Monday, January 21, 2008

The Southleast Division
A five-season study (2002-2008)

My post last week on the Southeast Division's struggles this season didn't win over many believers in Raleigh, Tampa, Miami, Washington or Atlanta.

Here's another attempt, this time taking into account regular-season games from 2002-03 until last night.

Total record

W L O Pts%
947 667 260 57.5%
932 667 281 57.0%
890 708 285 54.8%
872 725 276 53.9%
859 743 275 53.1%
810 789 284 50.6%

The Northeast has consistently been the strongest division since 2002-03, with our pals down south predictably bringing up the rear. And while that 7 per cent may not look like much, it includes all of those pesky interdivision games.

If we eliminate Southeast-on-Southeast action, they fall further.

Record vs. teams in same conference, different division
(with 82-game projection)

W L O Pts%
491 301 134 60.3%
465 326 133 57.5%
428 356 133 53.9%
428 365 130 53.4%
398 379 144 51.0%
391 406 126 49.2%

Notice the gap between the teams widening now, and keep in mind that the Western Conference has been stronger for the bulk of these five seasons. That means that, if we go to play only against the other conference, things will get uglier for the Southeast:

Record vs. teams in other conference

W L O Pts%
178 109 48 60.3%
159 111 56 57.4%
157 122 52 55.3%
154 125 50 54.4%
150 126 57 53.6%
121 149 59 45.7%

The gap has turned into a chasm.

Honestly, that's not even close, especially considering that a 50 per cent points percentage is well below the playoff pace these days. Keep in mind the fact that the Central has a team that has never made the playoffs (Columbus) and a perennial also-ran (Chicago), and the Atlantic has had two basement-dwelling Pittsburgh teams and one from Philadelphia.

The Southeast's only winning record against the other conference came in 2005-06 when Carolina and Tampa Bay beat up on the West.

It's actually quite amazing that a division with two recently dominant teams (the Lightning in 2003-04 and Hurricanes in 2005-06) can be that bad otherwise. This is the ninth season for the Southeast Division and only three teams out of 45 will have topped 97 points by the end of this year. (The team with the best record this season, the Capitals, would need to go 25-9-1 over the rest of the season to put up 98 points.)

To me, the "expansion division" argument simply doesn't fly: After all, the Tampa Bay Lightning turn 16 years old this fall.


At 10:02 a.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Having one large revenue team would help I'm sure.

Jim Matheson wrote an article that had suspiciously a lot of info used in that last post of yours/my email that ran on Friday in CanWest papers, although he at least didn't get too lazy with sources as he went out of his way to send a token email the NHL about if there were any plans to change the playoff format if a team not in the top 8 made it.

But I think readers got more info from this blog and the comments section by far than that article. It'd just be nice if other members of the MMM didn't consistently harp on blogs but then use them as source material.

At 11:43 a.m., January 21, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

All five teams in that division have been to the Stanley Cup Finals in the past 11 seasons, so I have to agree that the "expansion division" argument is nonsense.

Put simply, that division has traditionally been overrun by incompetent management. Especially in today's cap age.

Seems that usually, one team is good, while the rest suck. This year, they all suck.

At 11:44 a.m., January 21, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

Err, that should be four of the five have been to the finals. Silly Atlanta...

At 11:55 a.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger Taste of Flames said...

James, its not that you didn't convice us SE division fans, we just are tired of hearing how much we suck. We know we are a horrible division, but everybody dumping crap on us doesn't really help in any way. The SE division is blessed with either god awful management or worse ownership (or in the case of ATL, both). As soon as we get some people on the front office that actually care about hockey, instead of their bottom line. The Atlanta Spirit group (owners of the Thrashers and NBA's Hawks) focus nearly all their money towards the basketball crowd.

At 11:56 a.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger Taste of Flames said...

That was supposed to read:

As soon as we get some people on the front office that actually care about hockey, instead of their bottom line, we might actually be worth a damn.

At 12:55 p.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger Bruce said...

But I think readers got more info from this blog and the comments section by far than that article.

Hear, hear, Saskhab. I've followed the mainstream media's hockey coverage for 45 years and the blogosphere for 1, but I feel so much better informed this year there is absolutely zero comparison.

As for Matheson, he could do to read the blogs a little more often before he posts his error-ridden columns. A small example -- of MANY -- was this week's defence of Kevin Lowe (as differentiated from LAST week's defence of K-Lowe, or last month's) in which Matty rather forcefully asserted the Buffalo Sabres have never been to the Stanley Cup Finals during Darcy Regier's 10 years at the helm. Uh, Jim, how about 1999? Brett Hull?? That was kinda famous; this lowly reader didn't even need to look it up, I just, you know, remembered it.

