With the Colorado Avalanche locked in a close battle with Winnipeg and Dallas for the Central Division lead as the end of 2023 draws near, does finishing the calendar year on top matter?
Utilizing SHRPSports.com and to aid in your Colorado sports betting, BetColorado.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.
How Year-End Division Leaders Finish
Despite being tied for sixth in the NHL in points heading into Thursday’s schedule, ESPN BET Colorado still lists the Avalanche with the best Stanley Cup odds at +750. Boston and the New York Rangers are tied for second at +800.
Simply Put, It Helps to be on Top
Of the 20 teams leading their respective division 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.
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.
That year, Colorado was fourth in the Central with 36 points at 17-8-2. It went on a tremendous run once the calendar flipped to 2022 and ended the season with 119 points to win the Central by six points over Minnesota. Only the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference finished better with 122 points.
The Avalanche have five games left in 2023, including one Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, to outpace the Stars and Jets for the Central lead. According to Colorado betting apps, the Avalanche are a -175 moneyline favorite. Winnipeg has 41 points, while the Stars and Avalanche are tied with 40.
After tonight, Colorado has another home game against Arizona on Dec. 23 before a two-game road trip at Arizona (Dec. 27) and St. Louis (Dec. 29). The Coyotes are fifth in the Central standings with 34 points, while the Blues are sixth with 31.
The Avalanche close out 2023 with a New Year’s Eve battle at home against Pacific Division cellar dweller San Jose (21 points). It stands to reason Colorado could be favored to win all five games as it ends the year. That would bode well for playoff success in 2024.