Diagnosing the Pacific Division’s Decline

Diagnosing the Pacific Division’s Decline
Christopher Hair

The Pacific Division has been a powerhouse in the NHL for the last half decade. Two of the last five Stanley Cup Champions have resided in the Pacific in the 2012 and 2014 Kings. The division has sent at least three teams to the playoffs for each of the past five seasons, including 2010 when four of the clubs in the then five team division made the postseason.

That trend continued last season with the Pacific having three 100 point or better teams making the playoffs. But, those were the only three teams to make the playoffs for the division last year as they ceded both wild card spots to the Central division.

If the season were to end today, the NHL’s western most division would once again only send three teams. And the defending Stanley Cup champs would not be among them. In fact, this season there is an argument to be made that the Pacific has been the NHL’s worst collection of teams in the 2015 season.

Division Total Games Played Total Points Earned Points per game
Atlantic 575 635 1.104
Central 503 613 1.219
Metropolitan 577 646 1.120
Pacific 503 530 1.058

The numbers bear the argument out. The Pacific has the lowest amount of points of any division in the league. But the points aren’t a fair comparison because the Pacific and the Central each have seven teams while the Atlantic and Metropolitan both have eight. But when you break it down to points earned per game, the Pacific is still last and by a pretty healthy margin. It doesn’t help that two of the three worst performing teams of the season reside in the Pacific in Edmonton and Arizona.

In an effort to get rid of the anchor effect, what happens if you add the point totals of the top three teams in each division? Why the top three teams? They are the teams guaranteed to make the playoffs, regardless of point totals, so it’s the place every team wants to get to.

Top 3 Teams Games Played Points Earned Points per game
Atlantic 215 281 1.307
Central 215 279 1.315
Metropolitan 216 284 1.298
Pacific 216 269 1.245

The results come out nearly identical. The Central is still the top dog, the Atlantic and Metro switch spots and the Pacific is once again last. Even with Anaheim’s 99 points which has them tied for the league lead. Why has the Pacific come crashing down?

One major thing to look at is the 5-5 F/A stat. This stat breaks down the goals scored by a team at five on five into a ratio against the number of goals given up in the same situation. Teams that score more goals at even strength tend to have better results, since the majority of a hockey game is played 5 on 5. Right now, the Pacific Division has four teams that are ranked in the bottom 10 of the league in this stat. Vancouver is 21st at .99, San Jose is 24th at .93, Edmonton is 28th at .66 and Arizona is dead last in the league at .58. All these teams have allowed more goals at even strength than they have scored. Which is not good if you want to succeed in the NHL.

This stat may be one of the most important indicators for a team’s chances of making the playoffs. Once again, the numbers bear this idea out. To break down the importance of the stat, let’s look at the last nine years and get the number of teams that ranked in the top ten of this stat and made the playoffs. Let’s also find the highest ranked non-playoff team in each year and finally, find how many teams in the top 16 made the playoffs since 16 teams make the postseason.

Year Teams to Make Playoffs in Top 10 Teams to Make Playoffs in Top 16 Highest Ranked Non-Playoff Team
2013-14 10 of 10 15 of 16 Phoenix – 15th
2012-13 9 of 10 13 of 16 Tampa Bay – 9th
2011-12 10 of 10 13 of 16 Buffalo – 12th
2010-11 10 of 10 14 of 16 Calgary – 11th
2009-10 10 of 10 11 of 16 New York Rangers – 11th
2008-09 10 of 10 13 of 16 Florida – 11th
2007-08 8 of 10 13 of 16 Carolina – 8th
2006-07 9 of 10 13 of 16 Toronto – 9th
2005-06 9 of 10 14 of 16 Florida – 9th

The numbers are pretty cut and dried. Teams that do well in 5-5 F/A are playoff teams. Five of the last nine seasons saw full playoff berths from their top ten in that stat, and eight out of nine season were at 90%. Only one season saw two teams rank in the top ten of even strength goal ratio not make the playoffs when the Hurricanes and Sabres did it in 2008.

In the last nine season, 94% of teams to rank in the top ten made the playoffs. The NHL has had 83% of playoff teams ranked in the top 16. The biggest outlier in the top 16 numbers came in 2010 when there were five teams ranked in playoff position that didn’t make the postseason. The Rangers were 11th that season and then Calgary was 13th, St. Louis was 14th, Dallas was 15th and Anaheim was 16th. Calgary, St. Louis and Anaheim would have all made the playoffs that season had they been in the Eastern Conference however. The last two teams in the east that year had 88 points apiece. Calgary and the Blues each had 90 points and the Ducks had 89. Dallas had 88. Outside of that season though, it’s been a pretty reliable predictor of playoff teams.

That’s a pretty definitive set of numbers and right now, the Pacific Division has four teams ranked in the bottom ten. The average highest rank of a non-playoff team in the last decade of NHL hockey is tenth. Currently, the Pacific’s highest ranked team in this stat are the Los Angeles Kings. They are ninth at 1.14. Anaheim is currently 15th and Calgary is 16th. The Kings are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture right now, but have time to catch Calgary. The stats favor their chances of catching the Flames more than catching Winnipeg. The Jets are currently 12th with a 1.09 ratio.

It’s going to take a lot for the Pacific Division to get four playoff teams in 2015. The numbers certainly don’t suggest that it will happen. And it’s not just the bottom feeding Oilers and Coyotes that have hurt the Pacific’s profile this season. San Jose is six points behind Calgary and eight behind the Jets with ten games to go. Vancouver is far from locked into a playoff position with only four points separating them from the ninth place Kings. With only a handful of games left, the Pacific is running out of time to turn it’s performance around. In all likelihood, it’s already too late.

All numbers calculated from

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Christopher Hair

Christopher Hair has been an avid hockey fan for 20 years. He grew up on the Hollywood Kings of the late 80’s and early 90’s with Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Kelly Hrudey, and Luc Robitaille. Growing up in Glendale, Arizona he is living proof that hockey fans can be made and come from the desert. He is also an editor for Five for Howling.

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