Part 2: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting the Atlantic Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections

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In Part 2 of our series for projecting out the 2019-20 NHL standings by division, we’ll be analyzing the Atlantic Division. At a glance, the Atlantic is the home to some of the best teams in the NHL, like the President’s Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Stanley Cup runner-up Boston Bruins…but also home to some of the worst teams in the NHL in Ottawa and Detroit. You can check out Part 1 of the WAR standings projections of the Metropolitan Division here.

For more information on how WAR is calculated, visit Hockey-Graphs.com’s series of blog posts here.

Here’s the projection model’s results for the Atlantic Division standings based on WAR projections and expected standings points. One thing to note here: rookies like Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes are essentially rated based off of their production in their pre-draft league. If you want to play around with Charting Hockey’s WAR lineup creator/projection tool used in this article, you can visit it here

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (126 points, 38.68 Team WAR)

The 2018-19 President’s Trophy-winning Lightning come in at the top of the Atlantic in our projections. This will come with little surprise, as the Lightning’s core remains the same, and is largely the same team that dominated the regular season last year. After a sweep suffered at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we may see a new level of motivation from the Lightning.

The Lightning are a strong team in every position group, rounding out the best forwards WAR, defense WAR, and goaltender WAR in the Atlantic Division. This comes as little surprise, since the Lightning have elite players throughout their lineup.

Overall, the Lightning are still at least the best team in the Eastern Conference based on these projections. We’ll see if a commitment to their core group and role players will pay off with their first Stanley Cup since 2004.

Expected lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Ondrej Palat Steven Stamkos Nikita Kucherov 8.6
Yanni Gourde Brayden Point Tyler Johnson 7.2
Alex Killorn Anthony Cirelli Mathieu Joseph 4.6
Danick Martel Cedric Paquette Adam Erne 1.7
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Victor Hedman Mikhail Sergachev 6.1
Ryan McDonaugh Erik Cernak 5.7
Braydon Coburn Jan Rutta 3.3
Goaltenders Projected WAR
Andrei Vasilevskiy 5.6
Louis Domingue 0.4

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
17.63 15.08 5.97 38.68

2. Boston Bruins (110 points, 30.59 Team WAR)

The Stanley Cup runners-up in 2019 are looking to make another deep run in the 2020 playoffs. The Bruins really hit another gear last season after acquiring the services of Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle to solidify their third-line. The biggest question leading up to this season for the Bruins (other than re-signing restricted free agent defensemen Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy) is addressing depth concerns. They’ve kept two-thirds of their great third-line in Coyle and Danton Heinen, but who will fill in on the third-line in Johansson’s stead? This projection puts David Backes in that slot, but look for the Bruins to try to find the right fit there throughout the season.

The Bruins have one of the best lines in hockey with the pest, but effective Brad Marchand, elite two-way center Patrice Bergeron, and scoring threat David Pastrnak. At times last season and during the playoffs, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy moved Pastrnak to the second-line to help jump-start the depth scoring. I’d expect that to continue.

Coming off of a very strong playoffs performance, Tuukka Rask will be a Vezina Trophy favorite for best goaltender next season. When Rask is at his best, the Bruins are a very dangerous team. Look for Cassidy to manage Rask’s minutes throughout the season with more games for formidable backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron David Pastrnak 12.1
Jake DeBrusk David Krejci Karson Kuhlman 5.6
Danton Heinen Charlie Coyle David Backes 3.1
Chris Wagner Sean Kuraly Brett Richie -2.2
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy 5.0
Torey Krug Brandon Carlo 3.9
Matt Grzelcyk Connor Clifton 1.0
Goaltender Projected WAR
Tuukka Rask 3.1
Jaroslav Halak 2.7

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
14.81 9.90 5.89 30.59

3. Toronto Maple Leafs (105 points, 28.27 Team WAR)

In case you haven’t gotten enough of the gruesome first round series between Toronto and Boston, this projection expects that to be the case again this season. For a team that’s looking to make the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they’ll have to break through their playoff nemesis.

A large inference that this projection makes is that Mitchell Marner is re-signed before the start of the season. Marner is a huge contributor to the Leafs’ offense, as well as a very capable special teams player, and if he doesn’t suit up for a considerable period of time, the Leafs will struggle out of the gate. Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott are also likely going to miss the first month or so of the season due to injuries.

Overall, the strongest group on the Leafs’ roster is their center corps. They have the luxury (and the cap hit) of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Alex Kerfoot, and low-risk/high-reward Jason Spezza. The Leafs also traded away gritty, 30-goal scorer Nazem Kadri in a package to receive two-way defenseman Tyson Barrie (at 50% salary retained) and up-and-coming center Kerfoot from the Colorado Avalanche. Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas, in trading Kadri for Barrie and Kerfoot, solidified the right side of the team’s Top 4 for this season.

