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Blog Entry

Goal differential and the Southeast Division

Posted on: February 13, 2012 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 1:16 pm
 
SoutheastBy: Adam Gretz

Even though there are still three teams fighting for the top spot in the Southeast Division (yes, Winnipeg is still "in it" … barely) it's probably the worst division in the NHL, and there is a very real possibility that only one team will represent it in the postseason.

None of the teams have done anything to separate themselves from the other, and the team currently occupying the top spot, Florida, has fewer points than five other potential playoff teams in the conference as of Monday.

Also of note: every team in the division, again as of Monday morning, is on the negative side when it comes to goal-differential, with every team, including the currently first-place Panthers, having been outscored by their opponents over the course of the season.

Florida is at minus-11, Washington at minus-2 and Winnipeg at minus-22.

Of course, this isn't a good thing because, as common sense should tell you, good teams tend to score more goals than their opponents. A lot more. Since the NHL went to the three division alignment in the 1998-99 season, the average division winner (72 of them) has finished the regular season with a goal-differential of plus-45. Thirty-two have been plus-50 or better.

As the numbers above show, all three teams in the Southeast this season would have a hell of a long way to go  and need quite a few blowout wins over the final 25-or-so regular season games to reach that average mark. The Capitals having to spend so much time this season without two of their best players, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, has certainly impacted their numbers and on-ice performance, and the season has seemed to really fly off the rails since Backstrom went down with his concussion, pretty much eliminating whatever center depth they had. Still, how much of a threat would any of these teams as currently constructed be in the playoffs?

No division winner over the past 12 years has finished the season with a negative mark, and only five have finished with a mark worse than plus-10. Since it seems entirely possible that the winner of this division is going to post one of the worst goal-differentials for a division winner in recent NHL history, let's take a look at how the division winners with the five worst goal-differentials over the past 12 years did in the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, four of them also called the Southeast Division home.

2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes: 217 goals for, 217 goals against (even)

The Hurricanes finished the regular season with 91 points, fewer than six of the seven other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Amazingly, the Hurricanes went on an improbable playoff run and ended up winning the East before losing to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Perhaps showing that playoff run was a total fluke, the Hurricanes not only failed to make the playoffs the following season, they finished with the worst record in the league.

2006-07 Atlanta Thrashers: 246 goals for, 245 goals against (plus-1)

The only playoff experience in the Atlanta/Winnipeg existence, and it was a brutal one. The Thrashers not only failed to win a playoff game, they were outscored by the No. 6 seed New York Rangers by a 17-6 margin in the four games. Like the '01-02 Hurricanes, they failed to make the playoffs the following season, finishing with the third-worst record in the NHL.

2007-08 Minnesota Wild: 223 goals for, 218 goals against (plus-5)

Minnesota's last playoff team, the Wild narrowly edged the Colorado Avalanche for the top-spot in the Northwest Division and ended up facing off against their divisional rivals in the opening round of the playoffs. The Avs ended up taking the series in six games, owning a 17-12 edge on the scoreboard, with Minnesota's only two wins in the series coming in overtime, meaning they were just a couple of breaks or bounces away from being dismissed in four games. Minneosta hasn't been back to the playoffs since (and has a fight on its hands to get back in this season).

1998-99 Carolina Hurricanes: 210 goals for, 202 goals against (plus-8)

The worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference during this season, and not surprisingly, the only one from the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes finished the regular season with just 86 points in the standings, four fewer than any other Eastern Conference playoff team. The Bruins team they played in the first round, for example, finished the season with 91 points and had a goal-differential of plus-33. Not surprisingly, Boston won the series in six games and outscored the Hurricanes 16-10. Carolina followed this season up with a nearly identical 84-point campaign (with a plus-1 differential) in 1999-00 and missed the playoffs.

2002-03 Tampa Bay Lightning: 219 goals for, 210 goals against (plus-9)

After knocking off another Southeast team (Washington) in the first round, Tampa Bay dropped its second round series to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in the second round. Tampa Bay came back the next season won the Stanley Cup.

Photo: Getty Images


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