The Toronto Maple Leafs finally did the thing! Congrats to the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class and taking a look at who might join them in 2020.
Zdeno Chara surpassed 1,500 career games, Claude Julien reached 1,200 games behind the bench, the Toronto Maple Leafs are facing injuries and backup goaltender struggles, Taylor Hall reportedly won’t sign an extension with the New Jersey Devils, the 2019 NHL Global Series happened and the 2020 NHL Global Series was announced.
For the first time this season, the calendar is flipped to a new month– and with a new month comes new expectations.
All 31 National Hockey League teams are starting to find a rhythm– for better or worse– and it’s time to acknowledge the general trends of what to expect based on what’s already happened for the first 1/8th of the season (approximately).
American Thanksgiving is still around the corner, which means that any team in a playoff position by Nov. 28th is more likely to qualify for the playoffs by April 4th.
There’s enough time between now and then for a lot to change.
As always, that means it’s time for a new forecast based on what we’ve seen so far and what we may see in the future.
In other words, here’s an educated guess based on a formulaic approach thanks to the wonderful world of spreadsheets.
This isn’t an exact science. It takes into account everything from the last few seasons, as well as every little detail through the end of Oct. 31, 2019.
Anything can happen. It’s a long road to April.
Projected Standings After One Month
- p-Boston Bruins, 110 points (12 games played entering November 1st)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (12 GP)
- x-Montreal Canadiens, 92 points (13 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 91 points (13 GP)
- Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points (14 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 82 points (13 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 79 points (13 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 74 points (11 GP)
The Boston Bruins are off to a hot start thanks to Tuukka Rask’s stellar goaltending (6-0-1 record, 1.42 goals against average, .951 save percentage in seven games played) and David Pastrnak’s hot stick (12-12–24 totals in 12 games played).
Bruce Cassidy’s leadership behind the bench has steered the B’s away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance hangover and towards another playoff berth for what would be the fourth year in-a-row.
Meanwhile, after a slow start to their season, Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay Lightning casually waltz into home ice advantage in at least the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Claude Julien re-enters the postseason frame with the Montreal Canadiens as if it’s 2004 again (granted, Julien and the Habs made it in 2017, but only after Julien replaced Michel Therrien as head coach for the second time).
Joel Quenneville’s first season as head coach of the Florida Panthers led to an improvement, but not quite enough to get them back into the postseason, while another Stanely Cup winning coach took his team in a different direction.
That coach is Mike Babcock and that team is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who trudged through the middle of the road all season and ended up just outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (unless Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan decide to stray from the “Shanaplan”).
Though the Buffalo Sabres are hot right now, it seems history repeats itself. Buffalo’s great October, November and/or December wasn’t enough to sustain themselves through the winer months of January, February and March, but overall the team improved and should be a playoff contender next season.
At least the Sabres aren’t the Detroit Red Wings (still a few years away from being a contender) or the Ottawa Senators (they say they’ll spend money in 2021, but…).
- y-Washington Capitals, 110 points (14 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points (13 GP)
- x-New York Islanders, 95 points (11 GP)
- wc1-Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points (12 GP)
- wc2-Columbus Blue Jackets, 91 points (12 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (11 GP)
- New York Rangers, 87 points (10 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 81 points (10 GP)
Alex Ovechkin continues his annual quest for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and likely succeeds unless Pastrnak has anything to say about it.
In the meantime, the Washington Capitals continue to take home the regular season crown in the Metropolitan Division because somehow they always seem to do that no matter the postseason outcome.
The Pittsburgh Penguins avoid major missteps without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for most of October due to injury and turned things on for the duration of the second half of the season as they always do, yielding 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division.
Barry Trotz’s leadership with the New York Islanders has keep things tight-knit and playoff bound, but unless every 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff home game for the Isles is played at NYCB Live/Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, then it’s not worth it.
Rod Brind’Amour is the best coach for the Carolina Hurricanes and he continues to climb the ranks of “best head coaches in franchise history” with another wild card appearance, at least, and what should be yet another thrilling playoff run for the Canes.
Meanwhile, somehow the Columbus Blue Jackets pieced together enough wins to snag the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference before bowing out in the First Round due to a lack of depth.
Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are all near the bottom of the division, but only with a few points spread between them– meaning that anything after 1st or 2nd place in the division is realistically up for grabs as long as a team goes on a perfectly timed run.
- z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (13 GP)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (13 GP)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 93 points (13 GP)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (12 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (11 GP)
- Dallas Stars, 86 points (14 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (13 GP)
In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are going to pounce on the competition as the leaders of the West in the regular season. The only trouble is, they still might blow it in the last second of overtime or something.
The defending champion St. Louis Blues are content to finish 2nd in the Central Division, but remain hungry in their quest for another Cup.
