At this point, the Vancouver Canucks are the top team in the NHL. Some are quick to dismiss them as benefitting from their weak division. So, I was curious how each division is actually doing.
To do this, I took the points per game of every team. I did this, rather than the actual points, because the NHL has some trouble scheduling games sometimes. At any one point, it's normal to have one team having played 6-7 more games than another team in the same division. In fact, someone brought to my attention the fact that the Flyers spent over a week not playing hockey in late December.
Following that, I averaged out each team in a division's points per game within that division. Thus, every time the Flyers play the Penguins is cancelled out by one win and one loss in the division. Well, almost. Overtime losses make that a little inaccurate, but we'll move forward with the assumption that they happen somewhat equally between each division.
Playing against the other conference makes up only 18 games of a team's schedule. Some wish they could play every team home and away every year, but this would diminish the purpose of eight teams from each conference going to the playoffs, or conferences in general. More relevant in the purpose of this article, spending less than 1/4 of the season against the other conference makes it difficult to compare divisions across conferences.
In averaging out the points though, I found that the West is worth 1.1458 points per game. The East is worth 1.0783. This proves that the West is the stronger conference, as the difference is due to the West having the advantage in interconference play. The NHL as a whole is averaging 1.120 points per game.
Thus, when a Western division has a higher points per game average, they are undoubtedly better than their Eastern counterpart. If an Eastern division has a higher points per game average than a Western division, it may be partly due to beating up on the weaker divisions.
But that's enough explanation, here's the points per game for each division:
Atlantic (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, New York, New Jersey) - 1.0541
Northeast (Boston, Montreal, Buffalo, Ottawa, Toronto) - 1.0208
Southeast (Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida) - 1.1601
Central (Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, St. Louis, Nashville) - 1.1770
Northwest (Vancouver, Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton) - 1.1012
Pacific (Dallas, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix) - 1.1590
Check out the Southeast. Going from sending one playoff team last year to best in its conference. The Central is the strongest division in the NHL, and as a member of the stronger conference I can't take that away from them. Likewise, the Northeast and Atlantic are the two weakest divisions, and this is on top of being in the weakest conference. The Pacific is stronger than the Northwest, but placing the Southeast with those teams is more challenging.
So, to try to solve this, I sought out the head to head of the Southeast vs. the Northwest. The Southeast has 25 points out of 21 games, while the Northwest has 23 points out of 21 games. I don't know how the schedule has looked so far, but this is enough for me to give a VERY narrow nod to the Southeast as the better conference. This will not be enough to put the Southeast above the Northwest.
Thus, my power ranking of divisions for the 2010-2011 hockey year thus far is:
In summary, Flyers/Penguins fans should not complain about the Nucks benefiting from a weak division, when they're beating on the Devils and Islanders six times a year. Yet, despite the Devils and Islanders being in the same division, the Northeast is looking just terrible. As I showed in a previous article, the Canucks actually have the hardest remaining schedule out of the four President's Trophy contenders (Nucks, Wings, Pens, Flyers). Having a (very) slightly harder schedule than the Red Wings despite an easier division would suggest that the Canucks have had more easy games out of the way. As such, the Red Wings are probably the likely President's Trophy winners, but if the Canucks keep playing as they have since November ended, they're unstoppable.
Caveat: The season is barely halfway over. Some teams have gotten to play the Oilers more times than others. Also, as mentioned above, overtime losses make things a bit wonky. I've shown my work. If you disagree, let me know in the comments.