Expected lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Zach Hyman John Tavares Mitchell Marner 8.5
Andreas Johnsson Auston Matthews William Nylander 5.2
Trevor Moore Alex Kerfoot Kasperi Kapanen 4.3
Nic Petan Jason Spezza Kenny Agostino 1.9
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Morgan Rielly Cody Ceci 3.1
Jake Muzzin Tyson Barrie 3.0
Travis Dermott Timothy Liljegren 0.6
Goaltender Projected WAR
Frederik Andersen 6.6
Michael Hutchinson -0.9

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
15.86 6.73 5.68 28.27

4. Montreal Canadiens (91 points, 21.44 Team WAR)

Montreal is returning largely the same roster as last season, in which they were a 96-point team – two points away from a playoff spot. The biggest questions facing the Canadiens is the health of defenseman and captain Shea Weber, as well as goaltender Carey Price. When Price is healthy, he’s one of the best goalies in the world. Price’s save percentage was right at his career average of .918, but his even-strength save percentage could likely move up from the .920 mark last season to his mark of .935 that he had in the 2016-17 season.

The biggest question marks for this team are the following: how much of an impact will prospects like Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling have this season; will Jonathan Drouin have a bounce-back season in scoring? If the answer to both of those questions are positive, then I’d expect the Canadiens to finish higher than 91 points. If they can’t figure out depth scoring, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi doesn’t make the next step in his development, the Habs may miss out on the playoffs again.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Tomas Tatar Philip Danault Brendan Gallagher 6.1
Jonathan Drouin Max Domi Nick Suzuki 2.6
Artturi Lehkonen Jesperi Kotkaniemi Joel Armia 2.8
Paul Byron Ryan Poehling Jordan Weal 2.7
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Victor Mete Shea Weber 1.1
Brett Kulak Jeff Petry 3.6
Ben Chiarot Noah Juulsen 1.5
Goaltender Projected WAR
Carey Price 4.3
Keith Kinkaid -0.5

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
11.35 6.20 3.90 21.44

5. Florida Panthers (89 points, 20.22 team WAR)

It could be argued the Panthers come in a bit low in these projections. After shoring up their biggest weakness (goaltending) over the past few seasons in signing unrestricted free agent Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers are a team on the rise. A big portion of the low projections are the relative unknowns in Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett, with only 61 games played at the NHL level combined. If they’re able to make the jump and be real contributors on the third-line, the Panthers will likely finish with enough standings points to make the playoffs.

The Panthers also shored up their defensive corps a bit with the signing of free agent Anton Stralman, who should be a battle-tested Top 4 defenseman for this group. The biggest question mark with Stralman is whether or not he can stay healthy after only playing 47 games last season for the Lightning.

Former Capital Brett Connolly also joined the Panthers this off-season, giving them another scoring threat on the right side behind Evgeny Dadonov. The Panthers will likely shift around Hoffman and Connolly between the middle-six forward groups if depth scoring needs to be addressed.

If Samuel Montembeault cannot play up to a replacement level or better WAR, look for the Panthers to make a move to bring in a capable backup goaltender. The Panthers will want to manage Bobrovsky’s minutes during the regular season, so that he’s fresh for the playoffs. 

My expectations are that the Panthers will ride their strong top-six forward group to a wild card berth in the playoffs. It’s going to be really difficult to supplant Tampa, Boston, and Toronto for the top three positions in the Atlantic, but it certainly seems plausible for them to be one of the two wild card teams in the Eastern Conference.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Jonathan Huberdeau Aleksander Barkov Evgeny Dadonov 8.5
Mike Hoffman Vincent Trocheck Brett Connolly 2.4
Frank Vatrano Henrik Borgstrom Owen Tippett 1.6
Colton Sceviour Noel Acciari Denis Malgin 1.8
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Keith Yandle Aaron Ekblad 3.8
Mike Matheson Anton Stralman 1.7
Mark Pysyk MacKenzie Weegar 0.7
Goaltender Projected WAR
Sergei Bobrovsky 3.4
Samuel Montembeault -0.7

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
11.39 6.18 2.64 20.22

6. Buffalo Sabres (72 points, 11.66 Team WAR)

In this projection, the Sabres still fall short of a playoff spot, and end up in the draft lottery again in the 2019-20 season. After re-signing Jeff Skinner, the Sabres locked down some top-end goal scoring for the considerable future. They also traded for former New York Ranger Jimmy Vesey, as well as adding former Capital Marcus Johansson for some help on the wing.

