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The Historic Central Division Race

We always hear about how great certain divisions are every year, whether it be the Pacific with San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix and Anaheim or the Atlantic with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders. However, since the NHL adopted the 6 division format in 1998-1999, there has never been a divisional race like  the one we are seeing right now in the Central Division. The Central Division contains your usual powerhouses in Original 6 members Detroit and Chicago. From there we have the St. Louis Blues who have a strong playoff history, having once appeared in the playoffs 25 years in a row from 1979-1980 to 2003-2004. Finally, we have the much newer Nashville Predators, who after missing the playoffs in their first 5 years of existence, have made the playoffs in 6 consecutive years and are well on their way to 7. Columbus has been abysmal this year, but they are just 2 years removed from their first ever playoff experience and they still have some pieces in place (I know this was a bad attempt to sugar coat the Blue Jackets – they are awful). Heading into the All Star break, Detroit leads the Central Division and the NHL with 67 points in 50 games played. They are followed by St. Louis who has 65 points in 49 games played, then Nashville and Chicago who each have 64 points in 50 games played. All 4 teams have at least 29 wins (to put that in perspective, only 4 other teams in the NHL have at least 29 wins) and at least 64 points (only 3 other teams in the NHL have 64 points or more – and two of them have exactly 64). So how exactly does this make this a historic race? Well, let’s look at the projections for the rest of the year. Yes it is possible that any one of these teams suffers a major long-term injury, or cools off, or even heats up to hotter than they already are, but we are going to do the best we can to project them out for the year. Going solely off of points per game, the final standings in the Central will look like this (we’ll pretend Columbus doesn’t exist for pity’s sake):

1. Detroit – 54-26-2 – 110 points

2. St. Louis – 49-22-11 – 109 points

3. Nashville – 49-26-7 – 105 points (Nashville wins tiebreaker based on wins)

4. Chicago – 48-25-9 – 105 points

5. Columbus – 22-50-10 – 54 points

So why exactly is this historic? Well let’s take a look at the divisional standings since 1998-1999 (first season with 6 divisions) and pull out some interesting trends

1. Since 98-99, we have had 25 divisions that have had at least 2 teams within the division finish with more than 100 points. Of those 25 divisional races, only 5 had 3 teams finish with 100 or more points, and none have had 4 teams finish with more than 100 points in the same division.

2. We’ve never had the top team in the NHL also win a division in which 3 or more teams had 100 points

3. We’ve had 11 other divisions since 98-99 put 4 teams into the playoffs (98-99 Northeast, 99-00 Pacific, 01-02 Northeast, 02-03 Northwest, 03-04 Northeast, 06-07 Atlantic, 07-08 Atlantic, 08-09 Atlantic, 08-09 Central, 09-10 Northeast, 10-11 Pacific ). However, in those divisions, only one division had 3 or more teams record 100 points (03-04 Northeast) .

4. The closest we’ve come to having 4 teams record 100 points in the same division was actually last year in the 10-11 Pacific. San Jose won the division with 105 points, Anaheim had 99, Phoenix had 99, and Los Angeles had 98.

However, what I want to focus on are the 5 divisions that had at least 3 100 point teams because they really signify the elite strength throughout the division.

The 5 divisional races that had 3 100 point teams are listed below:

2003-2004 Northeast Division

1. Boston Bruins – 41-19-15-7 – 104 points

2. Toronto Maple Leafs – 45-24-10-3 – 103 points

3. Ottawa Senators – 43-23-10-6 – 102 points

4. Montreal Canadiens – 41-30-7-4 – 93 points

5. Buffalo Sabres – 37-34-7-4 – 85 points

Combined Win-Loss Record – 207-130-49-24

Total Points Earned By Division: 487 points

Points Percentage By Division: .594%

Number Of Teams In Playoffs (Seeds In Conference) – 4 (#2, #4, #5, #8)

Overall Ranks In NHL – (#4, #5, #6, #13, #18)

 

2005-2006 Atlantic Division

1. New Jersey Devils – 46-27-9 – 101 points

2. Philadelphia Flyers – 45-26-11 – 101 points

3. New York Rangers – 44-26-12 – 100 points

4. New York Islanders – 36-40-6 – 78 points

5. Pittsburgh Penguins – 22-46-14 – 58 points

Combined Win-Loss Record – 193-165-52

Total Points Earned By Division: 438 points

Points Percentage By Division: .534%

Number of Teams In Playoffs (Seeds In Conference) – 3 (#3, #5, #6)

Overall Ranks In NHL – (#8, #9, #10, #24, #29)

 

2006-2007 Pacific Division

1. Anaheim Ducks – 48-20-14 – 110 points

2. San Jose Sharks – 51-26-5 – 107 points

3. Dallas Stars – 50-25-7 – 107 points

4. Los Angeles Kings – 27-41-14 – 68 points

5. Phoenix Coyotes – 31-46-5 – 67 points

Combined Win-Loss Record – 207-158-45

Total Points Earned By Division: 459 points

Winning Percentage By Division: .560%

Number Of Teams In Playoffs (Seeds In Conference) – 3 (#2, #5, #6)

Overall Ranks In NHL – (#3, #5, #7, #28, #29)

 

