Thursday, January 19, 2012

2010-2011 Standings under Realignment

Now, other professional writers, bloggers, and analysts have already reported what the 2011 Stanley Cup playoff picture might have looked like had the realignment taken place last season. However, they qualify their statement by mentioning that their numbers are based on the current NHL schedule and not on the proposed realignment schedule. Well, here at the Sporting A-Jen-Da, we don't think that is good enough. And by "we" I mean "I," and by that statement, I mean I'd rather spend a month figuring out scores based on the proposed realignment schedule. So while I may not have gotten that facts together in a timely fashion as the professionals have, you just have to remember that I'm not a professional!

Let's take a walk down memory land and look at the standings for each conference at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 regular season. The teams that made it into the playoffs are highlighted in yellow.
                      East                                                                    West
1. Washington (107 pts, 48-23-11)                        1. Vancouver (117 pts, 54-19-9)
2. Philadelphia (106 pts, 47-23-12)                      2. San Jose (105 pts, 48-25-9)
3. Boston (103 pts, 46-25-11)                                3. Detroit (104 pts, 47-25-10)
4. Pittsburgh (106 pts, 49-25-8)                           4. Anaheim (99pts, 47-30-5)
5. Tampa Bay (103 pts, 46-25-11)                        5. Nashville (99 pts,44-27-11)
6. Montreal (96 pts, 44-30-8)                              6. Phoenix (99 pts, 43-26-13)
7. Buffalo (96 pts, 43-29-10)                                7. Los Angeles (98 pts, 46-30-6)
8. NY Rangers (93 pts, 44-33-5)                         8. Chicago (97 pts, 44-29-9)
9. Carolina (91 pts, 40-31-11)                               9. Dallas (95 pts, 42-29-11)
10. Toronto (85 pts, 37-34-11)                            10. Calgary (94 pts, 41-29-12)
11. New Jersey (81 pts, 38-39-5)                         11. St. Louis (87 pts, 38-33-11)
12. Winnipeg (80 pts, 34-36-12)                         12. Minnesota (86 pts, 39-35-8)
13. Ottawa (74 pts, 32-40-10)                             13. Columbus (81 pts, 34-35-13)
14. New York Islanders (73 pts,30-39-13)          14. Colorado (68 pts, 30-44-8)
15. Florida (72 pts, 30-40-12)                             15. Edmonton (62 pts, 25-45-12)

It should be noted that although Boston has 103 points and Pittsburgh has 106 points, the Bruins are seeded third because division winners are given the top three seeds. (For division standings, see Last season, the Vancouver Canucks ran away with the President's Trophy, and they seemed to be the team to win it all. The New York Rangers sat on edge during the Lightning at Hurricanes game because a Canes win would slide them into 9th place while a Canes loss would put them in the last playoffs spot. The Los Angeles Kings were watching the April 10th Red Wings at Blackhawks game because a Blackhawks win would put them in eighth place and would have to prepare to square off against Vancouver for a second year in a row. However, a Blackhawks loss would slide them into seventh, and they would be traveling up to San Jose begin the first round of the playoffs. Philadelphia who had such a strong push through the majority of the season was being to wear thin and tried to regain that momentum that put them into the Stanley Cup finals the previous year.

Now, for what you've all been waiting! Here is how the standings might have looked had realignment been implemented last season. It should be noted not all scores are from the 2010-2011 season. Some scores were taken from the 2009-2010 season because some teams that meet six times under the proposed alignment only meet four times during the current schedule. Also, Winnipeg now playing a lot of new teams multiple times a year forced me to find scores from 2002. I used the most recent scores when available, but I also chose some games at random in instances in which two teams playing six times a year under the current NHL model then played only twice under the proposed realignment. For the teams in Conferences A and B, I selected which teams played six times and five times at random.