The biggest issues the Sabres will have this season is going to be depth scoring and goaltending. The top-line for the Sabres with Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart is going to be able to score frequently. The problem is that there’s no real bona-fide goal scorers in the next three lines to keep up with their division rivals. They’re going to be strong defensively as a forward group in the second, third, and fourth-lines, but will they be able to score?

With goaltending, Carter Hutton can certainly play better. After an impressive showing in the 2017-18 season with the St. Louis Blues, in which he posted a .931 save percentage and a 2.09 goals-against average, he had a drop in production to a .908 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average. There’s definitely something to be said about going from playing behind the Blues and their defensive system to the Sabres, but if he can improve his statistics, the Sabres can perform much better than these projections put them.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Jeff Skinner Jack Eichel Sam Reinhart 7.5
Conor Sheary Casey Mittlestadt Marcus Johansson 1.2
Jimmy Vesey Evan Rodrigues Kyle Okposo 1.6
Scott Wilson Zemgus Girgensons Johan Larsson -1.3
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Rasmus Dahlin Brandon Montour 0.5
Jake McCabe Rasmus Ristolainen 0.8
Henri Jokiharju Colin Miller 0.5
Goaltender Projected WAR
Carter Hutton 2.9
Linus Ulmark -0.2

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
7.22 1.74 2.70 11.66

7. Ottawa Senators (69 Points, 10.40 Team WAR)

Well, here’s a somewhat surprising projection–Ottawa is not finishing in last place in the Atlantic Division. Realistically, Ottawa and Detroit’s position relative to each other in the standings is going to essentially be a coin flip. Will Ottawa get sizable contributions from their prospects making the jump to the NHL? You’ll see a young group of skaters this season with considerable roles in Ottawa’s lineup. Drake Batherson will likely get top-six, if not top-line, minutes this season. How will Max Veronneau, Colin White, and Erik Brannstrom fair in the NHL? If they can play at above replacement level this season, look out for the Senators in the next few seasons. 

Goaltending is going to be a real issue for this team. Craig Anderson is 38-years old, so it’s questionable if he’ll be able to play significant minutes this season. Anders Nilsson is by no means a bad goalie, but he has a career save percentage of .907, and goals-against average of 3.04. 

As for strengths, the Senators improved their defensive group this off-season. They added unrestricted free agent Ron Hainsey to help solidify the second-pairing, and will be a good mentor for rookie Erik Brannstrom. Thomas Chabot will likely be on the Norris Trophy short-list for best defenseman, and Dylan DeMelo is a strong partner on the top-pairing. Also of note, replacing Cody Ceci with Nikita Zaitsev might end up being a beneficial move. Zaitsev is definitely a bounce-back candidate, and based off of his play at the World Championships (with Dmitry Orlov on his pairing), he could be a value-add for this Senators team with plenty of cap space.

Adding Connor Brown in the Zaitsev/Ceci trade was also a strong move. Brown could really flourish with a change of scenery and more minutes, but it remains to be seen if he’s a top-six player, or a second/third-liner. His scoring touch could really help the Senators this year, and he could be a Brett Connolly-type scorer with an increase in ice time.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Brady Tkachuk Colin White Drake Batherson 7.0
Connor Brown Chris Tierney Bobby Ryan 1.4
Anthony Duclair Artem Anisimov Max Veronneau -2.5
Tyler Ennis Jean-Gabriel Pageau Mikkel Boedker -0.4
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Thomas Chabot Dylan DeMelo 6.0
Erik Brannstrom Ron Hainsey 0.8
Mark Borowiecki Nikita Zaitsev -1.4
Goaltender Projected WAR
Craig Anderson -0.5
Anders Nilsson 1.0

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
4.43 5.44 0.53 10.40

8. Detroit Red Wings (56 Points, 3.81 Team WAR)

The rebuilding Red Wings had a pretty quiet off-season so far, outside of signing unrestricted free agent Valtteri Filppula. The Red Wings defensive group is easily the weakest position group here, racking up a -4.06 WAR. Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green (when healthy), and Filip Hronek should be contributors on the blueline for Detroit. The question marks in this group are Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Madison Bowey. Ericsson and Daley are both on the tail-end of their careers. Madison Bowey was highly-touted on the Capitals’ prospect list a few years ago, but hasn’t made that next step in his NHL development.

The forward group for the Red Wings will be interesting. The top-line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, and Anthony Mantha will be their strongest line, but it’ll be interesting to see how their second-line of Andreas Athanasiou, Frans Nielsen, and top prospect Filip Zadina will fair. Zadina is projected at a low WAR right now, but he’ll likely outplay those projections, and Detroit will finish better than just 56 standings points. 

