Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hockey's Best Division

The best division in the NHL is the Central Division. I say this because Central Division teams have more points than any other division. The Central Division has a combined 334 points. This is the same value as the Pacific Division (but in seven less total games). The Atlantic Division has 325 points, the Northwest Division and Northeast Divisions both have 324 points and the Southeast Division has 300 points.

This is a bit of a surprise because I predicted the Central Division to be Detroit and four also rans. It turns out the also rans are not as weak as expected.

Detroit is a good team and is the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup.

The Nashville Predators, despite having weakened themselves by letting Tomas Vokoun, Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen depart, remains a team that is in place to make the playoffs.

Columbus is a much improved team. Ken Hitchcock has done a very good job of establishing a good defensive system and Pascal Leclaire is playing well enough to be a darkhorse candidate for the Vezina Trophy in net.

St Louis had a much improved start to the season, although they are starting to slip in the standings. Manny Legace is playing very well in their goals and Paul Kariya and Brad Boyes have helped their offence.

Even Chicago is looking to be improved. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two rookies who give them a good future. Patrick Sharp has also made a surprisingly big contribution.

In fact, the Central Division is so strong that it distorts the scoring race. If we subtract out inter-division games, Detroit has the top two (and three of the top 10) scorers. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk would lead the NHL scoring race, with Nicklas Lidstrom also appearing in the top 10.

The Central Division has emerged as the best division in hockey this season. This is something many people haven't noticed. The opinion that the Central is Detroit and a bunch of weak also rans still is commonly held, but it isn't true.

Detroit does look to be very promising, but someone could sneak up and kick their butts to win it! who do you think would have a chance?
With the benefit of hindsight and with the regular season now over it is clear the Central Division is not the best. If you eliminate intradivisional games the number of wins by division are:
Atlantic - 132
Pacific - 131
Northwest - 130
Northeast - 126
Central - 122
Southeast - 109

I used wins and not points so as to eliminate any distortions created by intradivisional 3 point games.

The Atlantic and Northeast divisions benefited from playing the very weak Southeast division teams 75 times each. The Northwest and Central divisions played the Southeast 25 times each and the Pacific played no games against the Southeast.

On a strength of schedule basis the wins would be adjusted to:
Pacific - 132.8
Northwest - 130.0
Atlantic - 127.5
Central - 124.2
Northeast - 123.0
Southeast - 111.8

Accordingly, the best division is the Pacific which is not surprising as San Jose, Anaheim and Dallas are all very good teams.

What is interesting is that the two conference winners (Montreal and Detroit from the Northeast and Central divisions respectively) come from the two of the weaker divisions. This is largely because they play 39% of their games against their weak divisional rivals.
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