             Conference A                                             Conference B
1. San Jose (110 pts, 51-23-8)                         1. Nashville (101 pts, 44-25-13)
2. Vancouver (110 pts, 51-23-8)                     2. Detroit (100 pts, 46-28-8)
3. Los Angeles (109 pts, 52-25-5)                   3. Chicago (99 pts, 45-29-9)
4. Anaheim (103 pts, 47-30-5)                       4. Dallas (94 pts, 42-30-10)
5. Phoenix (97 pts, 42-27-13)                         5. St. Louis (94 pts, 40-28-14)
6. Calgary (90 pts, 38-3-14)                           6. Columbus (90 pts, 39-31-12)
7. Colorado (71 pts, 32-43-7)                         7. Winnipeg (79 pts, 35-38-9)
8. Edmonton (68 pts, 28-42-12)                    8. Minnesota (77 pts, 39-35-8)

             Conference C                                                 Conference D
1. Buffalo (108 pts, 49-23-10)                          1. Washington (113 pts, 52-21-9)
2. Boston (96 pts, 42-28-12)                            2. Pittsburgh (104 pts, 46-24-12)
3. Tampa Bay (80 pts, 40-26-16)                    3. Philadelphia (103 pts, 45-24-13)
4. Montreal (95 pts, 43-30-9)                          4. New York Rangers (92 pts, 43-33-6)
5. Toronto (80 pts, 35-37-10)                          5. New York Islanders (81 pts, 34-35-13)
6. Florida (72 pts, 29-39-14)                            6. Carolina (80 pts, 35-37-10)
7. Ottawa (71 pts, 30-41-11)                             7. New Jersey (79 pts, 36-39-7)

It should be noted that Winnipeg is the biggest wild card under the NHL realignment. They have not traditionally played teams within Conference B more than once a year. However, they have been a team that has been struggling for many years and have not made a playoff appearance since 2007, their only playoff stint. Although the team that has improved, I don't think they would have made the playoffs under realignment.

Well, the first thing to be discussed is that the Washington Capitals walk away with the President's trophy. The Caps had a slow start to the 2010 season, but they soon pushed past the Flyers to dominate the East as the season continued. Under the proposed realignment, the point differential between Vancouver and Washington is not as great. At the end of the 2010 season, Washington finished with 107 points while Vancouver had 117. This is a huge 10 point difference. Under realignment, favor sways towards the Washington Caps as they only have a three point advantage over the Vancouver Canucks. Although Dan Bylsma (coach of the Penguins) won the Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) (and I think he still would have won the award given the team's success despite the injuries they faced), I think Bruce Boudreau's (coach of the Capitals) name would have at least been thrown in the mix considering the Alain Vigneault (coach of the Vancouver Canucks) was also in the running.

Sharks fans will rejoice in this because they tied for points with the Vancouver Canucks. What should be noted is that both teams had the same exact record, 51-23-8. What put the Sharks just over the Canucks is that they scored four more goals during the "season," according to my calculations. Yes, it was that (fake) close. On a related note, look at Conferences A and B, the current Western conference plus Winnipeg. For teams in the current Pacific Division, being placed in Conference A somehow makes the conference even more competitive if you can believe that. Last season almost all five teams in the Pacific made it into the playoffs, and Dallas was a bare miss. Under realignment, Dallas moves out but in enters Vancouver, a top contender for the Cup. I don't think I even have to explain what a competitive team they are... just ask Patrice Bergeron... Although Colorado and Edmonton have been struggling teams, they have been drafting well and rebuilding to create teams that will be ready to be legitimate playoff contenders within the next few years. Calgary seems to be sitting in the middle of the road. Since they didn't make any major offseason moves, they seem to be satisfied with Kipprusoff, Iginla, Glencross, and Bouwmeester leading the team. However, their trades with Montreal for Cammalleri and Tampa Bay for Blair Jones indicates that mediocrity is no longer okay with them. Cami is a great addition to give Iginla more offensive power, and Jones will bring youth and has a lot of future potential. Even though Anaheim currently is sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, they won't stay there for long. Hart Trophy winner Cory Perry and his line mates Getzlaf and Ryan are usually a dream team line. I would take this 2011 season as an anomaly and see them return back to form by the end of this season if not by next season for sure. The Sharks have always been striving to bring the Cup to San Jose, and the entire organization that that is their ultimate goal and have been making the moves to ensure it happens. The Kings have also been vocal about finally bringing the Cup to LA, and their offseason trade for Richards is what they hope to be the final piece of the puzzle.