After a slow start to the season, Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets somehow right the ship and earned themselves the last divisional spot in the Central Division.
But the Colorado Avalanche hold a wild card spot in the latest forecast as the real wild card of the entire Western Conference. Injuries could hold them back in the regular season, but they’ve shown they can make noise in the playoffs last spring.
Otherwise, if the Avs can stay healthy for longer periods of time, then Colorado could climb in the standings.
Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks are still trending in the wrong direction– facing the existential crisis of holding onto the old guard or continuing to dismantle their Cup-winning core– while the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild compete for the worst of the former and/or current Minnesota franchises this season.
Spoiler alert, it’s the Wild.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (14 GP)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (14 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 92 points (13 GP)
- wc2-Calgary Flames, 91 points (15 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 89 points (12 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (14 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 82 points (12 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 82 points (13 GP)
Nothing is going how things were expected to go in the Pacific Division and as a result, there’s still no conclusive results.
The Vegas Golden Knights are good and could likely win the Pacific Division regular season title, but the Anaheim Ducks aren’t bowing out of playoff contention just yet.
Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks are as bad as the Los Angeles Kings, so this forecast will be further fine-tuned next month as the Sharks continue to slip from dominant to dormant in the standings.
The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers all might take a stab at playoff contention, yet the Arizona Coyotes are on the rise.
At the very least, this is the most unpredictable division in the league that not even our current forecast can make any definitive claims.
Check back next month for further separation in the spread, as well as a more realistic view of where each team should likely land within the range of standings.
San Jose Sharks
46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division
Eliminated in the Western Conference Final by St. Louis
Additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, D Trevor Carrick (acquired from CAR), D Nicolas Meloche (acquired from COL), D Dalton Prout
Subtractions: F Joonas Donskoi (signed with COL), F Micheal Haley (signed to a PTO with NYR), F Jonathon Martin (signed with Tucson, AHL), F Gustav Nyquist (signed with CBJ), F Joe Pavelski (signed with DAL), F Francis Perron (traded to VAN), F Tom Pyatt (SHL), F Alex Schoenborn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Justin Braun (traded to PHI), D Michael Brodzinski (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Cody Donaghey (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Cavan Fitzgerald (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Joakim Ryan (signed with LAK), D Kyle Wood (re-signed, then traded to CAR), G Antoine Bibeau (traded to COL)
Still Unsigned: F Rourke Chartier, F Tim Clifton
Re-signed: F Kevin Labanc, F Maxim Letunov, F Timo Meier, F Antti Suomela, F Joe Thornton, D Nick DeSimone, D Tim Heed
Offseason Analysis: After making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016, the San Jose Sharks were looking to capitalize on their momentum from their miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their First Round matchup.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, sometimes injuries pile up and get in the way of forward progress.
Though they lost to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final, the mere fact San Jose made it that far after nearly blowing it against Vegas is impressive– especially considering how close of a series their Second Round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche was, which also went seven games.
Whether they were exhausted from multiple overtimes, one long series after another, the Sharks found themselves with a longer than anticipated offseason to rest and recover.
In the meantime, General Manager, Doug Wilson, had his work cut out for him.
Wilson signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension worth $11.500 million per season, making Karlsson the highest paid defender in the league.
The Sharks GM also managed to re-sign 22-year-old star in the making, Timo Meier, to a four-year contract worth $6.000 million per season. By the end of the deal, Meier will still have one year of restricted free agency left, which really speaks to the fact that it’s a great– team friendly– extension at an affordable price with the future in mind.
Last season, Meier had 30-36–66 totals in 78 games. He had 21 goals and 15 assists (36 points) in his first full season (81 games played) in 2017-18.
But the cost of re-signing key pieces of San Jose’s core comes with a price– losing depth.
First, Joe Pavelski priced himself out of the Sharks, in part, thanks to his consistent scoring and 38 goals last season at 35-years-old, as well as San Jose’s cap crunch thanks to Karlsson’s pay raise.
Pavelski signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $7.000 million per season, but it’s not about the money for San Jose (even though it was)– it’s about having to make up for a 38-goal deficit heading into this season.
Second, to get themselves squared away with the salary cap, Wilson had to move one of his durable top-four defenders via a trade, sending Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 18th for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.
Trading Braun left Wilson with no choice but to sign Dalton Prout as a cheap replacement and to perform this season’s Micheal Haley duties. Haley, himself, signed a PTO with the New York Rangers in hopes of filling New York’s Cody McLeod/Tanner Glass role opening.
On the plus side, the Sharks will be able to replenish their pool of prospects with the transaction. On the other hand, Braun was a versatile component when others (like Karlsson) were injured.
Even with the additional $3.800 million addition in cap space, San Jose was not able to convince Joonas Donskoi to stay in town, regardless of whether or not Wilson had any plans for the top-nine forward.
Instead, Donskoi joined the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal worth $3.900 million per season– providing both job security and a chance to win the Cup, since the Avs are on the rise.
Sharks fans were hoping to see a reunion of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton back on the same team, but Wilson guaranteed Marleau wouldn’t be signed as long as Thornton was back for his 22nd season in the National Hockey League.
The good news? “Jumbo Joe” isn’t going anywhere– take that Father Time!
The bad news? Marleau isn’t going anywhere in free agency (yet) either.
It’s a good move for the Sharks though, as their younger players did exactly what Wilson explained– they played better and worked their way up the lineup to where Marleau had been prior to his departure to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.
San Jose has something special in Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and even Dylan Gambrell, meanwhile Logan Couture was named captain in wake of Pavelski’s departure– fully cementing the Logan Couture Era legacy in Sharks history.
Head coach, Peter DeBoer, will have a lot of leadership in the dressing room to rely on with Couture as captain and Karlsson, Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns serving as alternate captains throughout the season.
Offseason Grade: C-
Considering Karlsson’s cap hit, it would’ve been a “D+” if it weren’t for the redeeming qualities of Meier’s contract. Other than that, the Sharks are destined to be a divisional berth in the Pacific Division as recent history has dictated, but they don’t seem to have what it takes on paper to be leapfrogging over the competition.
Oh, and there’s the near 3.00 goals against average of both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to consider from last season. That’s terrible for a team with or without Karlsson and Burns on the defense.
48-26-8, 104 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Carolina
Additions: F Garnet Hathaway, F Brendan Leipsic, F Philippe Maillet, F Richard Panik, D Radko Gudas (acquired from PHI)
Subtractions: F Riley Barber (signed with MTL), F Mathias Bau (EBEL), F Andre Burakovsky (traded to COL), F Brett Connolly (signed with FLA), F Hampus Gustafsson (SHL), F Dmitrij Jaskin (KHL), F Jayson Megna (signed with COL), F Mason Mitchell (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Devante Smith-Pelly (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Nathan Walker (signed with STL), D Aaron Ness (signed with ARI), D Matt Niskanen (traded to PHI), D Brooks Orpik (retired), G Parker Milner (signed with Hershey, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Scott Kosmachuk (rights acquired from COL)
Re-signed: F Chandler Stephenson, F Jakub Vrana, D Christian Djoos, D Colby Williams, G Vitek Vanecek
Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals have earned themselves a little grace period after winning the Cup in 2018, but don’t let that fool you from some of the poor choices they made this offseason.
Whether or not they would’ve had the money to keep Brett Connolly from joining the Florida Panthers in free agency after posting a career year with 22-24–46 totals in 81 games is besides the point.
The Caps made a lot of odd decisions.
For starters, they signed Garnet Hathaway (19 points in 76 games for Calgary last season), Brendan Leipsic (23 points in 62 games with Vancouver and Los Angeles) and Richard Panik (33 points in 75 gamed for Arizona).
Sure, Hathaway and Panik are durable top-nine forwards that are likely to see an increase in their offensive numbers by virtue of being on the same team as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but to have them for four years as your mid-range forwards with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller might just catch up to you at some point.
At least Leipsic has always been in demand on waivers and is a good option to plug somewhere in the lineup or send down to the Hershey Bears (AHL).
Meanwhile, Capitals General Manager, Brian MacLellan, worked the phones this summer to trade Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas in a one-for-one swap and dealt Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for Scott Kosmachuk (unsigned), a 2020 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.
It might seem like an overpay for Avalanche GM, Joe Sakic, but Burakovsky’s looking to prove himself in the biggest role he’s ever had and it wouldn’t hurt Washington to restock their prospect pool as a result.
In the meantime, Gudas is almost assured of doing something to yield a suspension, which may or may not hurt the Capitals more than Evgeny Kuznetsov’s three-game suspension to start the regular season may already do.
Kuznetsov was suspended by the league for “inappropriate conduct”, in which he failed a drug test and was banned from international competition by the International Ice Hockey Federation for four years.
The NHL, on the other hand, doesn’t have a policy for testing positive for cocaine.
Washington’s head coach, Todd Reirden, is entering his second season at the reigns behind the bench and has plenty of fresh faces to utilize in effort to avoid another seven-game First Round elimination at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Don’t get too comfortable in Washington as Braden Holtby is due for an extension by season’s end or else he may walk in free agency.
Offseason Grade: D+
The Capitals could contend for another Cup in the next few years or they could continue to slide towards irrelevancy faster than the current trend the Pittsburgh Penguins are on.
Neither fan base wants to hear that, let alone be compared to one another in such a similar manner, but it’s true. None of their free agent additions even remotely scream “decent depth signing” or anything.