The NHL regular season begins tonight. Here’s how it’s projected to end — with a look at some key stats that could make all the difference.
The projections start with the season point totals released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook in September. Those point totals were then used to determine a team’s average goals for and against per game, which were in turn used to simulate the entire season 1,000 times.
* Denotes projected playoff team
1. Pittsburgh Penguins*, 104 points
The defending Stanley Cup champions said goodbye to three scoring forwards (Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen), three respectable defensemen (Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit) and a three-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury) and are still the odds-on favorite to become the first team to hoist the Cup three times in a row since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980 to 1983. Why? Because they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the roster.
Crosby led the league in goals last season (44) and finished second in points scored (89). With him on the ice, the Penguins outscored the opposition 62 to 45 at even strength. With Malkin on the ice, Pittsburgh outscored opponents 52 to 32, the 10th best differential among forwards playing at least 800 minutes last season.
2. Anaheim Ducks*, 102 points
The Ducks’ goaltending was the catalyst to winning the Pacific Division last season, allowing the third-fewest goals against thanks to John Gibson’s .924 save percentage. It took high-danger shots to get pucks past him and even then he was still above-average at stopping shots from the slot and close to the goalmouth (.797 high-danger save percentage compared to .789 for the rest of the league).
3. Edmonton Oilers*, 102 points
The Connor McDavid era has begun. The 20-year-old wunderkind led the NHL in scoring (100 points) last season and was named the league’s most valuable player, the youngest player to win the Hart Trophy since Crosby in 2007.
And only Crosby scored more primary points (goals and first assists) per 60 minutes at even strength than McDavid, with no other forward (minimum 1,000 minutes played) producing more than 2.0 primary points per 60 minutes last season.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning*, 101 points
Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan played 17 and 18 games, respectively, last season and the Lightning still almost made the playoffs, finishing the season one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the East’s second wild-card spot.
Stamkos, when healthy, is one of the best scorers in the NHL. He has a 60-goal campaign on his resume (2011-12) and helped Tampa Bay outscore its opponents 117 to 96 at even strength with 53 percent of all shot attempts in the team’s favor over the past three seasons. Callahan has been on the ice for a plus-11 scoring differential with 52 percent of shot attempts in the Lightning’s favor over that same span.
Now that Stamkos and Callahan appear to be fully recovered, both will help Coach Jon Cooper get his team back into the playoffs.
5. Washington Capitals*, 100 points
The Capitals scored 263 goals last season, but will look a lot different once they take the ice for the 2017-18 season. Forward Justin Williams signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and Marcus Johansson was traded to the New Jersey Devils for a pair of draft picks, leaving the team without two players who combined for 48 goals last season and, more importantly, helped make the top-six one of the best Alex Ovechkin has played — only the top-six forwards playing with Ovechkin in 2010-11 scored more goals for Washington in the Ovechkin era. For the current crop of top-six forwards to add 123 goals to Ovechkin’s total in 2017-18, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov all have to equal their highest scoring output over the past five seasons plus one other player needs to produce a 30-goal campaign.
|Season||Alex Ovechkin||Rest of the team’s top-six forwards|
Still, this team has a bona fide star in net in Braden Holtby (.925 save percentage last season with a league-leading nine shutouts) which could help ease the burden on the offense.
6. Montreal Canadiens*, 99 points
Good luck trying to score against goaltender Carey Price. The 30-year-old stopped a league high 88 percent of even-strength high-danger shots last season with an above-average save percentage against high-danger shots on the penalty kill (.806, 13 out of 29 qualified netminders).
Offensively, look for Jonathan Drouin to mesh well on the top line with Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty. Drouin helped Tampa Bay outscore opponents 79 to 55 in 2016-17 overall and was also on the ice for a plus-77 shot attempt differential at even strength.
7. Chicago Blackhawks*, 98 points
Chicago is going to need Patrick Kane to score despite the team trading away linemate Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets. When those two shared the ice, the Blackhawks scored 57 percent of the goals and took 55 percent of the shot attempts at even strength. When Kane skated away from Panarin those numbers dropped to 33 and 44 percent, respectively.
|WOWY||Percentage of goals scored by CHI at even strength||Percentage of shot attempts by CHI at even strength|
|Patrick Kane with Artemi Panarin||57%||55%|
|Patrick Kane without Artemi Panarin||33%||44%|
8. Nashville Predators*, 97 points
Fresh off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Predators have three star defensemen — Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm or P.K. Subban — that make them a threat to do it again.
