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How are the Atlantic standings going to play out?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven
We don’t want this again.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There’s 10 games to go in Leafs land, so it’s time to take another look at the full division standings.

Atlantic Division

Team GP W L OT PTS P% RW ROW GF GA DIFF
Team GP W L OT PTS P% RW ROW GF GA DIFF
x-Florida 72 51 15 6 108 0.750 38 48 302 214 88
x-Toronto 72 47 19 6 100 0.694 40 45 277 221 56
Tampa Bay 72 44 20 8 96 0.667 33 42 239 204 35
Boston 72 45 22 5 95 0.660 35 43 227 165 32
Detroit 72 28 34 10 66 0.458 17 25 209 277 -68
Buffalo 74 26 37 11 63 0.426 20 23 203 264 -61
Ottawa 72 26 40 6 58 0.403 22 25 193 236 -43
Montréal 72 20 41 11 51 0.354 14 17 190 275 -85

The Draft Pick Race

Florida and Toronto have both clinched, and Montréal, Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit are eliminated. For the eliminated teams, the race to the bottom becomes a league-wide contest, so they all have to compete against the greatest team in the history of the NHL at being bad: Arizona.

The Coyotes have a P% of .340 in the same 72 games played as most of the rest of the bottom 10. Buffalo is eighth worst and has played 74 games, while Ottawa is sixth worst. Montréal is second last, just slightly worst than Seattle, but with the injury to Jake Allen in the Saturday Leafs game, the Canadiens have a better chance now of losing enough to catch Arizona. But remember: losing is what Arizona is built for, the Canadiens got here accidentally through a lot of injuries and Seattle is using terrible goaltending results to ride to the bottom.

The Top of the Pile

Enough about losing teams, top down is much more interesting.

Colorado is at the top of the league with a P% of .764 and then comes Florida, Carolina and Toronto. Toronto and Carolina are very close to being tied, with only two points and hundredths of P% between them.

The chances of Toronto overtaking Florida seems very slight in the remaining games, however. They play each other once, which is the only reason why I won’t call it virtually impossible. That and the sheer number of wins the Leafs are getting lately now that Jack Campbell is back and looks like he’s on form.

The teams each have 72 games played, so let’s set aside the P% for a second and just say what if the Leafs beat the Panthers in their game. That would put them at 73 games played, or nine left, with Florida leading by 108-102. Making up six points in nine games needs Florida to lose a lot while the Leafs win a lot.

Florida’s remaining schedule is:

  • Anaheim
  • Winnipeg
  • Detroit
  • New York Islanders
  • Detroit
  • Toronto
  • Tampa
  • Boston
  • Ottawa
  • Montréal

I don’t think the Panthers are going to lose a lot. So forget first place, unless you like hopeless causes.

The Atlantic Race

The Leafs are in second in the Atlantic with a small separation on Boston and Tampa Bay. The probabilities from various sources before Sunday’s games had the Leafs playing the Bruins in the first round as most likely, but only just barely. There is one point between Boston and Tampa, and the Lightning are clearly the better team to my eye. But I’ll take on that slight edge to Boston as the playoff opponent first.

First question: how likely is it that Boston overcomes the Leafs for second? It was very unlikely the last time I looked at this, and it still is. The difference in points percentage to date carried through 82 games would leave the Leafs with 114 points and the Bruins with 108. And while we’re here, the Lightning would be at 109.

So now, with 10 games remaining for everyone, if the Leafs drop back to the Boston pace, and the Bruins rise to the Leafs pace, that’s not enough. Toronto plays Boston on the last day of the season, and I will be very surprised if that game decides the standings order for second and third in the Atlantic. Third and fourth? Sure.

Let’s play the same game as above, only in reverse. Boston beats the Leafs in their one game against each other which gives them 97 points and the Leafs are still at 100 points before the rest of the games are figured in. That’s (simplifying to ignore the loser point here) two more wins for Boston than Toronto gets in the remaining games.

Boston’s remaining schedule is:

  • St. Louis
  • Ottawa
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis
  • Pittsburgh
  • New York Rangers
  • Montréal
  • Florida
  • Buffalo
  • Toronto on the last day

That’s quite a mix of opponents with some easy win chances, but also some games against the Rangers who can, amazingly, finish first in the Metro, and might be gunning for that at the time Boston plays them. Pittsburgh seems pretty secure though, so they might be resting players. St. Louis is in a race with the Wild and pressing hard.

The Leafs play:

  • Buffalo
  • Washington
  • Ottawa
  • New York Islanders
  • Philadelphia
  • Tampa
  • Florida
  • Washington
  • Detroit
  • Boston

That’s a lot of low-ranked teams, the three in-division games that matter, and two vs the Capitals. Washington has a slim chance with a late push to vault over the Penguins and out of the wild card spot, but their goaltending is such a question mark, it seems unlikely even though they did just beat the Bruins.

Anything is possible here. Any order of Toronto, Boston and Tampa could happen, but I don’t see a strong chance that Boston knocks out the Leafs for second place.

The second question: Can Tampa rise all the way to second place?

Tampa plays:

  • Dallas
  • Anaheim
  • Winnipeg
  • Detroit
  • Toronto
  • Nashville
  • Florida
  • Columbus
  • Columbus
  • New York Islanders

On the strength of one win over the Sabres, Tampa moved back into third yesterday, and I think theirs is as weak a final set of opponents as Florida has. If anyone is going to go on a heater it’s the Lightning. But their final four games are in six days, and they are also smart enough to know the playoffs are not a sprint.

Third question: Who is most likely to come out ahead between Boston and Tampa? My money would be on Tampa if I gambled, which I don’t, but I think this is the most likely outcome in the East:

Metro

Carolina, New York and Pittsburgh with Washington fourth.

It is not improbable that the Rangers overtake the Hurricanes, but I give the nod to the better team.

Atlantic

Florida, Toronto, Tampa with Boston in the wild card.

Boston will easily be ahead of Washington and have the first wild card spot.

Ideally the Leafs would like this sorted out by the time they finish in Florida so they can take the final three games a little easy. But no one has a light schedule, the unfairness is fairly spread around in this division. The NHL was determined to get the playoffs done by the end of June, and so far, they’re on pace to do that — rest to the top teams be damned.

Bottom line: it’s very improbable that the Leafs finish either first or fourth in the Atlantic, so what they are playing for now is to maintain their position and to get home ice advantage in the first round.