As the season nears its end, with only 9 games left for each team on average, it’s a good time to take a look at how teams have been improving or declining over the last few weeks. Since it’s the 4-week anniversary of our initial edition of the Bayesian Power Rankings, I figured I’d compare how each teams’ overall score has changed over the last 4 weeks. As a note to my more astute readers, I made some small changes to how the rankings are calculated: mainly, I have applied a “decay factor” which weights recent games more highly than older games, which reflects better how team strength evolves over the course of a season. As a result, if you go back and check my old columns and calculate the difference yourselves, you will not get exactly the same results I do.
The main trend over the last few weeks has been the relative rise in strength of the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference. The 6 most improved teams since late February are, in order, the Hurricanes, Penguins, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Senators and Thrashers. The biggest droppers are the Blackhawks, Stars, Avalanche, Sharks, Wild and Coyotes. Notice a pattern? In inter-conference games up to February 23rd, the Western Conference won 123 of 216 contests for a 57% win percentage. In the last 4 weeks, the Western Conference has won 15 of 47 games for a less than stellar 32% win percentage. I have no explanation for this shift; I only know that it has happened and that it is pronounced enough to not just be the result of luck. Indeed, for the first time in several years, it will take more points to make the playoffs in the East than in the West.
Here are the power rankings, up to and including games on Tuesday March 24th:
O rat: Offensive rating. The typical number of goals you would score against an average team. Higher is better.
D rat: Defensive rating. The typical number of goals an average team would score on you. Lower is better.
Trat: Total rating. O rat – D rat. Your typical margin of victory against an average team. Higher is better.
Schd: Schedule difficulty (the average T rat of your opponents). Higher means harder.
SPT: Predicted number of points at the end of the year. The standard deviation is about 3 at this point in the schedule.
PO%: Odds of making the playoffs, in percentage.
C%: Odds of winning the Stanley Cup, in percentage.
IMPR: Improvement. Current Total rating – Total rating of February 24th.
Team O rat D rat Trat Schd SPT PO% C% IMPR
1 Red Wings 3.59 2.99 0.61 -0.01 117.5 100.0 16.7 -0.04
Comment: The Wings are still the class of the league.
While everybody (including me!) is still
worried about their goaltending, having
the deepest team in the league goes a long
way towards mitigating that problem.
2 Bruins 3.12 2.54 0.59 -0.04 113.7 100.0 18.5 -0.05
Comment: While their win-loss record has taken a hit
since February, the Bruins are in every game;
when they lose it's close, and they still have
the league MVP in Tim Thomas.
3 Sharks 3.04 2.60 0.45 -0.03 118.5 100.0 13.0 -0.16
Comment: The Sharks are having trouble scoring.
Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi are
having brutal months. On the bright side,
Nabokov is back on top of his game.
4 Devils 3.02 2.58 0.44 -0.03 108.0 100.0 11.8 +0.13
Comment: The Devils are as good as they appear and must
be considered one of the favorites for the Cup
at this point. Their top 4 forwards of Parise,
Elias, Langenbrunner and Zajac give them depth
unrivaled except by Detroit, and Brodeur is
rested and on fire.
5 Blackhawks 3.12 2.81 0.31 -0.01 99.7 100.0 6.3 -0.26
Comment: The Blackhawks defense and goaltending has fallen
off a cliff. In their last 13 games, they have
given up 5 or more goals 6 times. That's not a
recipe for success. While they could be legitimately
considered an elite team at midseason, they'll have
to do better just to beat the Canucks or Flames in
the first round.
6 Flyers 3.10 2.82 0.29 0.01 102.2 99.9 6.5 +0.08
Comment: The Flyers have tightened up their goals-against.
Martin Biron is playing very well, and coupled
with a very strong offense, the Flyers are officially
a true threat.
7 Canucks 3.02 2.80 0.21 -0.05 98.8 99.9 4.6 +0.13
Comment: What do you think will happen when the best
goaltender in the league returns from injury?
I would take Luongo over anyone in the league
right now, Brodeur included.
8 Flames 3.22 3.06 0.17 -0.02 101.0 100.0 4.1 -0.05
Comment: Olli Jokinen has been great for the Flames, but
unfortunately Mikka Kiprusoff has been awful. I read
somewhere that the Flames have better goaltending than
the Sharks and Red Wings, and even with Osgood's sorry
play I'd dispute that right now.
9 Hurricanes 2.96 2.81 0.15 -0.02 95.1 94.0 3.2 +0.33
Comment: The most improved team in the league over the last
month has simply been on fire. Eric Staal's been
lighting them up (20 points in 13 games) and Cam Ward
has been a rock. The Hurricanes were 50-50 for the
playoffs a month ago. Now, they're a fifth seed.
10 Capitals 3.07 2.92 0.15 -0.01 105.6 100.0 4.6 -0.10
Comment: While the top line is still hot, the Capitals don't
get any offense beyond Ovechkin, Green, Semin and
Backstrom. While that's still great, it puts them
in bad shape any night their top players are off.
11 Penguins 3.09 2.97 0.12 0.01 95.1 90.3 2.7 +0.24
Comment: Another team that was iffy for the playoffs, the Penguins
have put it together both offensively and defensively.
Crosby's been much better and Bill Guerin's been great.
12 Blue Jackets 2.82 2.74 0.08 0.04 93.0 90.9 2.4 +0.12
Comment: After 9 long years, the Blue Jackets are finally headed
for the playoffs, and Steve Mason is the main reason why.
