So there are these things on the Internet that drive people crazy. Apparently, people love lists. And they love arbitrary rankings of teams. But most importantly, they love arguing over these arbitrary rankings. Since I love arguing, why not start doing something that people love to argue about?
With that, we introduce to you SB Nation Philly's first ever NHL Power Rankings. Yes, the season is almost halfway over. That just means we have more information to get these rankings
As much as we love arguing, though, we love being different more. So below, you won't find random opinion. No, we've created a mathematical formula (BCS! BCS!) to tell us who the best teams are. This is great, because it's objective - we don't have to watch the Islanders to know they're terrible, nor do we have to watch the Stars to figure out whether or not they're better than the Thrashers - but also because numbers don't lie.
To explain the formula, it goes like this: We hate the shootout. Well, not really, but shootout wins don't tell you how good teams are. Even the NHL realized that the tie-breaker for playoff seeding should be non-shootout wins. So the first step is to count any game that went to a shootout as a tie (or, for you W-L-OT junkies, and OT loss). A shootout win adds a mystery goal and an individual point despite the fact that as few as three people contributed to earn that extra point. Put more simply, take a team's point totals and subtract the number of shootout wins from that total.
From there, the second step is to adjust for games played. Take the adjusted point total from Step 1 and divide by the number of games played, and you get an adjusted point total per game. Simple.
Step 3 then takes the team's 5-on-5 goal ratio (which is the number of 5-on-5 goals scored divided by the number of 5-on-5 goals allowed) and multiplies it by the adjusted point total per game. We firmly believe that how a team plays at 5-on-5 goes a long way to showing their true talent. Since roughly 85% of all games are played at 5-on-5, it's pretty important to win that battle.
From there, you get a number - usually between 0 and 2 - that accounts for a team's ability to accumulate points through the season, but adjusts slightly for luck. Obviously, this isn't perfect - special teams play is quite important, especially in the playoffs - but it gives a better look at teams' talent levels than simply looking at the standings. Also, to avoid any strength of schedule argument, we'll split them up by Conference (since the West is clearly superior to the East).
Without further ado:
The Flyers are first in the NHL in points and second in goal differential, thanks to a recent 5-0 drubbing by the Panthers. No team in the NHL has fewer regulation losses, so for now, they're a clear No. 1 in the East.
Following close behind the Flyers, the Penguins have as many wins in one fewer game. They also have the third-best 5-on-5 goals ratio in the entire league. But they have two shootout wins, which hurt them here.
The Bruins are probably a surprise to be listed this high, since they're currently sitting in 8th place in the East. But they have played fewer games than any team in the top 10 in the East, and are still only one win away from being in third place. They also are thoroughly dominating at 5-on-5. This is probably because of their league-leading 68 goals against, but that defense is what separates them from the Canadiens, who have scored just as many goals.
Only two points separate the Canadiens from the Bruins, but both have a pretty sad offense. These two Northeast Division teams are the only ones in the top 8 with fewer than 100 goals scored, but when you allow the second-fewest goals in the East, you can be a pretty good hockey team.
Did you know the Thrashers are in 5th place in the East? How about them being only one point behind the Capitals for the Southeast Division lead? Quietly, the Thrashers are playing quite well, being led by a very potent offense. This is a team to watch out for.
New York Rangers
Another team that is quietly playing well, the Rangers are playing pretty well, with solid even-strength play and a solid goal differential. With better special teams play, the Rangers may start playing even better.
How can the team who is leading their division and currently in second place in the Conference be listed 7th? And it has nothing to do with their recent eight-game winless streak? The Caps are barely winning the 5-on-5 battle and they have a modest goal differential. Unless something changes, the Capitals will be looking up at the Thrashers very soon.
What?? The 12th place Panthers ranked 8th? No, this has nothing to do with the 5-0 beat down they laid on the Flyers (although, it did help their goal differential). The Panthers have only played 31 games this year and they've gotten 30 points. With a better 5-on-5 goal ratio than the Canadiens, the Panthers are not nearly as bad as everyone thinks. Well, their powerplay is (league-worst 9.3% success rate), but the Panthers could easily sneak into the playoffs if they simply get an average power play. Seriously. Check out the Panthers goals for, goals against, 5-on-5 ratio, and special teams. They're not all that different from the Northeast Division-leading Canadiens.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The 6th-place Lightning not as good as the 12th-place Panthers? No, no they're not. How much of that is due to the terrible goaltending of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis is up for debate (well, not really. Most of the Lightning's problems are #DanEllisProblems.), but the Lightning are giving up more goals than they score, and they're getting destroyed at 5-on-5. That will have to change if the Lightning want to take advantage of a wide-open Southeast right now.
The Sabres have been largely disappointing this year, and a lot of that has to do with their defense. They're winning the 5-on-5 battle, but are giving up more goals than they score. With Ryan Miller in goal, their problems lie on the blueline. In the low-scoring Northeast, giving up goals is not going to work.
