Happy New Year!
It’s time to figure out whether or not your team has a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup, making the playoffs, being a seller at the trade deadline or a basement dwelling rebuilder in desperate need of anything but what is happening right now.
Teams have begun to reach the official halfway point in the regular season (41 games played out of an 82-game schedule) as the calendar flips from 2018 to 2019.
Here’s a glance at the latest forecast based on how the league standings were through December 31, 2018.
Keeping in mind, there’s no guarantees with any forecast, but rather general trends and “educated” guesses. It’s not always about the exact number of points expected on the season. Sometimes the focus is on the spread or each team’s positioning in the standings.
There’s always context. Plus, nothing’s impossible until it’s mathematically impossible.
So let’s take a look around the league and figure out the future– well, rest of this season, at least.
Projected Standings After Three Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 125 points (40 GP entering Jan. 1st)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 111 points (39 GP)
- x-Boston Bruins, 98 points (39 GP)
- wc2-Montreal Canadiens, 97 points (40 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 96 points (40 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (38 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (41 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 72 points (40 GP)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the dominant team in the NHL right now. There’s no other comparison. They’re in a league of their own.
Though the Toronto Maple Leafs have surged into one of the league’s most prominent teams this season, they’re no match for the Lightning in the regular season standings Atlantic Division race.
The postseason might be another story– too bad we won’t get to see these teams meet up in the Eastern Conference Final with the current playoff format.
For the Boston Bruins, a lackluster 7-7-0 month of December has taken a toll on their outlook. Sure, winning five out of their last seven games is a good sign and all, but missed opportunities and blown chances regardless of the injury status of many of their players this season has brought them back to Earth this season.
Regression in hockey, however, is to be expected– even for teams that outperformed expectations. Last season was just that– exceeded expectations in the regular season for Boston.
How will Bruce Cassidy jumpstart scoring depth throughout his lineup if General Manager Don Sweeney doesn’t do anything to add? Time will tell.
But they’re running out of time as long as Claude Julien and Phil Housley are in consideration for some Jack Adams Award nominations.
Though the Buffalo Sabres have slumped a bit in the last month, the Montreal Canadiens have solidified themselves as a potential spoiler in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If it’s not them, it’s definitely Buffalo for sure.
The race for the Eastern Conference wild card spots should come down to three teams– Buffalo, Montreal and the New York Islanders (unless the Islanders snag a divisional spot in the Metropolitan Divsion– more on that later).
Look, as good as some players on the Florida Panthers are, it’s not happening this year.
And for all the hype regarding the Detroit Red Wings early in the season? Yeah, it’s the same as last year. They’re not doing so hot either.
There’s some good news if you’re an Ottawa Senators fan– wait, they traded their 2019 1st round pick in the draft to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the three-team Matt Duchene trade and didn’t protect it (because they chose to protect 2018’s 1st round pick and offer up 2019’s instead)? Oh. Never mind.
- y-Washington Capitals, 109 points (38 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 103 points (39 GP)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points (39 GP)
- wc1-New York Islanders, 98 points (38 GP)
- New York Rangers, 90 points (38 GP)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 80 points (38 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 80 points (38 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 78 points (38 GP)
As we get closer to “the stretch” things are heating up in the Metropolitan Division, which might not be as full of garbage as once thought earlier in the year.
For now, the Washington Capitals appear to be in a serious “defend the castle” mood. They’re the defending champions and they’re pretty hard to beat.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins are surging. The Pens are on a seven-game winning streak and they’re outscoring their opponents, 28-9, during that span.
What’s necessary to take into account in the divisional spots in the Metropolitan Division is not that the Capitals should lead the way, but rather, that Washington only has a six-point lead in the current forecast over the Penguins– and seven points over the Columbus Blue Jackets (who somehow find themselves in the “top dog” conversation?)– therefore, anything is up for grabs.
If the Islanders don’t scratch and claw their way into a divisional spot, they’ll be a wild card team.
It’s not a completely lost season for the New York Rangers, but it’s not one that’ll end with a playoff berth either.
The same could almost be said for the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, except one’s a little more inconsistent (and worse off), while the other’s just worse.
Sure, the Devils are nowhere to be found this season, but Mackenzie Blackwood could change that outlook next year.
