Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Closest Division

We are well into the third month of the 2006/07 NHL season and in the Northwest Division nothing is settled. First and last place in the division is currently separated by a mere two points. Here are the standings

Northwest Division Standings (as of the end of Dec 18th games)
Team GP Wins Losses Cheap Loser Points Total Points
Edmonton Oilers321715236
Calgary Flames311615335
Vancouver Canucks331716135
Minnesota Wild321616234
Colorado Avalanche331617234


Unlike the NHL, I am calling a loss a loss (even if its in overtime or a shootout), but I have to keep track of overtime loss points to get the standings correct.

The difference between first and last in the division is Edmonton has one extra win and two less losses than Colorado. That is miniscule and luck alone should provide a bigger spread (if we imagine each team flipped fair coin to determine results instead of playing games, there would be a bigger difference between first and last). When the season completes, the top team in this close race gets one of the top three seeds in the west (likely 3rd) and the bottom team(s) likely miss playoffs. The difference between 3rd seed and missing playoffs in last place could be miniscule.

Currently, Edmonton leads. They have had strong goaltending from Dwayne Roloson and suprisingly good results from a young, inexperienced defence. Their forward unit is deep but hasn't provided the level of offence I would have expected before the season began. Hot on their heels is Calgary, with a game in hand. They possess susperstar goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and the best defence in the division. Their offence hasn't been too great, though Jarome Iginla might be beginning to take off (if he gets some support from Alex Tanguay or others watch out). Next up is Vancouver with a a very weak offence (though that could change somewhat if Markus Naslund starts going) and some great goaltending in Roberto Luongo. They are followed by Minnesota who is off to a good start considering Marian Gaborik (their expected top scorer) has been limited to seven games played. They have a strong defensive system instilled by Jacques Lemaire and a strong goalie in Manny Fernandez. In last is Colorado. They have the best offence of the bunch led by Joe Sakic (and it has room for improvment - Milan Hejduk has not stood out yet this year). They are the team with the weakest goaltending so far, but that could change if Jose Theodore ever starts to play like a Hart Trophy winner again.

In a few days, likely the order of these teams will shuffle, but they will remain tightly bunched. I still stand by my prediction that Calgary will likely win the division. This is the ultimate parity division. Nobody is great. Nobody is bad. Everyone is around .500 (as many wins as losses), but how does one make predictions when games decided by coin tosses would likely give a larger spread from first to last?

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