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by BuzzFledderjohn on 03/07/09 at 10:39 PM ET
It’s been said for quite a while that the success of the Detroit Red Wings in the regular season is due to their beating-up of divisional opponents. While it’s historically been a weaker division, it’s actually become quite a bit stronger in recent seasons. As late as last year’s playoffs, we’d heard many broadcasters bring up the idea that the Wings pad their regular season points totals due to playing a weak division all season long, despite the fact that their record against their own division last season was far worse than their records against other divisions.
When the Wings won the Stanley Cup last year, it seemed to silence most about the subject. Still, a lot of writers’ season previews still had most Central teams missing the playoffs and staying in the bottom of the conference standings. However, what we’ve seen play out this year has been a drastic difference from years past: the Central division is arguably one of the, if not THE, strongest in the NHL. Here’s some data to support my thesis (as of the standings the morning of Saturday, March 7, 2009).
The following is a summary of all games played against divisons, with points earned, points earned per game, and percentage of possible points earned against the divisions. Note: all data includes only the records of OTHER divisions against the named division (e.g. the “Points Earned Against Central” are for the five other divisions, and do not include the Central division itself). To read this chart in plain English, take the column heading, append the division name and total, and prepend “For all other divisions combined”, to get something like this: “For all other divisions combined, their points earned against the Central division is a total of 242”.
As you can see, the amount of points the other 5 divisions have earned against the Central division are clearly less than the amount that have been earned against other divisions. The Southeast division is still easier to earn points against than the other divisions, but there’s no question that the Central now paces the league. In fact, if the playoffs started today, the Central would have four teams in, none of those lower than the 7th spot. The fifth team, St. Louis, is only 4 points out of the playoffs as well, currently in 12th but surging in recent weeks. The Atlantic division is closest to this type of playoffs outlook, with four teams in and occupying the 7th and 8th slots, but they do have a another team in last place: the New York Islanders.
Is it perhaps time to start referring to the Central as not only a strong division, but the class of the league?
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