Numbers Game: Looking at Goal Differential

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Features on January 27, 2009 — 4 Comments

With the NHL taking a few days off for the All-Star break, I figured this was a good time to examine the goal differentials of each team.

The goal differentials will be listed from best to worst:

1. Boston Bruins +62

2. San Jose Sharks +52

3. Detroit Red Wings +40

4. Chicago Blackhawks +38

5. New Jersey Devils +27

6. Montreal Canadiens +18

7. Washington Capitals +15

8. Philadelphia Flyers +14

9. Calgary Flames +12

10. Minnesota Wild +10

11. Buffalo Sabres +2

12. New York Rangers +2

13. Vancouver Canucks 0

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14. Anaheim Ducks -1

15. Pittsburgh Penguins -2

16. Florida Panthers -3

17. Columbus Blue Jackets -4

18. Edmonton Oilers -6

19. Phoenix Coyotes -7

20. Colorado Avalanche -9  

21. Los Angeles Kings -14

22. St. Louis Blues -16

23. Carolina Hurricanes -21

23. Ottawa Senators -21

25. Dallas Stars -22

26. Nashville Predators -23

27. Tampa Bay Lightning -24

28. Atlanta Thrashers -28 

29. Toronto Maple Leafs -32

30. New York Islanders -49

What to take from these numbers: Looking closely at these numbers, we realize that there are certainly a lot of bad teams in the NHL.  Sure the standings are close because of the three-point game, but there are only 12 teams in the entire NHL that have a plus goal differential.  Essentially two-thirds of the league isn’t very good.  So, the NHL we are currently watching has its great teams (teams with a goal differential over +25) like San Jose, Detroit, Boston, New Jersey and Chicago but that is more than offset by its bad teams.

Maybe we are foolishly led to believe that this is the NHL everyone wanted.  A league where everyone has a chance to succeed and the standings are close; however, that seems flawed.  Sure the standings are close, but there is a wide separation between good and bad. 

For example, let’s take a look at the standings from 2003/04 or better known as the pre-lockout year.  In that season, there were 16 teams with plus goal differentials.  Think about it;  that was before the salary cap came into effect.  Now, that we have a salary cap in place, everyone says there is parity.  But in reality, there was arguably more parity before the lockout than there is now.

So, I guess one has to question whether the NHL has parity because of the salary cap or because of the no-tie system.

Insert: I originally forgot to post Calgary.  My bad.  The Flames are now included.

  • AaronB

    Hi Richard,

    I have to disagree with your analysis. If you look at the numbers there are 11 teams within +/- 10 goals of even. Further, a surprise team like the Florida Panthers is -3 while perhaps the worst offense in recent NHL memory in Nashville is only -13, I think these numbers justify an increase in parity in the league. You pointed out that essentially to make the playoffs before the lockout required a positive goal differential but what shouts out parity to me is the fact that the teams fighting for the bottom playoff spots from 14-18 overall are only seperated by a goal differential of 5.

    It would be nice to see a comparison of where these teams are in the league standings, as well as factoring in unforseen circumstances like key injuries (note: the Devils are still amazing without Brodeur!!!!) when making statements concerning the consistency of the level of talent spread throughout the league.

    Further, when you have struggling local economies that spend the minimum and even purchase their own tickets to qualify for revenue sharing (see Nashville), it is hard to say that the CBA is responsible. I would think that league management is more responsible for not assuring that teams exist in the best hockey markets.

    Other things to consider are surprise value players, like Tim Thomas in Boston or 3/4 of the San Jose Sharks. Regardless of the CBA, if you cannot scout and draft/sign talent at value you are not going to be able to compete with the smart teams that do.

  • bob arctor

    Where’s Calgary in this list?

  • Mikos

    Just a quick observation. You left out the Flames. The Flames are a +12 which would put them into 9th spot. (you’ve double posted Nashville).

    Interesting to note that Chicago & Minnesota are 10th and 19th based on points but 4th and 9th in differential.

  • Bob Roberts

    If “no ties” = close standings = battles for playoff spots = increased interest in teams = increased bums in seats, then I think it’s not totally a bad thing, but it is an articfical influence. Trouble is, I can’t think of a better way to boost NHL hockey in non-hockey markets.

    Roy MacGregor’s “Good Time Had By All But The Party’s Over” article (Monday’s Globe and Mail) pointed out that parity may be the least of hockey’s woes in this economic climate. Good read, especially the last bit (from “If today’s…” to “…bad thing.”)

    (IC probably had a link to this already, but if not, I thought it was good.)