2009-2010 Central Division

1. Chicago Blackhawks – 52-22-8 – 112 points

2. Detroit Red Wings – 44-24-14 – 102 points

3. Nashville Predators – 47-29-6 – 100 points

4. St. Louis Blues – 40-32-10 – 90 points

5. Columbus Blue Jackets – 32-35-15 – 79 points

Combined Win-Loss Record – 215-142-53

Total Points Earned By Division: 483 points

Winning Percentage By Division: .589%

Number of Teams In Playoffs (Seeds In Conference) – 3 (#2, #5, #7)

Overall Ranks In NHL (#3, #7, #10, #16, #27)

 

2009-2010 Pacific Division

1. San Jose Sharks – 51-20-11 – 113 points

2. Phoenix Coyotes – 50-25-7 – 107 points

3. Los Angeles Kings – 46-27-9 – 101 points

4. Anaheim Ducks – 39-32-11 – 89 points

5. Dallas Stars – 37-31-14 – 88 points

Combined Win-Loss Record: 223-135-52

Total Points Earned By Division: 498 points

Winning Percentage By Division: .607%

Number of Teams In Playoffs (Seeds in Conference) – 3 (#1, #4, #6)

Overall Ranks In NHL (#2, #4, #8, #17, #18)

 

 

So we’ll look at the projected Central Division race and see how that stacks up:

1. Detroit – 54-26-2 – 110 points

2. St. Louis – 49-22-11 – 109 points

3. Nashville – 49-26-7 – 105 points

4. Chicago – 48-25-9 – 105 points

5. Columbus – 22-50-10 – 54 points

Combined Win-Loss Record: 222-149-39

Total Points Earned By Division 487 points

Points Percentage By Division: .594%

Number of Teams In Playoffs (Seeds In Conference)* Projected – 4 (#1, #4, #5, #6)

Overall Ranks In NHL* Projected – (#3, #4, #7, #8, #30)

 

So what can we see from this? We see that the current Central Division is on pace to put 4 teams into the playoffs, have the teams be the #1,#4, #5, #6 seeds in the West (they are actually 4 of the top 5 teams in the West right now), and not only are they top 6 seeds in the West, but they would be top 8 seeds overall in the NHL. In terms of a top to bottom finish, this is NOT the best divisional race we’ve had – that belongs to the 2010-11 Pacific Division that had all 5 teams earn at least 95 points and the worst team in the NHL was 16th overall. This Central Division however is on pace to have 4 of the top 8 teams in the NHL as well as the worst team in the NHL so in that regard, we can’t say that this is the best top-to-bottom race.

However, we have never had 4 teams in the same division all win more than 43 games and we have 4 teams in the Central right now on pace to win at least 48 games. The strength of the top 4 teams in this division is unlike anything that we’ve ever seen before so for all fans of the Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago, buckle your seat belts because you are in for one helluva finish. I think we can safely say is that this divisional race will produce a result that we’ve not had since the NHL moved to 6 divisions. We will get 4 teams from one division into the playoffs which is phenomenal and all 4 teams will finish above 100 points which is a first. I will make the point that this is NOT the best top-to-bottom divisional race we’ve had as I feel that I need to mention the 10-11 Pacific Division race again. All 5 teams earned at least 95 points which is unreal. All 5 teams won at least 42 games. 4 of the 5 teams recorded at least 98 points and made the playoffs. I think that this is the only divisional race since 98-99 that can compare to what we are seeing right now from the Central Division, but I would argue that the Central Division race is slightly better due to the strength of the top 4 teams against the rest of the NHL. Of the 25 teams outside the Central Division, only 10 have winning records against the Central, and only 3 of those 10 teams are more than 1 game over .500 vs the Central. As for the actual Central Division teams, as a whole (including Columbus), the Central is 100-64-15, earning 215 of a possible 358 points (.600%). If you remove Columbus, the Central is a ridiculous 89-45-11 vs the rest of the NHL, earning 189 of a possible 290 points (.652%). The teams in the 10-11 Pacific went 166-93-31, earning 62.3% of the possible points against teams outside of the Pacific. I’ll offer them the same courtesy by dropping Dallas (the 5th place team) from their stats, and those numbers move to 133-74-25, now earning 291 of 464 points (.627%). So while they may be the most competitive division top to bottom, the top 4 of this current Central Division is better and the fact all 4 teams wil breach the 100 point barrier is why I call the 11-12 Central historic.

Again, to be very clear here, I’m not saying that this is the most competitive divisional race ever, but what I am saying is that this is the BEST 4 team race we’ve seen and that this is a HISTORIC race. Without a doubt, this is the best 4 team race and as of now, any of the 4 teams could win the division and it wouldn’t surprise anybody. Another cool little tidbit is that 2 of the last 3 divisions that had 3 teams post 100 or more points also had the Stanley Cup Champion (06-07 Ducks, 09-10 Blackhawks). 4 of the 5 division winners made the 2nd round (03-04 Boston did not – defeated by Montreal), and the last 3 division winners made at least the Conference Finals. They say competition breeds winners – and it’s been seen the past few years. Who knows what that’ll mean for the current Central Division? All we know is that all the Central division teams get it done in different ways, with St. Louis and Nashville beating you with defensive systems and Detroit and Chicago beating you with their skill. I know I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

 

– Prashanth Iyer

 

Prashanth Iyer

Prashanth Iyer

Prashanth is a third year doctor of pharmacy student at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy in Chapel Hill, NC. Prashanth is studying to be an infectious disease pharmacist, but in his spare time, he watches any hockey game he can catch. He was born and raised just outside Detroit, Michigan and hence is a big Red Wings fan. He is always willing to hear any and all debates pertaining to his articles, so feel free to contact him.
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