At 1:01 p.m., January 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You people expect Jim Matheson to write something that wasn't lifted directly from the wire? Or fed to him by Oilers management?
You mean, like, work for his quotes?
He was a hack when I was a Journal paperboy in the late 70s. He was a hack when I read the same wire copy he did in the late 80s and he's a hack now.

At 1:39 p.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger Darrell said...

This is what happens when you have an entire division who don't believe in defenseman. And their is no worse offender than Atlanta, who despite having no defenseman last year, made huge trades at the deadline for MORE FORWARDS! If you want to win, get yourself some defenseman, not 9 forwards. We have all seen how Slovakia fares in the Olympics without any D (and a killer group of forwards).

At 2:13 p.m., January 21, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

It's not just Matheson, Anon. In Edmonton, if you want access to the Oilers, you gotta tow the company line.

At 6:57 p.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger d-lee said...

Yes, James. The Southeast division sucks and the Northeast division are gods. We get it.
When, though, was the last time a team currently in the Northeast division won a Cup? I'll give you a hint: Montreal 1992. Since then, every other division has had at least two Cup wins.
It doesn't matter how dominant a team (or division) is in the regular season if they don't win in crunch time.
The regular season isn't what it's all about. Kids don't dream of winning the President's Trophy.

At 7:05 p.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

At least now anyone looking for that detailed analysis will know where to find it.

You know what, who knows? Maybe playing a raft of soft teams all season makes it easier for a Southeast team to win the Cup? Maybe finishing higher by virtue of an easy division wins lessens the load?

What I can't understand is fans who want to dismiss analysis like this out of hand because it somehow paints their team in a bad light. It is what it is — there've been poor ownership and management situations in those markets for years and the standings have born that out.

Don't expect others to stick their heads in the sand over it. Strength of schedule impacts every team in the league.

(And I'd argue the Northwest has actually been the toughest division to play in the past five seasons.)

Let me ask you this, D-Lee — if I do a postseason analysis of the Southeast over the nine seasons, how do you think they'll fare?

At 11:36 p.m., January 21, 2008, Blogger Bubba said...

Those are interesting stats James but you don't give any reasoning for them. If the expansion and/or new market argument doesn't fly, what logical reason would you give for the huge disparity?

Perhaps Southeast management really is brain-dead, but aren't most of the managers originally from the north? Did they grow stupid once they moved down here?

Or could it be that SE management is more cost conscious regarding their personnel decisions because they have less money coming in than the teams from the northeast do? They need to be frugal if they want to survive.

I'd love to see a similar chart showing how much money each team and division spent on salaries over the same time period. Would you like to bet on which division would be at the bottom of that comparison as well?

I agree that it would also be interesting to see playoff records.

One other point, it takes a lot of time and expense to develop markets from scratch, a problem that most northern teams don't have to be concerned about.

This is a great discussion James and you do a wonderful job. But instead of just showing the statistics and saying that one theory "doesn't fly", what is your theory behind why the division sucks?

(PS..I would still rather be a recent Cup winner than a leader in statistics.) *S*

At 11:48 p.m., January 22, 2008, Blogger The Falconer said...

A couple of comments:

1) I'm a blogger of Southeast Division team. THE SOUTHEAST IS TBY FAR THE WEAKEST DIVISION IN THE NHL THIS SEASON. That is an empirical fact and I have no problem admitting that fact.

2) I personally hate having 6 divisions and I think the whole think smacks of some marketing majors idea "Hey if we go to six divisions two more NHL teams can advertise themselves as champions." If the NHL went back to four divisions the odds of a weak team winning a division title fall sharply.

3) Pre-lockout the SE teams had below average payrolls which explains some of the historical pattern. Post-lockout the SE was decent the first two seasons and really fell off the cliff in this current season. I suspect that the division still brings up the rear in terms of payrolls.

4) I have no problem admitting my division is weak, but I would note that in my opinion the SE gets far more negative press for being "bad" than the Central Division did when it very weak in the two post-lockout seasons. (As an aside I would also note that fans of the NW Division go on and on about how tough it is when in fact this year the Central is clearly tougher based upon the statistics--bias is in the eye of the beholder I suppose.)

5) So what explains the big drop off in the SE this season after two fairly respectable seasons? Is it a division wide inability to identify and price talent accurately? Or is it that every starting goalie in the division is having a sub-par season? In my mind those are far more interesting questions than just kicking the division in rear end once again.


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