Feature | The Best And Worst NHL Divisions by @PuckSage
The Best And Worst NHL Divisions
Every year the quality of competition debate rages. Is the east better, is the west best? For the most part there are more stars in the east, and a more tightly concentrated talent with, usually, a higher basement in the west than the east. On the individual division level, that’s where it gets really interesting.
In the east no one is going to put the Southeast division on their shortlist for the best, but many will unthinkingly toss them to the top of the list for the worst. That might have been true five years ago, but the last three is a slightly different story. In the last three years, three different teams have made it into the playoffs from the Southeast. The Lightning were part of a (nearly) perfect storm that got them to within one goal of a Stanley Cup final appearance just two seasons ago. The Washington Capitals manage to get into the playoffs yearly. The Florida Panthers surprised everyone outside Sunrise last year and ran all the way to a bruising home ice advantage loss to the Eastern Conference champions in their return to the playoffs. Last year they again had two representatives in the post season.
For the best you can make a strong argument for the Central division, their points totals were just scary last year. Four teams in the post season, four teams with point totals over 100. It is only when you take a deep look at their numbers that the Central loses some luster. The Red Wings were awful on the road. The Blackhawks had a powerplay that couldn’t turn a refrigerator light on. The St Louis Blues while strong defensively were 21st in goals for. Only the Predators were really a balanced team. This of course ignores all the losses of players in this division. The Red Wings lost Stuart and Lidstrom, the Predators Suter, and no one knows how well Toews and Hossa will play for the Blackhawks.
By any reasonable measure, the best division in hockey going into the 2012-13 season is the Atlantic Division. Several key players had bad seasons last year. While it is hard to make the case for Marc-Andre Fluery as an elite goaltender, he took a step back in the regular season, and the less said about his post season the better. Ilya Bryzgalov is closer to an elite netminder when he’s got his a game, which didn’t seem to happen even once last year had what is certainly his worst professional season. For the Rangers Marc Staal only played half the season, and even then he was easing his way back into top form. Given how long he was out, it will probably take until the quarter-mark of this season until he’s back to the Norris level form he’s exhibited in the past. For the New Jersey Devils who lost Parise to the Minnesota Wild, a full season from Zajac, and the continued development of Adam Henrique should nicely fill the gap even if no one else steps up.
The worst division, both over the last several years and heading into this season is clearly the Northwest Division. The only team to make the playoffs in the last three years from that division other than the Vancouver Canucks were the Colorado Avalanche of three years back, and they only squeaked into eighth place. There just isn’t any end to the mediocrity in this division. Four teams finishing outside the playoffs on a regular basis is bad for the whole division and the league. It isn’t like these aren’t hockey markets, Calgary, Edmonton, and Minnesota all have strong fanbases and weak ownership groups.
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