Saturday, January 14, 2006

Just another day in the Northwest Division

Three days ago, the mighty Spector offered us his 'halfway point' analysis of all 30 NHL clubs. Colorado's struck me as odd:
COLORADO AVALANCHE: The Avs are in an unaccustomed spot, trying to hang onto one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference. Goaltending and their team defence have been issues this season, spurring rumours that GM Pierre Lacroix might pull another rabbit out of his hat and trade for a big name netminder. Anything's possible, but the salary cap limits Lacroix's bargaining power, and he may be stuck with the goalies he's got the rest of the season and hope they improve.
Odd, I say, because three days later, the Avalanche are leading the Northwest Division, at least prior to Calgary's game against Minnesota tonight. In fact, should Calgary lose and Vancouver and Edmonton win, there will be a four-way logjam at 55 points atop the division.

A little nutty, no?

The NHL's new loopy schedule has done a number on the NHL standings and one of the most pronounced ramifications is for teams in either strong or weak divisions.

Mudcrutch's stats package here shows how the strength of the NHL schedule has affected various NHL teams. Not surprisingly, all four of Vancouver, Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton are four of the top eight teams, mainly because each team will face one of those three clubs 24 times this season.

On the flip side, Detroit and Nashville have been pounding the bottomfeeders in their division — St. Louis, Chicago and Columbus — and skewing their record towards the high end. The Red Wings and Predators combined records versus those three teams is 23-1-1 (12-1, 11-0-1).

That is plain ridiculous.

A lot of pundits have complained about the league's new unbalanced schedule because fans aren't getting the chance to see every team, but the real tragedy is how the standings are being affected.

Not a lot of fans are going to shed many tears for them, but one of the teams that has been put in a really tough position is the Minnesota Wild, who have played much better hockey than their record would indicate.

The answer? Well, if the NHL is hellbent on keeping schedules heavily weighted by division, it's time for a return to a four-division league. I've addressed this in the past, but it's having too big an impact to continue to ignore.


At 10:18 a.m., January 15, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

I tend to agree. The schedules are way too lopsided to have teams in different divisions competing against each other for playoff spots. But, with that said, the effects aren't that dramatic. If I read that chart correct Vancouvers goal differential would be 9.8 goals more than it really is. Over the 39 games that is about 1 goal every four games. Is that really going to have a major impact on their win/loss record?

I have created a power ranking system that takes into account difficulty of schedule and while there are differences with the actual standings, they aren't huge. The standings fairly closely match the records of each team. The current eight playoff teams in the west are the top 8 teams in my power rankings. In the east Montreal misses the playoffs because of their schedule while Atlanta makes it because of theirs. But that is the only difference when it comes to who makes the playoffs.

The actual results don't seem as dramatic as you might think they should be.

At 8:11 p.m., January 15, 2006, Blogger vfsv said...

Admittedly being a life-long Wings fan, I won't pretend the current system is working in our favor. However Colorado, & to some extent Dallas, benefited for years from being in a division where they were the only laying out big bucks. For what I recall were several years, Colorado would have their division wrapped up with weeks left in the regular season while Detroit was fighting to catch, or hold off, St. Louis. This showed up in the playoffs in a couple years where Detroit was banged up while Colorado was not only whole, but rested.

Now that the system, for however long St. Louis, Chicago & Columbus remain so awful, works in Detroit's favor, everybody wants to complain?

The point of the salary cap is to end the spending gap. The fact that Calgary, Edmondton & Vancouver figured it out more quickly than St. Louis, Chicago & Columbus is at least a function of management expertise, rather than pockets deep enough to hide mistakes &/or acquire fixes. (Even now, Colorado & Vancouver seem to be trying to acquire "fixes" but may be limited by the cap. Meanwhile, Detroit lost 2 of the their top 4 "D" & are likewise handcuffed.)


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