As everyone knows, there is a proposed realignment that the NHL Board of Governors has approved that really switches things up. If you would like more information on the realignment you can visit the NHL website or check out Kevin Sellathamby's post from earlier this week. I'm going to take a look at whether or not the Devils will face an easier or tougher set of opponents when they are forced into a new alignment.
As of this year. the Devils play a majority of their games against Atlantic division teams and over 50% against Eastern Conference teams. With the new divisions/conferences/super-groups, the Devils will play a much different mix of teams than has been the norm since the last realigning of the league. Generally I've believed the Atlantic division has been as competitive as any division out there. After the jump I'll dive into the numbers and see whether the Devils have had it easy in the comfort of the Atlantic division. (All numbers gathered from ShrpSports)
I took a look at the final season standings from the implication of the current league format in 2001 through the 2010-2011 season in order to see where each division stacks up, below are the results:
Let's start with how the conferences compare to each other. For those of you who have been under a rock for a decade, the West has been the more competitive conference for awhile. The Western conference had about 1,800 less goals against than the East. The East has 755 more goals for than the West, but that still leaves the west with about a +950 goal differential over the East. 950 goals over 9 seasons translates to the West having a little more than ten goals more than the East every season. You could blame this on the difference in styles between the conferences, but the fact is that the Western conference took 351 more points over these nine seasons as well.
The Atlantic division has the second lowest points total in the NHL for the past nine seasons. This surprised me. I expected the Atlantic division to by in the top three divisions, but then again I was in middle school in 2001, so my vision of a strong division is not necessarily valid at that age. The Atlantic could score though; they had the second highest goals for in this time span. That surely wasn't the Devils piling up goal after goal, was it? Finally, the Atlantic division was first in goals against. So from what I gather, the Atlantic division in its lifetime has been a fairly easy division.
Recent memories tell me otherwise. Heck, two years ago I would have said the Atlantic division is the most competitive division in the Eastern conference and possibly the league. Therefore, I looked at the last five seasons to see if I could prove to my conscience that the Devils do play in a tough division. The next tables are collected from the 06-07 season to the 20-11 season:
I'll do the same analysis to be thorough, the West rocks. The West had 651 less goals against, and a goal differential of about +400 over the East. This makes the fact that the West had 145 more points than the East an easy fact to swallow. Of course some of these points are coming from the "point inflation" that occurs because of three point games, but even then it shows the West is more competitive if more games are settled in overtime or the skills competition.
The Atlantic division looks much better in this cross section. The division had the least amount of goals against in the league. When you have the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist, and of course Martin Brodeur, there won't be many goals scored against this division. The division had a large drop in the goals for aspect; they went to the second lowest goals for from the second highest over 9 seasons. With the NHL becoming a higher scoring league since the lockout, this seems odd. Really don't have an explanation for why the goals for has dropped so drastically compared to other divisions.
If you look at each division's total points over 5 seasons, you see the Atlantic division is fourth. To be fair, the number three division, the North East, only has two more points than the Atlantic, making it a fair argument that the Atlantic division is the third most competitive division. Again, the Atlantic division does not stand out from the rest of the crowd. Either there is really high competitiveness throughout the NHL, or the teams in the Atlantic are "average". The most competitive was the Pacific division
So what does this post prove for fans of the New Jersey Devils? The Atlantic has been a fairly average division and the Devils may have had it good in the Atlantic Division. So what will happen if/when the NHLPA agrees and this new league format is reality? I won't make a bold prediction, but it looks like the Devils are in for a higher quality of competition. This does not mean the Devils won't rise to the occasion. The past is not always a perfect predictor of the future, but it looks like the Devils, and possibly the Eastern conference teams are in for a rude awakening, thanks to the Wild West.