A look at the NHL Standings can be fairly deceptive. The Florida Panthers sit in first place in the Southeast Division yet have been outscored by 11 goals over the season. Washington, one point behind is only marginally better having scored one measly goal more than they've allowed. Ottawa sits tied for third place in the entire Eastern Conference despite having given up 2 more goals than they've surrendered.
In the West, the standings seem a bit more truthful although Los Angeles and Minnesota currently hold down playoff spots while giving up more goals than scoring. In the East, three of the current playoff qualifiers have allowed more than they've scored. So, how many actual 'good' teams are there in the NHL?
Forget about team point totals when trying to determine this, a better way is goals scored and allowed. In the current season, only 9 of 30 teams have scored more than five goals more than allowed. Ten more goals scored than allowed over a full season does not necessarily imply a team is 'great' but it should at least be the bottom end of the spectrum for being a 'good' team in any given year.
So, with the current season on pace to produce only 9 'good' squads, how does that stack up when compared to past years? As I suspected, this season has the lowest ratio of truly good teams since the mid-1980's. The teams on pace to meet the threshold of a good team (10 more goals scored than allowed) are Boston, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (who are on the playoff bubble as of now but their goal differential of 134-116 certainly makes them a good team), Vancouver, Chicago, St.Louis, Detroit and San Jose.
The remaining 21 teams, many of which are in a playoff spot are simply not that good. 9 of 30 teams means only 30% of NHL teams are good, the rest are mediocre at best. This season really is a historically low level for the number of quality teams and inversely, a high level for mediocrity as seen below. A lower percent of quality teams in a given season means there is a high level of mediocrity among the other teams. While a high number of quality teams (over half) would appear to be a good thing, it also shows a great disparity among the teams.
- Post Lock-out 2010/11 - 2005/06
The number of good teams each season is consistent between 37 and 47 percent with a six year average of 42 percent.
- Expansion Era 2003/04 - 1991/92
Again, the number of good teams each year is fairly consistent with a low of 37% in 2002/03 and a high of 50% in four different years. Overall, the twelve years show an average of 44% of NHL teams being considered good in any given year.
- Firewagon Era 1990/91 - 1979/80
The average per year is remarkably consistent again at 43% of the NHL being quality teams. There are wide fluctuations however with a low of 29% good teams in 1986/87 and a high of 62% in 1984/85. That season saw an amazing 13 of 21 teams have at least 10 goals more goals scored than allowed. Conversely, it had an inordinate number of truly awful teams with 7 of the teams surrendering at least 50 more goals than they scored themselves. At the other end of the scale is the 1986/87 season with only 6 quality teams and only one team allowing even 33 goals more than they scored. Only two teams had 100 points that year, with Edmonton at 106 and the worst teams Buffalo and New Jersey each had a poor but not awful 64 points. True mediocrity that puts that season on a same scale with the current campaign.
- Post Original Six 1978/79 - 1967/68
Once again, the number of good teams was at 45% per season with a high of 61% in 1974/75 and a low of 33% in 67/68, the first year after expansion. In 1974/75 as in 86/87, although there were many good teams, the disparity between good and awful was extreme. Four teams scored at least 100 more goals more than their opponents while the four worst teams allowed at least 100 more than they scored themselves. The 1967/68 season with only 33% of the teams being good is similar to the current one in it's overall mediocrity. 8 of the 12 teams finished within 14 points of each other and there was really only one awful team in the Oakland Seals.
Overall from 1967/68 through 2010/11, the NHL had an average of 44% 'good' teams in any given year. Amazingly each era was consistently within 2% of the average. This shows that the current campaign, with only 30% 'good' teams is one of the most mediocre seasons in a long time.