Yesterday, I attempted to answer the question of whether the New Jersey Devils usually play fewer games in October than the rest of the league. The Devils were usually below the league average, but by less than one game. Only five times out of the last 15 seasons were they below the league average in games played by more than a game.
In response to the post, user SonicJoe had an interesting request in this comment:
These averages are for the entire NHL, correct. I’d like to see the Devs vs. the conference average and vs. the division average for these seasons. It may be true that they mostly have an average schedule league wide, but what if the East has a typically heavier October than the West, or if the Atlantic Division in general has heavier schedules than other divisions. After all, its the other teams in the East and in the Atlantic that the Devs are competing against for playoff positioning.
He raises a good point at the end. If the Devils are regularly behind the rest of the division or the conference, then that will have more of an impact than compared with the whole league. It would mean they would have a heavier workload in later months than teams they're chasing or trying to get away from in the standings. Given more games in a month means less time to practice, recover from injury, and reduce fatigue, it could have an impact. Rather than stash it away in a comment, I think it's worthy of a quick follow-up post. Find out how the amount of the games the Devils have played in past Octobers compared with the rest of the conference and the division after the jump.
Let's start with the Eastern Conference. The NHL re-aligned and expanded a few times early in this time frame. The East was at 13 teams from 1995-96 to 1997-98; moved up to 14 in 1998-99; and has settled at 15 in the 1999-2000 season. Here's how the Devils' October schedule stacked up with the rest of the East in the last 15 seasons:
Just like with the league, the Devils were usually below the average of the amount of games played in the East. Only in the 2010-11 season did they surpass the conference average; and they hit it perfectly in 2007-08. At the same time, the Devils were also usually just under the conference average - just like in the league. The difference in games was less than one for 10 out of 13 seasons where they finished October under the conference average. The Devils were only significantly below average in the 1997-98, 2001-02, and 2002-03 seasons. Since the last occurrence was 7 seasons ago, I wouldn't call it a recent phenomenon.
As for the Atlantic Division goes, that too went through a change in the past 15 seasons. The division actually consisted of 7 teams from 1995-96 to 1997-98. Pittsburgh wasn't in the Atlantic, but Florida, Tampa Bay, and Washington were. In the 1998-99 season, the league went to three divisions per conference which resulted in the Atlantic Division we all know and love today. Here's how the Devils' October schedule compared with their divisional opponents over this time frame:
The Devils were below the division average of games played by more than one game 5 times in the last 15 times. Among those 5 times, the Devils played fewer games than the entire division 4 times. The last time this happened was in the 2009-10 season, so it's not an old phenomenon. Interestingly, there is more of a mix of results. The Devils hit the division average directly twice; and the Devils were above the division average three times, once above by more than one game.
In conclusion, it's fair to say the Devils play fewer games in October than the average team in the NHL, the Eastern Conference, and the Atlantic Division. However, most of the time, they're below average by less than a game. That doesn't mean the Devils will have make up too much later in the season. There have been seasons where they've had to make up more than one game later on: 1997-98, 2001-02, 2002-03. Those were seasons where the Devils were scheduled for two or more games below the average in October. 1996-97 and 2007-08 both came close of being below average across all three populations too. Last season was an anomaly, where the Devils played more games than average in October.
The Devils played 153 October games over those 15 years, while the rest of the league averaged 167. That’s just about an entire game (9%) less on average. We don’t have the data on hand to calculate a p value but come on, you don’t just end up below the league average for 14 years in a row by sheer chance. Flip a coin and the odds of coming up heads 14 times in a row is one in 16 million.
Maybe the schedule makers at the league will realize this in the future. Given past history and odd decisions like assigning home games at 1 PM on Columbus Day, I wouldn't hold my breath.