Ending Year Atop NHL Division Can Lead to Greater Accomplishments

Ending Year Atop NHL Division Can Lead to Greater Accomplishments
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

With the Boston Bruins holding a six-point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division as the end of 2023 draws near, does finishing the calendar year on top matter?

Utilizing SHRPSports.com to help aid your Massachusetts sports betting, BetMassachusetts.com looked at how NHL teams that lead their division on Jan. 1 finish out the season. Do they win their division? Do they make the Stanley Cup or even win it? We utilized data from the last five full NHL seasons to develop the data. We didn’t include 2020-21 because of COVID-19.

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How Year-End Division Leaders Finish

SituationNumber of Teams Percentage
Win Their Division13 of 2065.0%
Make Conference Finals8 of 2040.0%
Make Stanley Cup4 of 2020.0%
Win Stanley Cup2 of 2010.0%

ESPN BET Massachusetts lists Boston as +800 to win the Stanley Cup, tied with the New York Rangers for the second-best odds in the NHL. Colorado is the odds leader at +750.

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Simply Put, It Helps to be on Top

Of the 20 teams leading their respective divisions in that time frame, 13 went on to be on top when the season ended. That includes the Vegas Golden Knights last year and the Washington Capitals in 2018 during their Stanley Cup winning seasons.

Two more teams advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals and eight of the 20 teams at least advanced to the conference finals. In the 2019-20 and 2018-19 seasons, all four teams leading their divisions failed to make the conference finals, so it’s not a full-proof indicator of postseason success.

One of those teams in 2019-20 was the Boston Bruins. They had a nine-point lead on Toronto on Dec. 31 and won the President’s Trophy as the only team to reach 100 points that season. Eventual champion Tampa Bay eliminated Boston 4-1 in the second round of the playoffs. Four of the seven who didn’t win their division all happened in the 2021-22 season.

Tampa Bay, Washington, St. Louis and Vegas all ended 2021 in first place in the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific divisions, but then didn’t finish that way. However, the Lightning did wind up in the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Avalanche in six games.

The Bruins have five games left in 2023, including one Friday at the Winnipeg Jets, to build on their lead over the Maple Leafs and Panthers. According to Massachusetts betting apps, Winnipeg is a +102 moneyline underdog. Winnipeg has 41 points, compared to 44 for the Bruins.

After Friday, Boston has two more road games at Minnesota on Saturday and Buffalo on Wednesday after the Christmas break. The Bruins will end the year with a home-road back-to-back on Dec. 30-31 facing New Jersey at home before heading to Detroit for a New Year’s Eve showdown.

The Wild are seventh in the Central Division, while Buffalo is also seventh in the Atlantic. The Devils are sixth in the Metropolitan and the Red Wings are sixth in the Atlantic. It stands to reason Boston could be favored to win all four games after Friday’s meeting with Winnipeg. That should leave the Bruins sitting atop the Atlantic by Jan. 1, and that would bode well for playoff success in 2024.

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Author

Douglas Pils has been a sports journalist for 30 years in Texas, Arkansas and New York having worked for the San Antonio Express-News, the Associated Press, The Dallas Morning News and Newsday. He currently runs the Student Media Department at Baylor University.

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