division at regular season’s end. It doesn’t matter that Steven Stamkos has yet to record a point in six career Game 7s. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point on a line of their own. They don’t even need Stamkos.
Just kidding, they still do, because that other No. 91 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason and just think how explosive a playoff matchup of Tampa and Toronto could be in the Battle of John Tavares Signed Where Leafs Fans Wanted Steven Stamkos To Sign Just A Couple Of Offseasons Ago, But Didn’t Because He Stayed With The Lightning.
You know it’s going to happen.
Actually, in the latest forecast entering December, the Boston Bruins slide out of the top spot, because injuries continue to plague their season. However, if they can recover to full health, there’s a good chance they might usurp the Maple Leafs and finish 2nd in the division, unlike what current standings dictate.
But regaining full health is a major stipulation and part of the reason why– while Toronto is 3rd in this forecast– there’s a good chance the Bruins might (probably will) slip further as January’s forecast nears.
This is about the time where it’s important to note the overarching focus on this forecast should be on where each team is positioned and how close in points they are to those above and below before placing any concrete emphasis on how things play out from now through the first week of April 2019.
The Buffalo Sabres make the biggest gain in the Atlantic Division, jumping up four spots in the division standings from the basement to 4th place and a playoff berth (albeit a wild card spot).
The Sabres 10-game winning streak– combined with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner in the offseason– proved to be a season-defining stretch of games as Buffalo returns to Stanley Cup Playoff action for the first time since 2011 (despite the current 0-3-2 run in their last five games).
On the outside looking in, the Montreal Canadiens slipped a spot and might be a pretender– especially if Carey Price (11-8-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage in 23 games played) continues to struggle. To his credit, his GAA is under three now, so there’s that.
The Detroit Red Wings gained some traction with the ongoing lack of focus in Ottawa Senators video reviews and the Florida Panthers injuries.
- p-Washington Capitals, 108 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 99 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 98 points (24 GP so far)
- wc2-New York Rangers, 92 points (26 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 90 points (24 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (25 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (24 GP so far)
- New Jersey Devils, 81 points (24 GP so far)
The Washington Capitals remain in control of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in tow.
Of course, Columbus and Pittsburgh are worth keeping a close eye on as the Blue Jackets have been all over the place near the top and the Penguins have yet to be in playoff position since– actually, pretty much never so far this season.
Plus there’s the whole “second-half of the season surge” we’re still waiting to see from Mike Sullivan’s bunch. That’ll almost assure Pittsburgh of a playoff berth, if not in a divisional spot, at least.
The New York Rangers gained two spots since entering November, which means the rebuild’s over!
Look how close the Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are forecasted to be in points. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance– mathematically speaking, of course.
The battle for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is going to come down to one of the teams in the Big Apple and Carolina, especially since the rest of the division lacks clarity.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are in the dumps. Taylor Hall isn’t a flash in the pan, but the rest of the Devils are, it appears.
- z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (26 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 98 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (24 GP so far)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 93 points (26 GP so far)
- wc2-Dallas Stars, 90 points (26 GP so far)
- St. Louis Blues, 88 points (24 GP so far)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (26 GP so far)
Both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild remain in the 1-2 spots in the latest forecast. Despite the current hot streak from the Calgary Flames, the Predators are going to be the best team in the conference by the end of the regular season.
The Winnipeg Jets are starting to become like the Penguins under Sullivan’s reign in that Paul Maurice is bound to lead his team to a second-half of the season surge into a divisional spot (or higher).
Of course, there’s always a wild card– both in the literal wild card berth and dark horse standpoint– and that’s the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs have a great chance at jumping up into a divisional spot, since they’ve gained three positions from the previous forecast entering November to the current forecast entering December. The fact of the matter is the Avalanche are a playoff contender– like last season– but with the added improvement of having built on last season’s experience.
Then there’s the Dallas Stars, who might find themselves landing in a wild card position by circumstance (have you even seen the Pacific Division?) and by luck in Jim Montgomery’s first season behind the bench.
Towards the cellar of the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are bad, but not as bad as they are currently, which isn’t great news if you’re trying to lose for Jack Hughes.
But if you’re a Blues fan who hates rivals more than losing, there’s a positive takeaway– the Chicago Blackhawks are destined to finished last in the Central. They’re bad. Very bad.
- y-San Jose Sharks, 97 points (26 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 97 points (28 GP so far)
- x-Calgary Flames, 93 points (26 GP so far)
- Vegas Golden Knights, 85 points (27 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (25 GP so far)
- Los Angeles Kings, 79 points (26 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 78 points (24 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 78 points (28 GP so far)
The San Jose Sharks’ grasp on the Pacific Division is loosening as the Anaheim Ducks are heating up as one of the hottest teams out west– and that’s not including the one with fire in their name.
San Jose should– should— hit their stride at some point and have everything click into place, but if they don’t the Ducks are hot on their tail. How close? Close enough to show there’s no difference in their forecast total points in the standings by the end of the regular season.
The Sharks could be first or they could be second. Perhaps the Calgary Flames have something to say about that.
It’s anybody’s game in the Pacific Division playoff berths, but one thing’s for sure, there’s not going to be a wild card team coming out of the Pacific.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, that means they’re really going to have to soar and never let their foot off the gas. Vegas only survived so much without Nate Schmidt in the lineup on their blue line– they can’t afford any more major bumps in the road.
The Edmonton Oilers have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and while they might appear to be gaining ground, they’re sure to be just outside of the playoff window looking in like how Hitchcock’s Stars were last season. Just wait for the implosion.
In the bottom three, the Los Angeles Kings might not be as terrible as they have been if 1) Marco Sturm gets named head coach and Willie Desjardins’ interim basis comes to a close and 2) the Kings light a fire under their grizzled veterans and revive whatever’s left of them this season.
The Arizona Coyotes are on par with how Arizona’s been the last few seasons. Not great, but not terrible and sometimes downtrodden due to injury.
The hype surrounding the Vancouver Canucks in October and early November was just that– hype. No amount of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser can compensate for the holes on the blue line and lack of goaltending. It’s almost as if Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has been living a Groundhog Day career from year-to-year with Vancouver.
Their offense is good, their defense is suspect and their goaltending isn’t starter quality.