With at least one of those three blue liners on the ice, the Predators outscored opponents 110 to 95 at even strength and saw a bit of bad luck on the penalty kill — the team’s 46 goals against in these situations were two more than expected based on the location and type of shot attempted. That may not sound like much but it would have been enough to move Nashville from No. 15 to No. 10 in penalty kill efficiency.
9. Dallas Stars*, 97 points
Since the league returned from the lockout in 2005-06, the Stars have never seen above-average goaltending. The closest they came was in 2006-07, a season of average performance. Ben Bishop, who signed a six-year, $29.5 million contract with Dallas during the offseason, could change all that.
Bishop has a career .921 save percentage and has been a Vezina finalist twice, once in 2013-14 (he finished third) and again in 2015-16 (second-place finish).
10. Columbus Blue Jackets*, 95 points
The acquisition of Artemi Panarin should pay immediate dividends on the power play. His 32 primary power-play points over the past two seasons ranks 16th overall among forwards, with the Blackhawks scoring 8.4 goals per 60 minutes with him on the ice during the man advantage, three more than when he was on the bench.
Look for him to set up shop on the left side of the ice, pairing well with center Alexander Wennberg, who recorded a career-high 46 assists last season.
11. Minnesota Wild*, 95 points
Ryan Suter played almost 27 minutes a night, the third most among blue liners last season, with time on the power play (2 minutes and 45 seconds per game) and the penalty kill (2 minutes and 19 seconds). When paired with his most frequent partner at even strength, Jared Spurgeon, the two were on the ice for a plus-26 goal differential, the highest among defensive pairs skating at least 500 minutes together at even strength last season.
12. St. Louis Blues*, 95 points
Vladimir Tarasenko could be one of the best players no one talks about. The 25-year-old winger scored 39 goals last season, producing the ninth-highest overall game score per 60 minutes (3.34).
Game score is a metric adapted from baseball which aims to give credit for goals, primary assists, secondary assists, shots on goal, blocked shots, penalty differential, faceoffs, 5-on-5 shot differential and 5-on-5 goal differential. Higher numbers equal superior performance, making Tarasenko one of the most valuable players in hockey last year.
13. Calgary Flames*, 95 points
A year after the Flames got below-average goaltending from Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the team went out and acquired Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes. Unfortunately, he may not be the solution to their problem.
There was virtually no difference between the performance of the three last season, with Smith faring only slightly better against high-danger shots than Elliott (one to two goals per 100 shot attempts).
|Goaltender||Actual Sv% (2016-17)||Expected Sv% (2016-17)||High-danger Sv% (2016-17)|
14. San Jose Sharks, 95 points
The Sharks have been consistently good: since 2005-06, no franchise has won more regular-season games. But their established core of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic made them one of the oldest rosters in the league (average age of 29.6 last season).
Pushing the average age upward is forward Joel Ward, who turns 37 in December. He saw his goal production drop from 21 goals to 10 in just one season with a corresponding decline in his overall shots per game (1.75 to 1.35), putting his time on ice in jeopardy during the final year of his contract.
15. New York Rangers*, 94 points
Once considered the Blueshirts’ greatest strength, goaltending might be a legitimate concern for the Rangers this season. Franchise player Henrik Lundqvist set a career low for overall save percentage (.910) in 2016-17 and provided New York with the most “really bad starts” (a game with a save percentage below .850) since 2013-14. Normally a bad season is excusable but for a goaltender past the age of 35 years old it is worrisome.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs*, 93 points
The Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in four years, and almost advanced to the second round at the expense of the Washington Capitals. Judging by the talent on the roster, this is a team that could be a perennial contender. So why such a low projection? Youth and experience can be unreliable.