Now, let's talk numbers. Notice the point totals for this conference! Anaheim takes the last playoff spot and has over 100 points and a record of 49-28-5. As opposed to the other conferences, the fourth place team only had to record wins in the mid-forties, a little more than half the games. In this highly competitive Conference A, you have to win almost ten games more than half. And to reiterate what was discussed in the "Schedule of Games" blog, the schedule under the proposed realignment might sway which teams will have a better chance of getting those crucial wins to knock them just over their opponent. In Conference A, every game literally matters as the top four teams are only separated by a few wins, including those overtime loss points. And no team feels this perhaps more than the Phoenix Coyotes, who made it to the playoffs in the current system but would not have nearly enough points under the proposed realignment. However, at fifth place in Conference A, they still have more points than the fourth place teams in all the other conferences. Just a point of reference. Now, I think that Vancouver falls short of taking the President's Trophy as they had under the current NHL structure because this realignment conference is far more competitive. Going by today's system, the Canucks are in the Northwest Division with Calgary, Minnesota, Colorado, and Edmonton. Only the Canucks made the playoffs in this division, and this is because the other teams are more middle- to bottom-of-the-pack. Since the Canucks play these teams the most and match up well against them, they rack up a number of wins within the division. However, as Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Jose enter the picture under realignment, the Canucks have to battle out those wins. While these teams do win a lot of games which is reflected in their point totals, it isn't enough to come out on top in the entire league.

Conference B is in a similar situation as Conference A. Again, this is another highly competitive conference. The first place team and the third place team are separated by only two points, and the first place team is only seven points ahead of the fifth place team. Furthermore, Dallas barely edges out St. Louis for the last playoff spot because despite their having the same point totals, Dallas has two more wins (42) than St. Louis (40). Even Columbus in sixth place trails by only four points. Winnipeg is the one wild card in this conference since most of the games I used to derive data are from past years rather than the most recent 2010 season. To make the playoffs in this conference, you have to win just over half your wins and accumulate a point total at least in the mid-nineties. What makes this conference competitive is first of all you have the Red Wing and Blackhawks who are always a strong team and seem to always be in the playoff picture. Nashville has been a contender for the playoffs in recent years. Although they have never made it past the first round, they still have what it takes to get there. Dallas has been a strong team, and they tend to bubble near the playoff cutoff. They were narrowly ousted in the current structure and are barely edged into under the realignment. Although Minnesota ranked eighth in the standings under my realignment calculations, this does not reflect their major offseason moves. I don't see Minnesota making the playoffs this year under either structure, but I do see them becoming a contender in the next few years. They have some young talent, and they aren't afraid to make the big trades to make the improvements they think they need.

Under realignment, Conference C has a distinct top four and bottom three. As opposed to Conferences A and B, the fourth place team, Montreal, has fifteen more points than the fifth place Toronto team. Sitting at the top of this conference is Buffalo, Boston, Tampa Bay, and Montreal. Buffalo runs away in points with 108 and tops out the Bruins who come in second with 96 points and narrowly edge out Tampa Bay (who ties them in points) but have two more wins. Montreal has 95 points and 43 wins. Rather than scrambling to make the playoffs as in Conferences A and B, these teams just have to vie for which spot and potential match-up they might want. Although Toronto and Florida are so far out of the playoff picture under realignment, don't be so quick to count them out in future years. These clubs have been hard at work during the offseason and even into the beginning of this season to no longer be that shot-in-the-dark team.

Conference D is under much of the same predicament as Conference C. Again, there are the top four teams and the bottom three. The Caps lead the conference and league. With 113 points, they lead the Penguins by 9 points. Philadelphia isn't far behind at 103 points. These two teams were tied in wins under the current structure, so this isn't much of a shock. The last playoff spot belongs to the New York Rangers who legitimately own it. The Rangers, at 92 points, trail the Flyers by 9 points but stay ahead of the fifth place Islanders by 9 pts. The point differential among the teams is quite large that there will be the top four and bottom three. I think these teams will still stay the same, but I think Carolina and the Islanders will be on the rise and close the differential somewhat but not enough to make the playoff under either structure.

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