NHL season predictions are usually a fruitless cause — hey, this guy had Boston missing it last year and they only went on to have the best regular season in league history. If most models come within an average of being off by 11 points per team, it would be among the best, and several even well-meaning and seemingly intelligent guesses tend to be off by 20+ points. All that to say that projecting 82 games is a humbling exercise and surely bound to go wrong in many ways, but let’s give it a go anyways.
The Atlantic Division is one of the NHL’s more intriguing groupings of teams this season. There are some established, legacy powers who have been strong regular season teams that have regularly been in the playoffs (Toronto, Boston, Tampa, Florida all making the post-season for at least the last four years). There are some hungry young teams that hope they have stockpiled enough talents in their rebuild to compete as soon as right now (Buffalo, Ottawa, Detroit). And then there is Montreal, lagging behind and earlier in the process of their rebuild.
Through the magic of loser points in the standings for overtime/shootout games, in 2022-23 the 16 Eastern Conference teams collected a total of 1,491 points for an average of 93 points per team. The Atlantic Division stacked up 761 points (95 point average) boosted by the historic 135-point campaign in Boston.
2023-24 Atlantic Division Predictions
- Toronto Maple Leafs (51-20-11, 113 points)
- Boston Bruins (46-27-9, 101 points)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (41-31-10, 92 points)
- Buffalo Sabres (42-33-7, 91 points)
- Ottawa Senators (40-33-9, 89 points)
- Florida Panthers (41-35-6, 88 points)
- Detroit Red Wings (38-37-7, 83 points)
- Montreal Canadiens (33-46-3, 69 points)
(This nets to 725 total points, down from what the Atlantic performed at last year, mainly due to the anticipated fall-off from the outlier of last season’s top team)
The middle-six teams of the division should hold the most volatility, if expecting up to a 15 point swing in either direction these teams could mix up significantly from this projection.
At the top, Toronto is one of the more stable teams that should be setup for regular season success. They are deep and talented and primed for another shot at being one of the league’s best. At the bottom, Montreal is expected to still be in the mode of figuring it out and building for the future.
The middle holds the excitement. The big question is how much Boston will regress, especially after losing Patrice Bergeron. It will be a major loss, but the bones of the team (100+ point dynamo and one of the most productive players in David Pastrnak, an elite defense led by Charlie MacAvoy and a top-flight goalie tandem, surrounded by good coaching inputs and system) are still in place and is sometimes overlooked.
Tampa could be setup for a fall as well, free agency and the salary cap again chipped away another key piece of their fading championship nucleus, this time in the form of Alex Killorn. Perhaps worse, the NHL’s most durable and perhaps best goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy is out with injury for the first two months of the season, leaving the Lightning dangerously thin at the game’s most important position. For all those troubles, like Boston what remains in Tampa is a talented core that should still be able to hold up in the regular season.
Buffalo, Ottawa and Detroit have long been gathering the pieces necessary to go up the standings, but all have questions about when and how that will take place. We’re bullish on Devon Levi and the Sabres to make the most immediate jump this season, buoyed by ascending players. Ottawa could be in that spot if new addition Joonas Korpisalo pans out, but recent history says that high-profile goalie signings can go in a variety of different directions, some of them terrifyingly poor for a new goalie in a new place.
The Florida Panthers are a wild card in the truest sense of the word. They might suffer from the “Stanley Cup hangover” with the effects of the long run showing with several key players carrying forward the scars. The defense is being held together with duct tape until Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour can return with players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niko Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov slathered in to fill some important gaps. Sergei Bobrovsky could be considered the most unpredictable player in the league, flipping seemingly indiscriminately from being one of the league’s best goalies to one of the shakiest ones at the drop of a hat.
It will be a wild season with the main story-line to watch unfold being the non-Toronto legacy teams of Boston, Tampa and Florida having questions about how much they can run it back, while they are chased by surging younger teams like Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit looking to make their own ways back to the playoffs.
The numbers game means some are bound to not find a chair to sit in when the music stops playing. The Atlantic Division has sent four teams to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons (with the previous two years before having altered formats due to COVID), so in that sense the division as a whole has already been fairly represented with playoff qualifications.
Given the dog-pile of teams so closely grouped from 3rd-6th, at least one of them won’t make it. That could possibly go up to two or even three squads as well, depending on how the Wild Card chase with the Metropolitan teams pans out.
That last thought figures to be a factor for the squads in Pittsburgh and Long Island, who will have to finish at least above the 5th place Atlantic team (and perhaps even the 4th) in order to qualify for the playoffs. If this projection pans out accurately (ha!) and the middle of the Atlantic truly is in the 88-92 point range, that should be a great thing for the Penguins and Metropolitan Division as a whole. However, if the Atlantic only slightly ticks up to the mid-level teams getting into the 90-94ish range, the math starts to turn increasingly worrisome for the mid-Metro teams chasing for a wildcard spot.
Here are the current DraftKings over/under bets for each team’s point totals. Perhaps foolishly, I did not take into account or seek out this information prior to making (from above, in parenthesis)
- Toronto: 105.5 (113)
- Boston: 101.5 (101)
- Florida: 99.5 (88)
- Tampa: 93.5 (92)
- Buffalo: 92.5 (91)
- Ottawa: 92.5 (89)
- Detroit: 85.5 (83)
- Montreal: 70.5 (69)
By far the biggest discrepancy from Pensburgh projections to the betting outlook is Florida, who we don’t project to be nearly as strong as the -220 odds being offered for the Panthers to return to the playoffs. We also have a somewhat higher projection than bookmakers have for Toronto, but for betting purposes it makes sense that line wouldn’t be extremely high. Otherwise, every other team is within a very close range of what Vegas and now Pensburgh are seeing.