Austin Matthews, a 40-goal scorer at 19 years old, 20-year-old Mitch Marner (19 goals, 61 points) and 21-year-old William Nylander (22 goals, 61 points) are exciting to watch, but the three as a group also scored six more goals than expected based on shot location, shot type and whether the goal came during a power play, enough to drop the team’s goal differential below the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost out on a playoff spot by one standings point last season.
17. Carolina Hurricanes*, 93 points
The good news is the Hurricanes have improved for two straight seasons, but will need left winger Jeff Skinner to have another big year if they are to challenge for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Skinner scored a career-high 37 goals last season while taking an encouraging 3.6 shots per game. With him on the ice, Carolina outscored opponents 61 to 56 at even strength, putting 52 percent of the goals scored in their favor. With Skinner on the bench that rate dropped to 43 percent.
18. Boston Bruins, 92 points
The Bruins made the playoffs last season, but did little to keep up with the other contenders in the Atlantic Division, leaving them with an aging roster.
A big question will be how much defenseman Zdeno Chara has left in the tank. The 2008-09 Norris winner turns 41 in March and could become the sixth blueliner to play at least 1,000 minutes after his 40th birthday. But those are minutes Boston is better off giving someone else. Among the Bruins’ defenders last season, only Brandon Carlo (53.3) was on the ice for more shot attempts against per 60 minutes at even strength than Chara (53).
19. Ottawa Senators, 92 points
Ottawa showed a commitment to team defense under first-year coach Guy Boucher, choosing to frustrate teams with their 1-3-1 neutral-zone system, but they still allowed 58 shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength, the fourth highest in the league. That’s a problem, especially with star defenseman Erik Karlsson questionable for the season opener. With him on the ice, Ottawa outscored its opponents 112 to 86 (57 percent) last season; that dropped to 44 percent when he was on the bench.
Karlsson isn’t the team’s only injury concern: center Derick Brassard is nursing a shoulder injury, Clarke MacArthur missed nearly two full seasons with concussions and Ryan Dzingel, could miss the start of the season with a wrist injury.
20. Winnipeg Jets, 92 points
The Jets, like the Maple Leafs, are loaded with young talent. Patrik Laine scored 36 goals in 73 games as a rookie last season, 24-year-old center Mark Scheifele produced a career-high 82 points and 21-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers tallied 64 points. They also have veteran Blake Wheeler who has topped 74 points in each of the past two seasons. However, that might not be enough to compensate for Steve Mason in net.
Mason has been a below-average goaltender since winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie in 2008-09. More troubling is he has provided his teams with a lower percentage of quality starts for two straight seasons, with 11 games in 2016-17 producing an in-game save percentage of .850 or lower. Only Kari Lehtonen and Tuukka Rask had more.
21. Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
The Flyers did the right thing moving on from Mason, but bringing in Elliott won’t improve the team’s goaltending situation by much. Elliott stopped a higher percentage of high-danger chances than Mason last season yet produced a lower expected save percentage after adjusting attempts for location, shot type and whether the team was on the penalty kill.
|Goaltender||Actual Sv% (2016-17)||Expected Sv% (2016-17)||High-danger Sv% (2016-17)|
22. Los Angeles Kings, 89 points
The Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and decided to shake up the front office. Rob Blake, a Hall of Fame player who spent 14 years with the franchise, takes over as general manager and assistant coach John Stevens will now assume duties behind the bench.
Promoting Stevens, however, could indicate the team’s playing style won’t see the dramatic change it needs after scoring just 201 goals — the sixth fewest — last season. Not only was there a lack of offense, when goals were scored they were typically from Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli — those three combined for more than a third of the team’s 127 goals scored last season. The Kings need more weapons.
23. New York Islanders, 88 points
Will he stay or will he go? That’s the question on everyone’s mind when it comes to John Tavares, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The easiest way to convince the star center to stay is to be competitive, but that doesn’t appear likely this season. The Islanders allowed the fifth-most shots against (31.9 per game) in 2016-17, which in and of itself isn’t insurmountable, but when coupled with below-average goaltending (.911 last season) it quickly becomes a problem.
24. Buffalo Sabres, 87 points
The Sabres might not win enough games to make their first playoff appearance since 2011, but it won’t be because of a lack scoring depth.
