With the NHL in the midst of All-Star Weekend, I really did not want to litter this blog with yet another depressing post about how bad the New Jersey Devils are. We all know it, and there will be tons of more articles about it before this season ends. With the way this team is playing, unless something major changes, it will be difficult to write about much else.
But for today, with the league off for all-star activities, it is a good time to look at the standings in general. And this year, it really feels like the good teams are really good and the bad teams are really bad. Sports leagues love parity, when every team has a chance to succeed in any given year. That is true to some degree in the NHL, with Montreal reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last year and being absolutely atrocious this year. That is definitely parity. However, within this year specifically, you could argue that there really is not too much parity. The good teams are really good and stand above the rest, but even more than that, the bad teams are really in a league of their own.
To that end, there are 11 teams with a goal differential better than +20. But, within that, 5 teams have a goal differential over +40. That is pretty incredible at this point in the season. Florida, Colorado, Carolina, Toronto and Minnesota are all regularly crushing their competition, not simply just winning close games. Toronto was a key example of that for Devils fans during that 7-1 nightmare. These teams win, and often win easily.
On the other hand, the bottom of the league is really something else. Philadelphia has had multiple winless streaks of 10+ games, yet there are still 6 teams with fewer points than them at the break, and another tied with them. That is really something. There are 7 teams with a goal differential worse than -30, including New Jersey. Two of those teams have goal differentials of -70 or worse, Arizona and Monteral, they take the losing to a whole new level and make the Devils’ -37 look good by comparison. But in reality, a -37 at the break is very poor, but that is still better than 6 other teams. Yikes.
When you look at this season in the NHL, the parity is not quite there to the same level. In the NFL this year, so many teams had a chance to make the playoffs with a couple of weeks to go, it was really interesting to see and the parity was there. Right now, still with close to half the year remaining, you could argue already that over a third of the league is dead. That is not ideal, and definitely does not create the parity the league wants. There are only five teams that have a goal differential in the single digits right now: Los Angeles (+6), Anaheim (+4), Edmonton (+4), Dallas (-2), and Winnipeg (-8). Everyone else is really either good or bad, there is not much middle ground.
Of course, much of this tracks pretty consistently with goaltending numbers. If you look at team save percentages this year, thanks to Natural Stat Trick, you will find mostly only minor alterations from the standings. All 5 of those top teams are in the top half of the league in save percentage, although interestingly enough, Colorado is only ranked 15th in the league. Then among those bottom 7 teams, only Philadelphia is not ranked #20 or lower. As the Devils have shown us this year, goaltending is vital, and if you don’t have it, you cannot hide your flaws in the rest of your game. And that is true for most of the other teams in the league too. The most interesting exception might be Anaheim, rocking that +4 goal differential but having the 3rd best save percentage in the league so far.
In the end, I think the league would benefit from more parity within a given year. There is definite parity year-over-year with teams that make the playoffs then fall off the face of the earth the following year, and vice versa, but right now, the good teams are really good, and the bad teams are really bad. If any of you bet on NHL games, you also notice this in moneyline odds. Colorado, the other night against Arizona, was somewhere around a -540 moneyline favorite. Of course, they lost that game, but still. So many games feature teams who have odds of -200 or more on the moneyline, and many games still have the favorite at - odds on a -1.5 puck line. It is not uncommon to see teams over -300 favorites on the moneyline. It is tougher and tougher to find games where both teams have somewhere near -110 odds, unless you happen to find a game where two of those bad or good teams are playing each other. That is not great.
Of course, I don’t exactly know how to generate more parity within a season, and I am not expressing an interest for serious changes to make it happen, but just in terms of competitive balance and actually watching enjoyable hockey night in and night out, having a bunch of really good teams and bunch of really bad teams is not ideal. Sadly, the Devils are in the latter category of course, but that is a topic for other articles on this blog.