And if Carter Hart‘s ready to take on the full-time role of starting netminder for the Philadelphia Flyers that probably wouldn’t do much for them this season, but it’s promising moving forward.
This year’s Flyers team just goes to show that the problem’s beyond a GM and coaching change, so don’t be surprised to see some roster turnover.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 107 points (39 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 96 points (40 GP)
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 91 points (40 GP)
- wc2-Dallas Stars, 89 points (40 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 87 points (38 GP)
- St. Louis Blues, 81 points (37 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 77 points (41 GP)
The Winnipeg Jets are one of two teams in serious contention for the Western Conference regular season title– and the Nashville Predators won’t even get to raise a banner next season for it.
Nashville’s been on shaky ground for the last month and, as a result, it shows in the latest forecast. Inadequacy ruptures standards or expectations.
Anyway, between Winnipeg and the Calgary Flames one of those teams will be the best in the West at the end of the regular season.
It says something as a whole about the Central Division when the Colorado Avalanche are currently forecasted to slip into a divisional spot in the postseason with 91 points in the standings.
Usually about 95 points puts you within the wild card range and anything 98 or above brings you into serious contention for a divisional berth.
What all of this means is there’s a lot of uncertainty from the Avs, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild in terms of where they end up, ultimately.
All three teams have been all over the place– at times– this season.
Fear not, though, they’re nothing like the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Nothing makes sense in St. Louis, short of obvious locker room problems and a lack of leadership.
Whereas, in Chicago, the game plan was already reset to “longterm” last season by default (having finished last in the division). Jeremy Colliton‘s job security is safe for now.
There weren’t high expectations coming into the season for the Blackhawks and there weren’t immediate expectations for Colliton in their transition from Joel Quenneville to their 33-year-old head coach.
Essentially, firing Quenneville when they did was an easy way out of having to make things more awkward(?) with a rebuild, but it kind of was anyway given when they did it.
At least they’re not their rivals in St. Louis– let alone the Los Angeles Kings– where expectations were high after reaping some rewards in the offseason.
- y-Calgary Flames, 103 points (40 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (42 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 98 points (41 GP)
- wc1-Anaheim Ducks, 92 points (41 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 83 points (42 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (39 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 76 points (39 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 75 points (40 GP)
The Flames are red hot. Can they make 2019 more like 1989 and less like 2004? Does having a goaltender even matter any more?
Luck’s starting to turn in Vegas as the Golden Knights have come alive and look to make a serious claim at potentially knocking Calgary off from the Pacific Division lead– if they can catch them first.
Despite their ups and downs, the San Jose Sharks are still a divisional playoff berth kind of team. Expect them to be out of the playoffs before the Western Conference Final though. Surely Martin Jones‘ below average season has to catch up to him at some point, regardless of scoring power.
With no real competition below them, the Anaheim Ducks are a wild card team that will likely continue to live in the First Round elimination hell until John Gibson single handedly plays every position for the club.
The Vancouver Canucks have Elias Pettersson and look ready to bring up Thatcher Demko for a full-time role in net, so it’s kind of on, but a little late. Next season!
Everyone said Ken Hitchcock would turn around the Edmonton Oilers and was dancing in the streets when his first half-dozen games brought the Oilers back into being relevant.
Well, everyone, except me. Hitchcock’s shtick isn’t fit for the contemporary NHL anymore and his last (and only) Cup win came 20 years ago.
Sure he might impart some lessons on leadership, but as long as Peter Chiarelli is trading away Drake Caggiula for Brandon Manning and ensuring guys like Milan Lucic are part of the longterm vision…
The Arizona Coyotes haven’t panned out and it’s not the numbers that have been lying to them. Dylan Strome, their 3rd overall pick in 2015, didn’t develop as planned– whether through the fault of the Coyotes or not– and they traded him.
That draft was four years ago and Mitch Marner was selected after Strome by the Maple Leafs. Hindsight is 20/20, but still.
If it’s any consolation, Mikko Rantanen was selected by Colorado, 10th overall, so Carolina, New Jersey, Philly, Columbus and San Jose all missed out on one of the current leaders in scoring.
Scouting’s not Arizona’s strong-suit from year-to-year, or rather, asset management as a whole it’s just… …not there.
Finally, Los Angeles, the Grim Reaper’s at the door. Bring out your dead (Cup hopes and dreams for 2019). It’s time to rebuild.