Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2002
As we all know, unbalanced schedules (that is, not playing the same number of games all other teams) create bias in the final standings for any given year. Teams that play within weaker divisions may be overrated, since they play more games against weaker teams, and teams playing in stronger divisions may be underrated.
Using the 1995/96 NHL season, I calculated an unbiased ranking of teams. That is, for each team I calculated the winning percentage versus every other team, and computed the simple average of these percentages. This eliminates the distortion created by playing different numbers of games against certain teams. I then converted these percentages into a number of points for 82 games, which produced a new overall ranking. Here are the team-by-team results:
|Team||Old Pts||New Pts||Old Rank||New Rank|
For most teams, the difference is minor. However, some are worth noting.
Hartford wins the Divisional Whipping-Boy Award, for being the most victimized by the unbalanced schedule. They move up 7 points when the bias is removed, and move up 7 places in the overall standings. Quite a difference, eh? Imagine Hartford in the playoffs!
Toronto wins (?) the Abuser of the Year Award, for taking advantage of the system. They lose 6 points, and 5 places in the standings when everything is equalized. They shouldn’t have even been in the playoffs, with their standing of 18th overall.
The playoff picture would have been quite different. Teams marked with a star in the above table missed the playoffs in reality. Ideally, the top 16 teams would make the playoffs, rather than the mishmash of divisional winners and conference-based determinations.
The playoff teams that shouldn’t have made it are Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Speaking as a Canadian hockey fan, maybe this system isn’t so bad after all.
The non-playoff teams that should have made it are Anaheim, Hartford, and New Jersey. It’s a travesty that the Devils, ranked 12th in the league overall in reality, were denied the chance to defend their championship.
I’m not arguing that unbalanced scheduling should be abandoned. The realities of travel costs prohibit that. However, it is an interesting exercise to see who benefits and who suffers from the arrangement. Just food for thought.