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NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

Numbers Game: 2020-21 Season Standings Projections

As the calendar flipped from 2020 to 2021 at midnight while New Year’s Eve turned into New Year’s Day, the ongoing global pandemic continued without a second thought despite the world’s optimism for the New Year and, thus, shifted the 2020-21 National Hockey League season into an abbreviated 56-game schedule from Jan. 13th through the first week of May.

Usually, it’d be fine to present divisional projections in accordance with a normal 82-game expected points total formula, but the aforementioned 56-game season schedule would render those numbers inaccurate from the beginning.

82 games is 26 games too many this season.

It would be fine to run a “what if the 2020-21 season were a regular-length season?” piece, but it’s more fun to tackle a challenge when everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Seriously, don’t look into this too much unless you’re an employee of a team looking to hire someone right now, in which case please ignore the “C” I had in Intro to Stats in college.

Anyway, I’ve taken the liberties of calculating what an 82-game 2020-21 season would’ve looked like, then based the projections for what the 56-game 2020-21 season could look like using this little thing called “pace”.

That’s right. Points pace.

You know, like “if a team earned two points with a win in their first game in an 82-game season, they’d be on a 164-point pace for the season”.

In actuality, the team could go 3-6-1 over their first ten games, yielding seven points on the season through that span and being on a 57.4-point pace over the course of an 82-game season.

If this is too much math you can just tell me to shut up and get to the graphs.

For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things might go in each division for the upcoming 2020-21 season.

Starting with the NHL’s all-Canadian North Division for the 2020-21 regular season, there’s a few things that jump out immediately as a result of the current projections.

Did realignment have any impact on what the projections look like?

No. For the record, this season’s temporary realignment had no impact on any of the divisions other than how they’re organized.

Instead of seeing the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division, the Winnipeg Jets in the Central Division and the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division– they’re all just in the same division.

The expected points total is calculated by first adding marginal goals for and marginal goals against, then multiplying that result by league points per goal.

Divide the number of points expected based on the formula’s derived for what an 82-game season in 2020-21 would’ve looked like by 82 games, then multiply that result by 56 (the number of games in actuality for 2020-21) and you get… …the same exact results you would’ve had for each team if the divisions hadn’t been realigned.

So Montreal would’ve still had an expected points total of 52 points regardless of being in the Atlantic Division or North Division.

The schedule plays no impact on the expected points model.

So every team is just going to earn about a point-a-game?

Not necessarily.

Either all the Canadian teams are playing at about the same level of intensity, which makes for great parity– especially in a division solely comprised of Canadian market clubs.

Or they just would’ve been wherever they would’ve been within their own usual division, but when they’re thrown together it looks… …worse?

In a non-pandemic timeline, the Canadian clubs would be scattered all over the standings with the Oilers competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights, while the Senators would likely be bottom dwellers in the Atlantic.

With the all-Canadian North Division, the best teams could really run away with things or all seven teams could eat each other alive in the division.

What’s the good news then?

At least one Canadian team will make it into the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal, since the first two rounds will be intra-divisional matchups.

Under the current projection, Winnipeg would face Vancouver in the First Round, while Edmonton would take on Toronto in the First Round.

In the West Division, the Colorado Avalanche are the team to beat. The Avs are hungry to avenge their Second Round exit against the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they can stay healthy and bring the Cup back to Denver for the first time since 2001.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues might have some questions surrounding their goaltending, but the additions of Mike Hoffman and Torey Krug greatly outweigh the subtraction of Alex Pietrangelo– at least when it comes to regular season production.

In terms of experience and leadership, the Vegas Golden Knights picked up Pietrangelo’s talents via free agency and should be in contention for home ice advantage if they’re able to overcome St. Louis’ projected standing.

What about the meat of the order?

Both the Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes are in a lot better shape than the Californian hockey teams.

The Wild have Kaapo Kähkönen coming down the pipeline in the crease and depending on how soon he can arrive might influence their final standing compared to Arizona.

Whereas Minnesota must rely on aging veterans, Cam Talbot and Alex Stalock in net, the Coyotes have Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta– a serviceable tandem for Arizona’s needs.

Mikko Koivu was sent out to find a new home as an influx of youth should make the Wild more competitive, but how much will Arizona’s playoff experience play into their drive for making at least another First Round appearance this season– despite losing Carl Söderberg in free agency to the Chicago Blackhawks and trading Derek Stepan to the Ottawa in the offseason.

Time will tell.

Is this the weakest division?

The all-Canadian North Division has the advantage of playing each other and sorting things out themselves instead of spreading their Canadian talents (or lack thereof depending on the team) throughout the league, so yes, the West Division is likely the weakest.

The Los Angeles Kings have some growing pains and salary cap hell to sort out. The Anaheim Ducks are a young team that’s finding their chemistry and building their experience, but are one or two years away from playoff contention.

Finally, the San Jose Sharks have an ever-regressing duo of Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk in the crease to go along with whatever’s left on their blue line that’s not named Brent Burns and (a supposedly 100% healthy) Erik Karlsson.

At least the Sharks brought back Patrick Marleau (third time’s a charm) and other than that, they don’t have that bad of a forward group.

In the 2012-13 lockout shortened 48-game season, 20 out of the league’s then 30 teams at the time finished with at least 49 points or more in the season.

The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks finished 19 points away from a perfect 96-point season– amassing 77 points in 48 games with a 36-7-5 record.

Chicago is going through a rebuild without Jonathan Toews for possibly an extended period of time and with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia in the crease.

