We're a bit past the quarter-pole of the 2011-12 NHL season, and the midway point of the season is fast approaching. When we reach this time of year, we start to realize what teams are really like. Surprising starts mellow out into disappointing finishes, and awful, unexpected starts by teams we thought were good usually turn around into at least mediocre seasons.
Or, maybe you just begin to realize that your team is bad at hockey, and the rest of the season is going to be a complete identity crisis. Or maybe you're lucky and that team you thought was bad actually looks pretty darn good.
One of the many variables in analyzing a teams performance at this point of the season, however, is their strength of schedule. It's a fact of life in the NHL that not all team schedules are created equal, and it's also a fact of life that sometimes, the schedule makes absolutely no sense. That creates a situation where some teams have it really, really easy the rest of the way out, while some teams are really going to have to dig in to keep their strong seasons afloat.
Luckily for us, Dirk Hoag at SB Nation's Nashville Predators blog On the Forecheck did the leg work, figuring out which teams have it the easiest and which teams have it the hardest. Let's take a look at a few different metrics here.
MILES LEFT TO TRAVEL
|Team||Miles To Go|
|Los Angeles Kings||31,160|
|New York Islanders||18,244|
|New York Rangers||13,061|
|New Jersey Devils||11,627|
As you'd expect, it's basically a bunch of Western teams that have it pretty badly in terms of travel the rest of the way. The Stars always have some of the worst travel in the league, so that's not much of a surprise, but the one difference would be the Florida Panthers. They've already made their one trip out West for the year, so that's not an issue for them, but perhaps it's the two trips to Winnipeg to play the hated division rival Jets that's hanging them up.
On the easy end of the travel spectrum, there are no surprises. The Atlantic Division and the Buffalo Sabres. The one Atlantic team not listed in the top five, the Philadelphia Flyers, comes in ranked just behind Buffalo. And Ilya Bryzgalov is worried about realignment adding travel?
|St. Louis Blues||11|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||11|
|New York Islanders||11|
Back-to-back games suck for NHL teams for any number of reasons -- travel, fatigue, the need to rest the goalie and give the generally-less-skilled backup some time in net, whatever.
Buffalo might have that easy travel schedule, but of their 48 remaining games, 24 of them come in either on the front end or the back end of a back-to-back. That is what they call absurd. St. Louis, Columbus, the Islanders and Panthers have it similarly difficult the rest of the way, as do Ottawa and Toronto, both also with 11 sets remaining. Eight teams, mostly in the East, have 10 sets of back-to-backs remaining on the schedule.
On the easy end of things? The Northwest Division, all ranking in the top five. Or bottom five, however you want to look at it.
OPPOSING WIN PERCENTAGE
|Team||Avg Opp Win%|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||0.517|
|New York Rangers||0.514|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||0.491|
|San Jose Sharks||0.483|
It's worth noting that Hoag is using win percentage, not points percentage, judging teams by their ability to win games without discriminating based on overtime or the shootout.
The Predators, trying to gain ground in what's shaping up to be another tenuous Western Conference playoff race, have their work cut out for them here, as they have the toughest schedule in the league the rest of the way out. Luckily for them perhaps, the Central Division-leading Blackhawks join them near the top. The San Jose Sharks have things the easiest the rest of the way out, which should certainly help them out a bit as well.
We can get a simple ranking of strength of schedule the rest of the way out by taking Dirk's mega-chart over at On the Forecheck and assigning a point value to each team based on their rank in each of the categories listed above. By doing that, then tallying up the total number of points each team picked up, we get a pretty accurate ranking of the strength of each team's remaining schedule.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are our losers. Colorado Avalanche? Winners (and that's the only thing they'll be winning this year, too). A list, from toughest to easiest:
|1||Columbus Blue Jackets||11||Winnipeg Jets||21||Edmonton Oilers|
|2||Dallas Stars||12||Buffalo Sabres||22||Anaheim Ducks|
|3||St. Louis Blues||13||Phoenix Coyotes||23||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|4||Boston Bruins||14||Nashville Predators||24||Ottawa Senators|
|5||New York Islanders||15||Washington Capitals||25||Calgary Flames|
|6||New York Rangers||16||Philadelphia Flyers||26||Montreal Canadiens|
|7||Detroit Red Wings||17||Tampa Bay Lightning||27||New Jersey Devils|
|8||Los Angeles Kings||18||Florida Panthers||28||Minnesota Wild|
|9||San Jose Sharks||19||Vancouver Canucks||29||Carolina Hurricanes|
|10||Chicago Blackhawks||20||Toronto Maple Leafs||30||Colorado Avalanche|