What can you say about the Hurricanes? They're in the same boat as the Sabres - average offense, below average defense. The difference is that the Hurricanes are losing the 5-on-5 battle, but they're not so far back that they can't right the ship.
For a team with as many points as the Sabres, there's really little that separates the Senators from the Oilers. Yes, they've played three additional games, but they have a worse 5-on-5 ratio and the same goal differential. Just not a good team in Canada's capital.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Things were going so well for the Leafs in the beginning of the season! Not so much any more. A bad 5-on-5 ratio combined with a bad goal differential equals a bad team.
New York Islanders
No, the Islanders aren't the worst team in the NHL. They have a really bad goal differential and a really bad 5-on-5 ratio, as well as the fewest wins in the league (they win once every 5 tries). But they've also played the fewest games, haven't won a single shootout, and... are better than the Devils. Seriously.
New Jersey Devils
You knew the Devils were bad. You knew they were really bad. But they've won 2 games via shootout, which gives them seven non-shootout wins in 33 games. With an atrocious 0.46 goal ratio at 5-on-5, the Devils are a putrid team. They're averaging only 1.73 goals scored per game. It's so bad, it's almost no longer funny. Almost.
Detroit Red Wings
What else is knew? The Red Wings are really good. They've won 20 games in 32 tries, have the third-highest goal differential in the West and are tied for second-best in 5-on-5 ratio. Who said they were old?
The Canucks have played fewer games than anybody except the Islanders (and as many as the Panthers), and while they've got a larger goal differential than Detroit, they have a good but not great 5-on-5 ratio. Still, the Canucks are a very good team.
Oh, Colorado. Last year's Cinderella team who wouldn't accept that they were lucky is actually... good this year. They've got a solid but not great goal differential, but a very good 5-on-5 ratio, just south of Pittsburgh. It probably helps that they've averaging a league-leading 3.50 goals per game. With Craig Anderson, I think that's enough scoring to win a few games.
Did you know the Stars currently sit atop the Western Conference? Me neither. They are getting a lot of help from the shootout (a 4-2 record) which hurts them here, but they're also a good team. A modest goal differential and a good 5-on-5 ratio still puts them high, but they will have a hard time holding off the Kings in the Pacific.
Los Angeles Kings
Don't be fooled by the fact that the Kings are in 8th place in the West. They have two games in hand to make up three points on the Avalanche, and they suddenly have home ice advantage in the playoffs. With a plus-20 goal differential and a 5-on-5 ratio equal to Detroit's, the Kings are a very good team. Don't be surprised if they win the Pacific.
Oh, Nashville. Consistently good, but consistently anonymous, the Predators this year are much the same. They have a decent goal differential and a modest 5-on-5 ratio, but they keep winning. Their 4-2 record in the shootout has a lot to do with that, but without Pekka Rinne, you have the think the Predators are happy with where they are.
San Jose Sharks
This is something new: The Sharks are not atop their division or conference. A good goal differential with an average 5-on-5 ratio, the Sharks are quite similar to the Stars, without the shootout luck. If they want to make a run, they'll have to improve at 5-on-5 though.
Chicago is very similar to the Sharks, only slightly better at 5-on-5. Do you see a theme? The West is very tight and a lot can be determined by luck. The Blackhawks are no different, but they're going to want to shore up their defense. With the second-highest scoring offense, Chicago just isn't keeping the puck out of their net.
The good news for Phoenix: They've only played 32 games. The bad news? They have a negative goal differential and an even 5-on-5 ratio. They're going to have to be better to return to the playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets
As a closet Blue Jackets fan, they're quite frustrating. Maybe it's all Steve Mason's fault, but they also have a negative goal differential and a very average 5-on-5 ratio. A bubble team that will have to play a lot better to make the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues
There isn't much that separates the Blues from the Blue Jackets, except for a poor 5-on-5 ratio. In the three-team bubble, St. Louis is currently lagging behind.
The days of the trap in Minnesota are long gone, but the difficulty scoring is alive and well. They have the fewest goals scored in the West, which is mainly responsible for their poor goal-differential.
The Ducks are currently seventh in the West, and third in the Pacific, but the odds of them winning the Division are fairly low. They've played a league-highest 38 games this year and only gained 40 points. With two shootout wins and a goal differential worse than Minnesota, with a 5-on-5 ratio equal to Minnesota's, the Ducks are not as good as the standings suggest.
For a team ranked second-worst in the West, the Flames aren't nearly as bad as the bottom-feeders in the East. A bad goal differential with a below-average 5-on-5 ratio puts them this far down, but the Flames are demonstrably better than the Senators.
Again, the Oilers are not the worst team in the league. In fact, they aren't much worse than the Senators. At the end of the season, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Oilers prove themselves better than Ottawa. I'm picking on Ottawa now because it's just not even arguable that the Leafs, Islanders and Devils are the worst three teams in the league. Progress in Edmonton!