The good news? They’ll likely end up with a solid lottery pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

The bad news? They’re not going to find themselves having a repeat of their 2013 Stanley Cup championship.

Will any team from the Central Division be like those 2012-13 Blackhawks though?

It’s funny that you ask, because the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning would have to win at least 75% of their games if they want to be anything like the 2012-13 Blackhawks.

Whereas Chicago won 36 out of 48, Tampa would have to win 42 out of 56 games.

It’s not that the Lightning can’t reach 84 points in the 2020-21 season– especially since the Blackhawks almost reached 80 in a shorter span, but rather how good will the rest of the Central Division be and how will the intra-divisional games only schedule impact, well, everything?

Tampa is projected as the regular season division winners with 66 points on the season.

The formula doesn’t take into account the loss of Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette in a trade with the Senators or the loss of Nikita Kucherov for the regular season due to an injury.

It doesn’t take into consideration the intra-divisional schedule, other injuries that are sure to occur, transactions, acts of The Hockey Gods, etc.

The 2012-13 Blackhawks had the advantage of facing mostly regular opponents over 48 games, then progressing through the old format of the playoffs where teams were seeded 1-8 among six divisions of five teams.

Tampa just has to be one of the top-four teams in their division over 56 games against all too familiar faces from night-to-night, then emerge victorious out of the Central to defend their title.

Anything is possible.

Can the Florida Panthers really be a playoff team?

Yes, the expected points model seems to indicate that the Florida Panthers were pretty good at finding the net in the regular season last year and that they should improve their standing, at least.

It doesn’t, however, determine whether or not Sergei Bobrovsky returns to form in quality starts, shutouts, etc.

New Panthers General Manager, Bill Zito, has added Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas to the blue line, as well as Anthony Duclair and Patric Hörnqvist to the forwards, so they should definitely be harder to play than in years past.

Gut feeling says three-time Stanley Cup champion head coach, Joel Quenneville, can make something more out of the pieces he’s been handed this season than in 2019-20.

Are the Detroit Red Wings really that bad?

No, but they didn’t do themselves any favors when it comes to utilizing last season’s data for determining this season’s expected points total.

Marginal goals for and marginal goals against can be a cruel animal, but it’s one of the best things to take into account of recency bias.

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman added Vladislav Namestnikov, Bobby Ryan, Marc Staal, Troy Stecher, Jon Merrill, Alex Biega and Thomas Greiss to his team, so they won’t at least be intentional pushovers like last season.

The loss of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug in the offseason for the Boston Bruins comes with a price– having to face Chara eight times in the regular season, then possibly Krug and the St. Louis Blues in a 2019 Stanley Cup Final rematch in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Just kidding, the window appears mostly shut in the Hub.

It’s not that Boston can’t win, but rather that they have a bit of an uphill battle to get there.

Yes, their defense is younger, but it’s also more inexperienced. Yes, they added Craig Smith for goal scoring power, but it’s no Mike Hoffman.

At least David Pastrnak is looking to make a return ahead of schedule from his offseason surgery, but don’t be fooled by their six-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the East Division projection.

Every second matters in a 56-game season. If they get off to a rocky start, they risk going from a surefire playoff contender (for at least another year or two) to missing out on the 2021 postseason.

The Buffalo Sabres added Taylor Hall, what gives?

Again, if you haven’t learned by now, expected points totals do not take signing the 2017-18 Hart Memorial Trophy winner to a one-year, $8.000 million contract into account.

Hall could be the winger Jack Eichel needs to convince him not to ask for a trade request as much as Eichel could be what Hall needs for a little rejuvenation and to be convinced to stay longer in his reunion with Sabres head coach, Ralph Krueger.

No matter what, though, the addition of Eric Staal and more in Buffalo means there’s sure to be improvement this season.

If it was the regular Atlantic Division, the Sabres might be looking at a wild card situation.

But since it’s the temporarily realigned East Division for 2020-21, yeah, there’s a lot more harder competition. Take the Hall pass and try again next season (maybe you’ll get the 1st overall pick).

Explain to me how the New York Rangers and New York Islanders miss the playoffs?

This one is fairly simple.

The East Division is just six teams out of the regular Metropolitan Division, plus the Bruins (pretty good) and Sabres (pretty bad).

As such, it’s almost as if nothing ever happened in terms of the compete level of the overall division, but the playoff format yields only the top-four teams from each division for 2020-21.

Instead of getting, say, seven Metropolitan teams (impossible, yes, but let’s pretend) in the upcoming postseason, you can only have four.

If the B’s are taking one of those spots like they are in this projection, that limits the usual Metropolitan contenders to three leftover playoff berths.

If anything, the Pittsburgh Penguins are at the greatest risk of sliding out of the postseason picture with Tristan Jarry as their starting goaltender and Casey DeSmith as their backup after trading Matt Murray to Ottawa in the offseason.

That’s good news for the Islanders, probably, though the Rangers have more talent on paper (especially if Mathew Barzal isn’t re-signed when the puck drops on Jan. 13th).


So that’s it.

If you’ve made it this far and read every word– congrats, it’s probably time for puck drop already. Surely the calendar must read Jan. 13th by now and you can get back to watching that game you just tuned into.

Stay tuned for more forecasts and (un)related things that don’t have anything to do with expected points totals.

By Nick Lanciani

I have a degree in communication and yet I cannot find the words for this bio. Anyway, I write stuff on Down the Frozen River and Couch Guy Sports, make podcasts and apply to jobs for a living when I'm not painting something cool to distract myself from my unemployment.