Detroit is backstopped by veteran goalie tandem Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier. The goalie group is the strongest group in terms of WAR on this team. I’d be surprised if both of those players were still with Detroit after the trade deadline. Look for newly-appointed general manager (and Red Wings legend) Steve Yzerman to flip older players for more prospects and picks.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Tyler Bertuzzi Dylan Larkin Anthony Mantha 4.1
Andreas Athanasiou Frans Nielsen Filip Zadina -1.9
Taro Hirose Valtteri Filppula Michael Rasmussen 3.3
Justin Abdelkader Luke Glendening Darren Helm -1.4
LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Danny DeKeyser Mike Green 1.6
Jonathan Ericsson Filip Hronek -2.5
Trevor Daley Madison Bowey -3.1
Goaltender Projected WAR
Jimmy Howard 4.1
Jonathan Bernier 0.6

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
3.26 -4.06 4.62 3.81

Recap:

Overall, the Atlantic Division’s top five teams will be a really competitive group in the NHL landscape. Buffalo will be that fringe team that may make some noise, but could ultimately end up coming short of a playoff berth. Ultimately, the most interesting thing will be how many teams from the Atlantic Division will make the playoffs. Montreal and Florida would certainly be tough matchups for division winners in the first round of the playoffs, especially after last season, when wild card teams defeated division winners in every first round matchup.

For those of you who are keeping score between the Metropolitan and the Atlantic, and how the Eastern Conference is projected to pan out, here’s the ordered projected standings:

Team Projected Points Team WAR Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR
Tampa Bay – p 126 38.68 17.63 15.08 5.97
Boston – x 110 30.59 14.81 9.9 5.89
Washington – y 107 29.1 13.22 11.04 4.84
Toronto – x 106 28.49 15.86 6.94 5.68
Columbus – x 98 24.91 17.48 7.69 -0.26
Pittsburgh – x 92 21.8 10.84 6.33 4.63
Montreal – WC1 91 21.44 11.35 6.2 3.9
Carolina – WC2 91 21.07 8.83 8.21 4.02
Florida 89 20.22 11.39 6.18 2.64
New York Islanders 85 18.13 8.82 1.97 7.57
New Jersey Devils 82 16.6 9.95 3.04 3.62
Philadelphia 78 14.51 9.46 0.11 4.93
New York Rangers 74 12.75 5.2 2.65 4.9
Buffalo 71 11.06 7.22 1.14 2.7
Ottawa 69 10.4 4.43 5.44 0.53
Detroit 56 3.81 3.26 -4.06 4.62
P denotes President's Trophy
Y denotes Division Winner
X denotes Top 3 division finish
WC1,WC2 denotes Wild Card Berth

With these conference projections, here’s how the playoff matchups would pan out:

M1 – Washington Capitals

WC1 – Montreal Canadiens

M2 – Columbus Blue Jackets

M3 – Pittsburgh Penguins

A1 – Tampa Bay Lightning

WC2 – Carolina Hurricanes

A2 – Boston Bruins

A3 – Toronto Maple Leafs

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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6 Responses to Part 2: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting the Atlantic Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    The projected standings resemble last year’s standings, except for the Islanders being out and Montreal getting in.

    And looking at TB’s top line, Stamkos is now with 2/3 of their old “Triplets” second line that was more like a first line; i.e. the line that had the three best players for them not named Stamkos (and de facto first line when Stamkos was out of the lineup). The line of Kucherov, Johnson, and Palat, all from different countries and none were first rounders.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Day One Caps Fan says:

      It will be hard for TBL to live-down their First Round debacle against CBJ!

      They now have that familiar label of “Chokers” on their team. And their tough-talking Attorney-turned-coach … maybe a little humility will help the guy. Winning in the NHL Playoffs is the world’s toughest ticket. Just ask the Washington Capitals!

      Forty-nine days until Caps Training Camp opens. Summer can’t go away fast enough!

      Like

    • Nice observation on the projections roughly lining up with last season’s results!

      Last season’s performances by players and teams are going to have a heavy impact on this projection model, since it takes into account the things we know about how players perform. The “problem” with the WAR projection model is that it doesn’t take into account what we don’t know, like how rookies are going to perform in the NHL, or career year performances.

      Also, the projection takes into account whether a player drives play on their line as a shooter, play-maker, or balanced, as well as if a player is ranked as a “dependent” player who relies on the players who drive play on their line. If a line has two or three players on it marked as “dependent”, they’ll have a very low WAR, and will be below replacement level.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Part 3: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting The Central Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections | NoVa Caps

  3. Pingback: Part 4: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting the Pacific Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections | NoVa Caps

  4. Pingback: The Biggest Question Facing Each NHL Team This Season | NoVa Caps

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