Jack Eichel led the Sabres in scoring last season (57 points) despite missing 21 games due to an ankle sprain. He will find chemistry with Evander Kane (team-high 28 goals) and Kyle Okposo on the top line under new coach Phil Housley.
Buffalo also has Ryan O’Reilly (20 goals in 2016-17), 21-year-old Sam Reinhart (17 goals and 47 points in his second season), Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville — more than enough depth to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
25. Florida Panthers, 86 points
Florida mustered 205 goals last season, the eighth-fewest in the NHL, and lost a major part of its offense after:
- Jonathan Marchessault (30 goals) was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft
- Reilly Smith (15 goals) was traded to Vegas
- Jaromir Jagr (16 goals) signed with Calgary
- Jussi Jokinen (11 goals) left for Edmonton
That leaves the team with a top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Evgeni Dadonov, three players who combined for 31 goals last season, with 28-year-old Dadonov last playing in the NHL during the 2011-12 season.
26. Detroit Red Wings, 79 points
Detroit failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and is clearly no longer one of the league’s top destinations for free agents.
The team’s biggest problem is the blue line. The top pair of Mike Green and Danny DeKeyser were outshot 632 to 719 at even strength, the seventh-worst differential among the league’s top pairings, and were one of eight top pairs to be outscored at evens as well (minus-3 goal differential).
27. New Jersey Devils, 76 points
The Devils went 28-40-14 (70 points) last season, making them the worst team in the East. As a consolation prize, they got to draft Nico Hischier with the No. 1 overall pick. It’s unlikely Hischier will take the league by storm the way McDavid and Matthews did, but if he can show some chemistry with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, the team could improve.
Marcus Johansson adds depth to the team’s forwards and shouldn’t regress too much after a career-high 18.6 percent shooting percentage — his net-front presence creates more high-danger shots, which convert at a higher rate.
Plus, Johansson’s ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone to set up the offense with the man advantage will go a long way in helping one of the league’s worst power play units from last season.
28. Arizona Coyotes, 76 points
A playoff berth is a long shot, but the defensive duo of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski is among the best in the league. They don’t share the ice at even strength often (236 minutes in 2016-17), but when they did the Coyotes outscored opponents 21 to 15.
What separates Ekman-Larsson from other defensemen is his snap shot, which was successful 4 out of 13 attempts — only defensemen John Moore, Brent Burns and Justin Faulk scored more off a snap shot.
Ekman-Larsson and Goligoski are also playmakers, combining for 57 assists last season.
29. Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
Luckily for the Canucks, the wonder-twin powers of Henrik and Daniel Sedin continue to activate. The twins ranked second and third on the team in points scored last season but that was only good enough to place them 101st and 141st, respectively, in the league. In other words, if the Sedins don’t score, Vancouver probably doesn’t score, either.
30. Colorado Avalanche, 71 points
There are a lot of reasons the Avalanche continue to be a non-factor, chief among them putting only 45.3 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor over the past three seasons. Only the Buffalo Sabres (44.1 percent) were worse. Installing goaltender Semyon Varlamov as the team’s starter is also a disastrous mistake.
Varlamov has seen his save percentage decline for four straight seasons, reaching a career low in 2016-17 (.898). You could dismiss that in light of him playing just 24 games, but the former first-round pick has had just one solid year over nine seasons in the NHL, the 2013-14 campaign that got him a second-place finish in the Vezina voting. Other than that, he has been mediocre, at best.
|Season||Save percentage||Quality start percentage|
|All other seasons||.913||52%|
31. Vegas Golden Knights, 70 points
General manager George McPhee assembled a roster with speed and talent, but expansion teams struggle to keep pace with the rest of the league in their first season. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals won eight games in their debut. The 1991-92 San Jose Sharks won 17 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators won 23 and 10 games, respectively, during the 1992-93 season.
On paper the Golden Knights’ goaltending situation looks good — Marc-Andre Fleury teams up with 2016 IIHF world champion Calvin Pickard in net — but Fleury wasn’t at his best last season: his .909 save percentage was his lowest since 2009-10, and he stopped just 80 percent of high-danger chances at even strength, the ninth-worst rate among the league’s starting netminders.
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