NHL Schedule Strength Could Have Impact On Remainder Of 2011-12 Season

DALLAS TX - FEBRUARY 13: Center Jason Williams #27 of the Dallas Stars skates the puck against Derek MacKenzie #24 of the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 13 2011 in Dallas Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

We're passed the quarter-pole of the NHL schedule, and we're quickly approaching the midpoint. Teams are beginning to realize their potential for this 2011-12 season, but will the strength or weakness of their schedule have any impact going forward?

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 
Dallas Stars 32,091
Los Angeles Kings 31,160
Edmonton Oilers 31,056
Colorado Avalanche 30,041
Florida Panthers 30,014


Buffalo Sabres 18,939
New York Islanders 18,244
Pittsburgh Penguins 15,314
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?

BACK-TO-BACK SETS

Team Back-to-Back Sets 
Buffalo Sabres 12
St. Louis Blues 11
Columbus Blue Jackets 11
New York Islanders 11
Florida Panthers 11


Colorado Avalanche 7
Minnesota Wild 6
Calgary Flames 6
Vancouver Canucks 6
Edmonton Oilers 5

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% 
Nashville Predators 0.525
Chicago Blackhawks 0.519
Columbus Blue Jackets 0.517
New York Rangers 0.514
Philadelphia Flyers 0.514


Florida Panthers 0.491
Tampa Bay Lightning 0.491
Carolina Hurricanes 0.490
Colorado Avalanche 0.490
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.

CUMULATIVE RANKINGS

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
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