NHL predictions for 2018-19: Final standings, playoff projections and Stanley Cup pick
Sporting News' hockey experts Brandon Schlager, Jim Cerny and Jackie Spiegel predicted the final standings for the 2018-19 NHL season. The playoff seeding below was determined by the average finish for each team based on our combined projections.
There are a great many variables that go into determining a Stanley Cup champion. Many of them are uncontrollable. Yes, talent reigns supreme, but more than any sport, fortune good or bad — pure, unadulterated luck — can swing a road trip in December or a series in May, almost all of which is unpredictable.
So it can become a fool's errand to try and predict in October how the hockey season will play out.
That didn't stop Sporting News' team of hockey experts from trying. Here's how we feel the regular season will finish, from division standings to playoff matchups and a Stanley Cup pick, based on information at hand.
1 Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (111 points)*
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (106.6 points)*
3. Florida Panthers (99 points)*
4. Boston Bruins (98.6 points)*
5. Buffalo Sabres (81.6 points)
6. Montreal Canadiens (76.3 points)
7. Detroit Red Wings (72.3 points)
8. Ottawa Senators (64.3 points)
For a season in which the NHL came to expect the unexpected, the 2017-18 Atlantic Division race played out eerily as planned. The Lightning, Maple Leafs and Bruins emerged as elite contenders and formed one of the most hotly-contested and top-heavy divisions in hockey.
Entering 2018-19, it's easy to write in any of those three teams as a Stanley Cup favorite. John Tavares' Toronto homecoming adds to the intrigue and could elevate the Maple Leafs to their first division title this millennium. But the incumbent champion Lightning, insurgent Panthers and a young Bruins team crowd the top of the Atlantic.
Speaking of Florida, the Atlantic champion in each of the last three seasons missed the playoffs entirely the year prior to their title. Stranger things have happened.
2 Metropolitan Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (104.6 points)*
2. Washington Capitals (103 points)*
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (101 points)*
4. Philadelphia Flyers (97.3 points)*
5. New Jersey Devils (90.6 points)
6. Carolina Hurricanes (86.6 points)
7. New York Rangers (82 points)
8. New York Islanders (75 points)
The Metropolitan Division has placed a monopoly on the Stanley Cup.
Specifically, this pertains to the Penguins and the Capitals, winners of the last three. Not since the late 1980s has the NHL's ultimate prize remained within a single division three years in a row, when the Flames and Oilers combined for four Cups between 1986-90, let alone four.
What're the odds a Metro team keeps the Cup in house? Washington reigns supreme until proven otherwise, and Pittsburgh enjoyed a long summer of R&R for the first time in years. They remain the two most likely contenders. Columbus, Philadelphia and New Jersey were the division's other playoff representatives a year ago, and Carolina is intent on making that leap for itself.
3 Central Division
1. Winnipeg Jets (111.6 points)*
2. Nashville Predators (111.3 points)*
3. St. Louis Blues (95.6 points)*
4. Dallas Stars (95.3 points)*
5. Minnesota Wild (93.6 points)*
6. Colorado Avalanche (89.6 points)
7. Chicago Blackhawks (84.3 points)
Inside the Central Division, home to two giants among Stanley Cup contenders, there's a degree of certainty heading into 2017-18. A vast majority of observers are sure this is where the NHL's best team resides. Whether that's the Predators or Jets is open to debate, but the preseason confidence that the road to the Stanley Cup in the West runs through Nashville or Winnipeg has been unwavering.
It's interesting, though, that the last two Central champions missed the playoffs entirely the following season. The Predators aren't predicted to suffer a similar fate, but neither were the 2016-17 Dallas Stars or 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks. From first to last, there isn't a more unpredictable division in hockey right now.
The Blues, Stars and Wild are all waiting in the wings and could emerge as worthy challengers at the top. The Avalanche stunned with a last-place-to-playoff run last year and are on the rise. The Blackhawks, while aging and imperfect, are the only team in the division that has won a Cup this millennium. That's all to say nothing is given; it's just life in hockey's most unforgiving division.
4 Pacific Division
1. San Jose Sharks (110.6 points)*
2. Anaheim Ducks (100 points)*
3. Vegas Golden Knights (99.6 points)*
4. Calgary Flames (92 points)
5. Los Angeles Kings (90.3 points)
6. Edmonton Oilers (86.6 points)
7. Arizona Coyotes (79.3 points)
8. Vancouver Canucks (71 points)
A collective groan from Pacific Division general managers could be heard coast to coast when the Sharks pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, adding superstar Erik Karlsson to their defensive stable on the eve of training camp.
The landscape-altering deal elevated San Jose to elite contender status and effectively sealed their place as odds-on favorite to recapture the division title from the Golden Knights. As the rest of the division falls in line behind the Sharks, Vegas' encore is the story to watch.
The expansion darling's improbable first season in the NHL was a wake-up call for the Pacific's old guard. And as teams like the Ducks and Kings age, there's a sneaking suspicion the Coyotes, Oilers or Flames could take their place in the playoffs as soon as 2018-19.
5 Eastern Conference playoffs
Tampa Bay Lightning (A1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (WC2)
Toronto Maple Leafs (A2) vs. Florida Panthers (A3)
Pittsburgh Penguins (M1) vs. Boston Bruins (WC1)
Washington Capitals (M2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (M3)
6 Western Conference playoffs
Winnipeg Jets (C1) vs. Minnesota Wild (WC2)
Nashville Predators (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)
San Jose Sharks (P1) vs. Dallas Stars (WC1)
Anaheim Ducks (P2) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (P3)
7 Eastern Conference finals
Schlager — Lightning over Penguins, 6 games
Spiegel — Maple Leafs over Penguins, 7 games
Cerny — Lightning over Penguins, 6 games
8 Western Conference finals
Schlager — Predators over Sharks, 7 games
Spiegel — Sharks over Jets, 6 games
Cerny — Jets over Sharks, 6 games
9 Stanley Cup Final
Schlager — Predators over Lightning, 6 games
Spiegel — Sharks over Maple Leafs, 5 games
Cerny — Lightning over Jets, 7 games
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