Their play over the last month has been very strong. If
they find an NHL-caliber power-play, they'll be very
13 Sabres 2.94 2.94 0.00 -0.01 86.5 12.7 0.2 -0.10
Comment: Unfortunately, the injury to Ryan Miller has cost the
Sabres their playoff berth. His absence has been the
main cause of the drop-off over the last month, which
has put them just out of reach.
14 Wild 2.59 2.63 -0.04 0.00 85.5 24.1 0.4 -0.16
Comment: The Wild have fallen apart over the last 4 weeks,
with their already weak offense getting weaker and
the usually stellar goaltending being ordinary. Since
I anointed Backstrom as one of the league's best players
3 weeks ago, he's done everything possible to prove me
15 Ducks 2.85 2.90 -0.04 0.00 87.7 47.5 0.7 -0.03
Comment: While the Ducks haven't been playing much better
than they were a month ago, the fall of the Wild
and Stars means they're in position to sneak into
the 8th spot. They've certainly picked a good time
to go on a 4-game winning streak, but they'll still
get Detroit or San Jose in the first round.
16 Blues 2.77 2.81 -0.05 0.03 86.2 31.0 0.5 +0.02
Comment: Still hanging on by their fingernails. Had Paul Kariya
been healthy this year, we would be talking first-round
matchups right now.
17 Senators 2.80 2.89 -0.10 -0.03 83.8 3.5 0.0 +0.15
Comment: Amazingly, the Senators have rediscovered their offense
under Cory Clouston. Too late for sure, but it gives us
hope for next year. Aren't you glad you didn't blow up
your big three now?
18 Panthers 2.76 2.85 -0.10 -0.03 90.3 42.3 0.6 -0.12
Comment: The Panthers have chosen a terrible time to slow down.
While not disastrous, their offense has been even weaker
than usual. Vokoun is once again the only thing between
them and oblivion.
19 Oilers 2.91 3.01 -0.10 -0.01 88.8 58.7 0.7 +0.04
Comment: Must the Oilers do this to us every year?
8th place, here we come!
20 Canadiens 2.96 3.06 -0.11 0.02 92.7 74.1 0.9 -0.07
Comment: The Canadiens were starting to pull it together
when coach Guy Carbonneau was fired, and ever since
they've been weak again. They look like they'll still
limp into the playoffs, but it'll be a quick end to their
21 Predators 2.62 2.74 -0.12 0.00 86.7 34.8 0.4 +0.00
Comment: The Predators didn't seem like they had a prayer
in February, but the offense has picked it up.
Probably too little too late.
22 Rangers 2.62 2.75 -0.13 -0.01 93.6 82.4 1.0 +0.19
Comment: Wow, what an effect Sean Avery and John Tortorella have had!
A month ago my colleague Timo Seppa asked "What's wrong with
the Rangers?" Ever since he asked, nothing!
23 Stars 2.83 3.00 -0.17 0.03 83.7 12.9 0.1 -0.24
Comment: In a Puck Prospectus poll on March 8th, I picked Dallas
to finish 7th in the West. Ever since, they've collected
4 points in 8 games and have dramatically fallen out of
the playoff race. Brad Richards is injured and Turco is
24 Thrashers 3.05 3.22 -0.17 0.02 74.9 0.0 0.0 +0.15
Comment: Couldn't the Thrashers have played this way all season?
In the last 12 games: Kovalchuk, 8 G and 12 A; Kozlov, 4 G
and 12 A; Lehtonen, 0.926 SV%.
25 Maple Leafs 2.98 3.27 -0.28 -0.01 82.7 0.9 0.0 +0.17
Comment: Another team reduced to the role of spoilers,
the Maple Leafs have played it to perfection.
Toskala has actually been good after a sham of
a season, and Alexei Ponikarovsky is scoring at
a point-a-game pace.
26 Kings 2.66 2.96 -0.29 0.06 78.8 0.4 0.0 -0.12
Comment: The Kings were still in the playoff conversation
a month ago, but a weak offense has turned their
outside shot into no shot. They'll be a good team
27 Islanders 2.65 3.08 -0.43 0.03 65.2 0.0 0.0 +0.12
Comment: The Islanders are showing signs of life!
Still, they'll need an offense. Their only
players with 30 points or more are defenseman
Mark Streit, Bill Guerin (now with Pittsburgh)
and 38-year-old Doug Weight.
28 Coyotes 2.59 3.06 -0.47 0.04 75.7 0.0 0.0 -0.15
Comment: The Coyotes go from bad to worse. A lot of
people are calling for coach Wayne Gretzky's
head, and there's no question that anyone else would
be gone. Seriously though, have you looked at this
roster? I like Shane Doan, but Shane Doan does
not a team make.
29 Avalanche 2.64 3.11 -0.47 0.05 72.6 0.0 0.0 -0.23
Comment: The Avalanche are cold as ice. While their
goaltending has been awful all year, now their
offense is as well. Last 10 games: Wolski, 0 G,
4 A, -3. Hejduk, 2 G, 3 A, -6. In 4 games, Raycroft
has a 0.883 SV%.
30 Lightning 2.72 3.21 -0.48 -0.01 71.8 0.0 0.0 -0.06
Comment: A miserable season nears its end. The bright spot
in the last month has been Steven Stamkos, with
6 G and 5 A in 10 games.
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.