With most teams having played half of their games to date, we have a clearer picture on the performance of teams this season. Some teams are most likely going to stay where they are, down near the bottom of their divisions: Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets.
But some of the divisional races are still up in the air, with only a few teams truly setting themselves apart. The Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks are the only three teams that have broken the 60 point barrier so far this season. Then there are divisions like the pacific where it seems teams are fighting for mediocrity and still will make the playoffs over teams with more points in tougher divisions.
To try to clear up some of the uncertainty about the playoffs and how the rest of the season will unfold as the Dallas Stars sit idle this week, I've looked at strength of schedule and divisional games remaining. I utilized the same methodology that Travis Yost did a few seasons ago, in which I take the average of score-adjusted Fenwick percentages for each team on the remaining schedule. The general idea is the higher the score-adjusted Fenwick percentage, on average, the more difficult the competition. I did this for each team in the league based on their schedules from today (January 14) through the end of this season.
Eastern Conference Strength of Schedule
First, we look at the eastern conference.
A few things jump out about the strength of schedule remaining for the eastern teams.
- It's really kind of true what they say about the east being weaker than the west. While the east has two teams that see an opponent score adjusted Fenwick percentage over 50%, just two teams in the west will see an average of under 50%.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the easiest strengths of schedules left relative to their division. However, they have the highest amount of their schedule remaining against division opponents. This could be a problem with their 3-4-2 record against their division mates. They could have a tougher time digging their way to a seed higher than a wild card than anyone else in the Metropolitan.
- Boston gets the opposite treatment of Pittsburgh, with the least amount of divisional play left among all teams in the east. They could see their position improve because of it.
- The team I figure most likely to fall out of their current position would be the New Jersey Devils. A combination of tougher strength of schedule and a higher proportion of divisional games remaining paired with a mediocre record within their division has them in a precarious spot if their divisional play does not improve.
Western Conference Strength of Schedule
Now to the tougher western conference.
What can we take out of the strength of schedule remaining for western teams?
- The schedule maker managed to make the western conference much more balanced as far as divisional games remaining for most of the teams among both divisions.
- Minnesota has the most advantageous schedule remaining among the entire conference, having the least amount of their games remaining against divisional opponents and facing the easiest strength of schedule among the central division.
- Condolences to the Stars and Blackhawks, who face the toughest path to the playoffs in the central division. Good thing the Stars improved their divisional play this season. The Stars are currently 8-3-1 versus their mates while the Blackhawks, who the Stars are likely to be battling it out with to win the division, are a middling 5-6-1.
- Outside of the Los Angeles Kings, the division is still up for grabs for the last two teams they will send to the playoffs. It might come down to who does better, the San Jose Sharks or the Vancouver Canucks, for the last pacific spot.
The Biggest Take Away
With parity within the league and no one team having a terribly advantageous schedule remaining, this really just underscores what teams say all along: take care of your own business and the rest tends to take care of itself. While the Stars have done well to this point in the season, there's no wiggle room if they're hoping to secure home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
The cushion between the Stars and the second wild card spot is 17 points currently, which puts their chances of making the playoffs at 99.98% currently according to Sports Club Stats. They also hold several games in hand over those teams creeping up on them (Blackhawks, Blues). If they can replicate the success they had in the first half of the season, Dallas could see themselves win the western conference. Fall off the pace, and they'll be in a dogfight for seeding in the playoffs.
That's not exactly a revelation -- it's what we expected to occur all along before the season began.