It’s way too early to tell.
We do not know nearly enough information about the Devils or about the rest of the NHL to make this kind of determination.
So let’s go ahead and do it anyway.
The first thing to talk about is the Devils current position. The Devils are 4-2-2 which is good for 6th in the Eastern Conference in PTS% which is the first wild card spot as of this writing. It’s not even totally unwarranted — the Devils are the 10th best team in the NHL according to Hockey-Reference’s SRS (Simple Rating System). I’ll reference this a few more times, so just as a reminder, SRS is a rating system that accounts for strength of schedule and goal differential. Furthermore, unlike some teams at the top like the Oilers, Wild, and Canadiens, the Devils are not buoyed by an absurd PDO and good puck luck.
The next thing to talk about is the Devils schedule. I did some number crunching and came up with a few charts that tell you about the state of the schedule yet-to-come vs. the state of the schedule already-played. The full file can be viewed or downloaded here. Below are some excerpts.
The header of the above chart represents days of rest before a game and the first row of data shows how many games in the schedule have that many days of rest. Note: the first game is excluded from this due to the fact that “days of rest preceding” is not a meaningful statistic at that point.
Notice that we have 3, or 20% of our total, games with 3 days of rest and that is not something to get used to. We’ve played only 6% of our back-to-back games and only 7% of our 2-in-3 stretches. So we have been well rested for these early games and that is going to get a bit tougher.
This next chart represents how difficult out opponents have been based on Hockey Reference’s SRS. Based on this, it looks like we seem to have played a somewhat typical quality of opponent. It is a little troubling that we have only played one of the 19 hardest games we are scheduled to play, but reassuring that all of out 6 bottom-feeders are yet-to-come.
The Average SRS of our opponents up to this point has been 0.054, and the average of the games we have yet to play is 0.040. So, despite this chart, it looks like we can expect similar quality of opponent, but it looks like we’ll be getting the extremes more than the middling teams.
This is the one people seem to already know about. We’ve played 5 home games and 3 away which is particularly noteworthy since out home record is 4-0-1 and our away record is 0-2-1. Combine the information here with the info from the other charts and you recognize that we have 12 away games on one day’s rest of which we’ve yet to play one. We have a daunting stretch coming up. Our next 3 games are away. As well as 8 of our next 10 games. We then have 2 home games before playing 9 of the next 11 away. Between now and 12/18, the Devils will have gone 3, 4-game road trips and a 3-game road trip. For some context, we only have 2 such trips after 12/18.
So from all this we know four things:
- The NHL scheduler just completely ignored the Devils when planning this season.
- The amount of rest between starts is about to get significantly more demanding.
- The quality of our opponents will not be significantly better or worse.
- After an easy start, from now to 12/18 represents what is by far the most daunting portion of the schedule geographically.
The last thing to discuss would be the state of the other contending teams. RAMPANT SPECULATION WARNING. IN ONE MONTH THIS IS ALL LIKELY TO BE COMPLETELY TURNED ON ITS HEAD AND RENDERED IRRELEVANT. So let’s do it anyway.
At this point, you have to view the Canadiens and the Rangers (unfortunately) as legit. They have the two highest goal differentials in the league. That’s unfortunate, because neither of them were givens coming into the year. The Lightning, Capitals, and Penguins were in the top 6 in Preseason predictions from ESPN, CBSsports, and CSNNE as well as representing all top 3 slots in Bleacher Report. None of them have done anything to convince us to the contrary. Florida can probably be included in that group as well, they were never outside the top 10 and the emergence of Jonathan Marchessault along with the eventual returns of Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau should keep them squarely in the top 3 of their division.
That leaves 2 spots. If you think that slotting those 6 teams was premature, this is even more impossible to predict. But as things stand, The Red Wings, Senators, and us are in currently duking it out. But really, the only teams it would be surprising to see in the hunt at this point would be Carolina and Toronto. I’d be mildly surprised by Columbus of Buffalo as well.
Based on that landscape, I’d still have us on the outside looking in, but clearly, if we were to continue this level of production, we would be in the wild card discussion at the very least.
This was originally supposed to be a short article geared towards just generating discussion. Then I got carried away with that schedules file which I highly suggest you download and play around with if you are as interested in that stuff as I am.
But, I want to know what you guys think. Coming into the season, many people here including virtually all of the writers predicted us to essentially not even be in the conversation. Has the early-season success convinced you otherwise? Are you still a skeptic? Has the offensive ineptitude in these wins been enough to make you sour on the record? Do you think we’ve had it easy so far?