Happy Meteorological Spring (and when the time comes, actual Spring too as the Spring Equinox falls on… well, it’s written on the calendar in your office somewhere).
Of course, the only day that really matters in March is the 18th (you thought I was going to say the 17th, but we can’t all pretend to be Irish now, can we?).
If you’re new to the sport, that’s the day the Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the idea of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup back in 1892 and thus the Stanley Cup was first played for and awarded in 1893.
The original Cup resides in an old bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario and was purchased for ten guineas, which was $48.67 at the time or almost $1,400 in contemporary times.
Anyway, March is a pretty important month.
Teams have added or subtracted to their rosters from the trade deadline and are looking to go down the stretch without any additional injuries or worries heading into the postseason (or for some, the offseason).
Feeling lucky? Is this the year your bracket won’t be busted in the First Round? Let the madness begin with a look at the latest standings forecast* across the league based on all 31 NHL teams’ performances through February 28, 2019.
*Standard disclaimer: This forecast is not an exact science, but rather an educated guess among recent and season long trends, with a foundation steeped in recent records over the last few seasons.
In simple terms, just focus on the standing within the division and less on the point spread. A team isn’t eliminated from postseason contention until they are mathematically eliminated.
Anything can still happen (relatively, of course).
Projected Standings After Five Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 121 points (65 games played entering March 1st)
- x-Boston Bruins, 115 points (64 GP)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (64 GP)
- wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 103 points (64 GP)
- wc2-Buffalo Sabres, 90 points (63 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 82 points (63 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 61 points (64 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 60 points (64 GP)
In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still on pace for what could almost be the best regular season in league history. Their franchise record ten-game winning streak was halted by the re-hot Boston Bruins on Feb. 28th.
Tampa should still lock up the division (if not the President’s Trophy) with ease, though they are beatable– as proven by the Bruins recent win (ignoring the back-to-back games), as well as the St. Louis Blues’ 1-0 overtime victory on Feb. 7th (more on the Blues later).
Boston, meanwhile, is surging at the right time. After going 7-7-0 in December and 6-3-3 in January, the B’s went without a regulation loss in the month of February, finishing with an 11-0-2 record.
It was the 9th time in franchise history and first time since November 2011, that the Bruins went without a regulation loss in an entire calendar month.
Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still very alive and well in a divisional spot and for the second straight season appear destined to battle the Bruins in a First Round rematch from last season.
At least one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be filled by an Atlantic Division team– the first of which being the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs are in the hunt and could knock the Maple Leafs out of the last divisional spot with a good run down the stretch, while the second wild card spot is a little harder to project.
It could be the Buffalo Sabres or it could very well be a team that’s surging in the Metropolitan Division.
- y-New York Islanders, 113 points (63 GP)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 101 points (63 GP)
- x-Washington Capitals, 92 points (64 GP)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 89 points (63 GP)
- Pittsburgh Penguins, 87 points (63 GP)
- New York Rangers, 77 points (63 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 74 points (64 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 61 points (64 GP)
John Tavares wasn’t well-received in his first trip back to Long Island since leaving the New York Islanders for the Leafs in free agency last July, however, Barry Trotz has been adored by Isles fans as the coach of the Metropolitan Division’s best team.
Despite adding a lot of firepower leading up to the trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t quite a surefire powerhouse in the division, but they should be good enough for home ice advantage in the First Round and a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals.
It’s a wide-open race for two or three potential playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins all have their sights set on one of two remaining divisional spots or at least one wild card spot in the postseason.
Despite the Capitals edging the Hurricanes and Penguins in this forecast, gut feeling indicates there’s sure to be an upset before the brackets are even finalized.
Carolina is playing really well lately and as those bunch of jerks have shown all season long– you can’t count them out. They also reached 70 points in 61 games played for just the second time in franchise history this season.
The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 season– you know, the one they went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
As for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, well, there’s always a chance things go south for some of the teams ahead of them– except the Rangers are rebuilding and the Flyers have gone zero weeks without an injury to one of the eight goaltenders they’ve used this season.
- y-Winnipeg Jets, 104 points (63 GP)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points (63 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 93 points (66 GP)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (64 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (64 GP)
- Dallas Stars, 84 points (64 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (64 GP)
The Western Conference as a whole has been weaker than the Eastern Conference this season, but no division has been quite as lively as the Central Division.
While the Winnipeg Jets soar into the postseason as the top-team in the Central, the St. Louis Blues are attempting to go from last to first– and then some.
St. Louis might not stop at potentially leading the Central Division by the time the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin– they could just very well go on to win the Cup. The Blues are that hot.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators added a lot of grit leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Cody McLeod, Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to bolster their crunch to go along with new addition, Mikael Granlund‘s scoring ability.
Anyway, they’ve been slipping as of late and appear destined to miss out on home ice advantage in what will likely be a First Round matchup with St. Louis.
Finally, one of the Western wild cards will surely come from the Central Division teams. Whether that’s the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars will depend on how hot Colorado’s first line is and/or how injured the Wild and Stars are.
Kudos to the Chicago Blackhawks for setting the second half of the season ablaze, though not nearly as mightily as the Blues have, but they’ll still end up last in the Central, but about mid-pack league-wide.
- z-Calgary Flames, 111 points (64 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 107 points (64 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (65 GP)
- wc2-Arizona Coyotes, 91 points (64 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 88 points (65 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (64 GP)
- Anaheim Ducks, 75 points (64 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 68 points (64 GP)
In the most disappointing division of the season, the Calgary Flames have risen a cut above the rest in the West. Not only do they look to lead the conference, but they look to do so in style.
The Flames are a team that’s destined for a deeper run than just a First or Second Round exit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how much will recent playoff experience for the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights play into Calgary’s chances of going far?
Vegas hasn’t been as dominant as they were in their inaugural season, however the Sharks have also had a few slip ups in the last month.
Both teams are looking like they’ll meet in the First Round– a round sooner than their Second Round matchup last postseason. It’s a rematch for the ages for the Golden Knights, as the young franchise looks to continue to add to the nearly 30 years of dismal playoff failure for San Jose.
One of the biggest– and most pleasant– surprises in the Western Conference? The Arizona Coyotes.
The team is destined for a wild card spot this season and just might spoil the party for more than just who they cut out of the playoff picture.
For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a battle until the end. They might make it, they might not, but next season should be better– just stay the course.
And if you’re the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and/or the Los Angeles Kings, you’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason.