A new day is upon us. Again. Hope springs eternal in Buffalo (at least until the seasons begin), but this year feels different. I don’t know if it’s the luck of the lottery balls, or the shedding of a few old pieces, or the rise of the kids — something is going to break in favor of the Sabres this year. It’s about time, dontcha think?
Then again, I feel like I say this every year, so my expectations are low. Indeed, the point of this post is to make another set of wildly inaccurate predictions for the final standings of the 2018-19 NHL season. I wasn’t particularly close last year, but that never stops me from trying again. At least this year, I waited until the preseason was finished — many a game-changing performance or injury is “accounted for” here, so these should be closer to right, right? Without further ado or opining, here they are:
Like last year, I reset the teams to normal by inverting their PDO number, and a rough estimate of the point effects of man-games lost to injury. From there, I added a coefficient based on my impression of their offseason moves, and finally a gut fudge factor, wherein I basically ignored everything that came before it and set the team’s points based on how close or far off I thought the previous output point total was. It’s an extremely effective method, and is sure to be fool proof.
Obviously, hockey is just about entirely random. Injuries can affect the same team twice in a row; PDO can also remain sky high for just about no reason. And of course, unproven players can have a massive effect on a team’s fortunes. When you’ve got a whole roster of unproven guys, you just might go to the Stanley Cup Final against literally all odds.
Now, how to justify this? Let’s go down the list, starting in the East.
I don’t know that the Maple Leafs are truly the best team in the Eastern Conference, but that offensive firepower is scary. The Lightning follow up closely, and it’s sure to be these two fighting for tops in the Atlantic all year. The Panthers are a team on the rise, and the efforts of last year’s second half showed they can compete when needed; I have them surpassing an aging Bruins team that didn’t do much this offseason. Also I want that intra-Florida first round series so bad. In the Metro, I am going with a dark horse Philadelphia team to win the division. Praise be to our lord Gritty. The Capitals’ Stanley Cup hangover will follow them a bit, but they’ll finish second ahead of a Pittsburgh team that, like Boston, seemed to get worse this offseason. Finally, I’ve heard (and seen) nothing but good things about the Hurricanes’ youngsters this year. With a new coach and a new outlook, they might just make it into the playoffs after a nine season absence. I know, I said that last year too…
The non-playoff teams in the East weren’t so tough. Columbus squeaks out of the picture as UFA troubles cause too much distraction. The Sabres take a giant leap forward (you know, like I predicted last season), but it’s still not quite enough to get into the wild card. The Devils don’t have much depth outside of Taylor Hall, so they don’t quite pull off the miracle run again. The Islanders are a shock to be this high, to be honest, given what they’ve lost, but they’ve also gained a rock solid coach and have the reigning Calder Trophy winner. The Habs, Rangers, and Red Wings are all rebuilding and have shed some serious talent this summer, so into the basement you go.
And then there’s Ottawa, in a relegation league of their own. Yikes.
In the West, we’ve got old favorites the Winnipeg Jets taking the conference and the Presidents’ Trophy, followed closely in the race for the latter by the aging but dynamic San Jose Sharks, now featuring Erik Karlsson. Nashville continues to stay near the top of the league with a wide open Cup window, as does Vegas. The Golden Knights’ luck wears off a little and they slip a healthy amount, but it’s still enough to finish second in a relatively weak Pacific. St. Louis roars back into the playoffs after an offseason overhaul, while the Ducks trend backwards due to age and injuries already sustained this preseason. In the wildcards are two possible surprises: Dallas, whom I’d incorrectly picked to win the west last season, sneaks in on the backs of a new coach and returning Russian talent, and the strengthened Arizona Coyotes break a six year playoff drought by continuing the scoring pace they finished with last year.
By default, the Los Angeles Kings barely miss out, as do the resurgent Avalanche. Last year was pretty much a miracle for Colorado, and they didn’t do a ton this offseason to make me believe that they’re built to stay. The Wild never impress me much, so I think their streak is over, out-competed by the Central juggernauts. Calgary and Edmonton are hard to pin down — they could make it easily in this division, but I just don’t have faith. Even with Connor McDavid, something is amiss in Oil Country. Chicago doesn’t look any better on paper than they did during last year’s disastrous season, and Vancouver is missing so many key pieces now with the Sedins retired that it’s not hard to see them finishing last in the West this year.
From a numbers perspective, the average points remain exactly the same (91.548) and the median decreases due to lack of outliers — I don’t think there will be so many <70 and >110 point teams this year, but who knows. I’ve kept the playoff turnover low this time, with only five new teams making it. Last year was weird; it should be much more normal this time around. Maybe.
No matter what happens, it’s sure to be exciting. Here’s hoping my predictions are once again wrong! Let’s go Buffalo!