How Do Year-End NHL Division Leaders Finish?

How Do Year-End NHL Division Leaders Finish?
By Jeff Parker
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

As NHL fans and customers at Ontario sportsbooks await the end of 2023, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in second place in the Atlantic Division, closing in on the leading Boston Bruins. But the Buds aren’t the only Canadian team fighting for a division lead in the NHL.

The Winnipeg Jets are third in the Central going into Wednesday’s games, just a point out of first, and second place in the Pacific belongs to the Vancouver Canucks, who are also only a point behind the leader. Any or all three could own first place in their respective divisions by Jan. 1, so we decided to look at the results of previous NHL franchises that celebrated New Year’s Eve as division leaders., where you’ll find Stanley Cup odds all season, used data from to look at the past five NHL seasons (minus the 2020-21 campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic) as of Jan. 1 each season. We then created the chart below, demonstrating how each team that led their division on New Year’s Day ended the season.

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How NHL Division Leaders On Jan. 1 Finish Seasons

Situation No. of Teams Percentage
Win Their Division 13 of 20 65.0%
Make Conference finals 8 of 20 40.0%
Make Stanley Cup final 4 of 20 20.0%
Win Stanley Cup 2 of 20 10.0%

Maple Leafs Surging To Top Of Atlantic

After a slow start this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs began December hot, going 4-0-3 through their first seven games and collecting 11 of 14 possible points. In fact, they hadn’t lost in regulation all month until Tuesday, when the New York Rangers handed them a 5-2 loss at home. Now the Maple Leafs, who have 13.83 decimal odds to win the Stanley Cup with Pinnacle Ontario Sportsbook, find themselves six points behind the Bruins in the Atlantic, having played one less game.

Despite Tuesday’s loss, Toronto’s turnaround looks to be real. A major factor has been Mitch Marner, who regained his footing after a tough start to the season and has 14 points over the past nine games. 

How Toronto manages to close out 2023 will likely be determined by the play between the pipes. Offseason goaltending addition Ilya Samsonov has struggled and now Joseph Woll is hurt. Veteran goaltender Martin Jones was elevated from the AHL Marlies after Woll’s injury, and in his first three games Jones allowed only four goals on 79 shots (.949 SV%). But after surrendering four to New York, it remains to be seen if he’s the answer in net.

The Leafs have five games left in 2023, including Thursday night at Buffalo, where the Sabres are a +130 moneyline underdog at NorthStar Bets Ontario Sportsbook (Toronto is a -159 favorite). If the Leafs begin 2024 as division leaders, recent history suggests they have a 65% chance of finishing atop the Atlantic at the end of the regular season and a 10% chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

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Jets, Canucks Also Contending For Division Titles

Two other Canadian teams are also fighting for the division lead, the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks.

The Jets, with 39 points, are only one point back from the Stars and Avalanche, who share first place. But despite their success, Winnipeg isn’t seen a top competitor for the Stanley Cup — you can back the Jets at long odds. They’re currently +2800 on bet365 Ontario Sportsbook.

Meanwhile, after another win Tuesday, 5-2 over the Nashville Predators, the Canucks are just one point back of the division lead in the Pacific. In fact, Vancouver has the second-most points in the NHL with 46, one behind last season’s champions, the Vegas Golden Knights. Still, Vancouver is also +2800 to win the cup on Bet365.

Last season’s Vegas Golden Knights and the 2018 Washington Capitals were the lone Stanley Cup winners who led their divisions on Jan. 1 in the past five seasons. In 2021-22, all four teams (Tampa Bay, Washington, St. Louis and Vegas) who led their division on Jan. 1 failed to finish there. In both 2018-19 and 2019-20, all four teams who led their division on New Year’s Day failed to make the conference finals.

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Jeff Parker

Jeff Parker is an entertainment writer for A writer for film, television and the internet, Jeff is a life long movie buff, with a Masters Degree in Popular Culture. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he works full time as documentary filmmaker and producer.

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