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The Riddle of the Schedule and the Lost Year

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The Devils have a nightmare schedule. But does it actually get better from here out? And what does that mean for out season?

St Louis Blues v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

So there has been a narrative that most of writers, commenters, fans, and pundits have been pushing about the Devils nightmarish early-season schedule. This is probably such a familiar story to you guys because John pointed out the November home-away discrepancy the day it was released and we’ve been mentioning it here ever since.

Here’s the problem ... the difficulty in the schedule does curve our way, only the home/away numbers.

Schedule and Venue

The chart above is the record of our opponents up until yesterday and from now on. The Total Record is just the sum record of all opponents on that interval. The Venue-Adj Record adjusts for location. For instance, our first game was against Florida. Florida has 13 total wins so that contributed to the “Total Record” W column. We played them in Florida and the Panthers have 8 home wins, so 8 were contributed to the “Venue-Adj Record” W column.

This tells us two things:

  1. The level of difficulty in our schedule is actually harder moving forward than it is now. The point percentage of our opponents goes up over 3 percentage points from now on.
  2. The added difficulty of the schedule, and the lowered difficulty of the venue seem to be a wash. The Venue-Adj Pts% of our opponents are only a half of a percentage point off.

And so this narrative of our schedule being November-heavy is doesn’t seem to hold as much water as we’d like.

Schedule and Competition

You might have noticed that the average points percentage for our opponents are all significantly over 0.5. Well the median point percentage for the league is actually 0.55 so that’s to be expected. In fact, according to Hockey References SOS (Strength of Schedule), we’ve had an average difficulty schedule until now. This concurs with the 0.55 Pts% from the chart above.

So why is it that the schedule goes from average to hard? Where’s the easy?

Unfortunately, that’s what comes with playing in what is — BY FAR — the best division in the NHL. Of the top 5 teams in point percentage all are in the East and 4 are in out division. The Washington Capitals are 5th in our division, they would be 2nd in the Atlantic and Central and 1st in the Pacific. And this goes all the way down with the WORST team in the division — the Islanders — at NHL .500. This is how you get an impossibly tough schedule.

As Alex mentioned, we are still a rebuilding team and we are going to have growing pains. This 3 game stretch against the best two teams in the East and the second best team in the West has revealed how far away we still are from the upper class franchises. If you look at our record against teams above average (0.55) in Pts%, this is the breakdown of the Devils record:

We can’t handle the playoff-talent teams in the NHL. We were teased early on with a possible playoff slot, and if we were in a more forgiving situation then perhaps we could have had a greater chance at making a run. As it stands Micah Blake McCurdy has us at a 20% chance to make the playoffs and that’s on the generous side, as other sources like SportsClubStats (much less technical, but more popular) have us at under 10%.

And so as the title says, if we don’t make anything of this season, I’m fine writing it off to convergence of early injuries, and an impossible schedule for a developing team. A “lost year” isn’t a worthless year. The offense has finally broken through a bit more. Severson has not been Larsson defensively, but he has been more dynamic than Larsson ever was and is continuing to try to develop into a long term top pair guy.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of the schedule? Do you think the Home-Away record for the Devils (undefeated at home until recently) makes the Home-Away distribution more important than the record of our opponents? Does the realization of the difficulty of our situation make you more forgiving of a playoffless year? Thanks for reading and comment below :)