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The West Division Is Essentially A College Mid-Major

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like “you can only play what’s in front of you.” The idea is that a team has no control over the level of competition on their schedule. Their job is to simply go out and handle that competition night in and night out.

The Golden Knights have been doing just that. 30 games into the season, Vegas leads their division and stands in 2nd place in the entire NHL in points percentage. They have an impressive +33 goal differential, winning streaks of four, five, and six games, and haven’t lost more than two games in a row all year.

It’s all great and would be easy to proclaim the Golden Knights among the clear-cut Stanley Cup favorites this season, but here’s the problem.

This year, due to the unbalanced shortened schedule, it does matter who you are playing.

Because each team is strictly playing teams inside of their division, strength of schedule absolutely matters when discussing the overall ranking of teams.

The West is the only division in the NHL to contain three teams (SJS, LAK, ANA) that missed the 24-team playoff last season. The East has two (BUF, NJD), while the North (OTT) and Central (DET) each have one.

All seven of those teams currently sit on the outside of the playoff picture and one of the seven represents a team in dead last in each of the four respective divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Anaheim, and San Jose are all unquestionably terrible NHL teams. Maybe you can make the case the Kings have taken a small step in the right direction, but even that could be considered a stretch.

Thus, playing in the West offers a massive advantage to the five teams that did reach the playoffs last season. On each of their schedules, they play 24 games, or 43% of the schedule, against non-playoff teams. Compare that to teams in the East who get just 16 or those in the North and Central that get eight or nine.

In determining the best team in each division, the schedule is balanced and thus fair, but when trying to figure out how teams across divisions stack up, records and stats from the West must be taken with a grain of salt, similarly to how we do with college sports. When collegiate sports are judged in determining bowl games or the NCAA tournament, conference, and competition, matter. An undefeated team in a conference with weak competition is often considered much worse than a team with many losses in a challenging conference. This year, the West Division is the NHL’s equivalent of college football’s Big East or basketball’s Mountain West.

I went through all 31 teams to show how many points each have racked up against the seven non-playoff teams from last year, plus how many games are left on the schedule to score even more easy points in the back half of the season.

 GPRecordPoints% of Total PtsGames Remaining
STL1911-5-32568%4
MIN1511-4-02256%9
VGK1412-2-02453%10
NYI1211-1-02248%4
SJS86-1-11346%8
ARI116-2-31545%13
BUF63-2-1744%2
WSH109-0-11943%6
COL139-3-01842%11
EDM77-0-01433%2
NYR85-3-01031%8
ANA83-4-1729%8
PHI104-4-21029%6
VAN55-0-01929%4
CHI65-1-01029%2
NJD63-2-1725%2
DAL43-1-0621%4
WPG54-1-0820%5
LAK62-2-2619%10
NSH53-2-0619%3
PIT53-1-1718%11
FLA64-2-0818%2
TOR63-2-0717%3
MTL52-1-2616%4
CBJ32-0-1515%5
CGY62-3-1515%3
BOS52-2-1514%11
CAR53-2-0613%3
TBL43-1-0612%4
OTT00-0-000%0
DET00-0-000%0

Before even looking at VGK, look at St. Louis. 68% of their points have come from wins against San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim and they have just four games remaining against those teams. They may sit in a playoff position today, but chances are they won’t when the full 56 game schedule is played.

On to Vegas. The Golden Knights are a stellar 12-2-0 against the Sharks, Kings, and Ducks. Those 24 points represent more than half of the Golden Knights’ total output on the season. They have a points percentage of .857 against those teams while just .656 against the playoff teams.

Only two teams in the entire NHL have racked up more points or have a higher percentage of their points against the worst teams in the league.

Meanwhile, the team currently ahead of the Golden Knights in the overall standings, the Lightning, have just four points off the backs of non-playoff teams. 88% of Tampa Bay’s points have come against teams that reached the postseason last year, a 41% difference compared to the Golden Knights.

Carolina, Florida, and Toronto are in similar positions, building their records off stronger competition. Meanwhile, the team one point ahead of the Golden Knights, the New York Islanders, are one of the few teams to keep up with Vegas in the bum-slaying department. They are 11-1-0 against the non-playoff teams from last year and 10-7-3 against the playoff teams.

Add it all up, and the Golden Knights record should not be compared to that of the other division leaders. We’ll never know what it would look like if they had the same schedule as the Lightning, Panthers, or Leafs, but we can be fairly certain that if the Golden Knights had played just four games, instead of 14, against the non-playoff teams, they probably aren’t looking at a 123 point pace this season.

This certainly does not mean the Golden Knights are anything but a great team. You can’t go 12-2-0 against anyone in the NHL if you aren’t good. But, we need to be wary of the numbers when comparing them to teams outside of the West Division. The quality of competition is not equal, in fact, it’s not even close. Amassing 45 points in 30 games in the West Division is not the same as doing it in the Central or North, or even the East.

The Golden Knights belong in the conversation among the best teams in the league, but we shouldn’t be leaning on their record as the chief proponent as to why.

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62 Comments

  1. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    The Knights have no choice in having to play only within their division. They are doing what is needed and expected. Yet, are getting very little credit from “some”.

    So Ken, your article is yet another way you are saying we don’t have the team to win the cup! I disagree. But this is your way. No matter how well they do, against the schedule presented to them, you will always find the negative approach.

    I’ve said a number of time recently, that, if they can improve then great. But if not, I believe we have the roster that can win the cup, THIS YEAR! (IF we have a healthy roster, come playoffs). You nor I nor anyone can know what the results will be. I’ll do “my job” and remain with the positive point of you, as I know you, as always, will remain with the negative!

    • Daryl

      This isn’t just Ken…. If you watch any of the shows on the NHL Network (or even ESPN but I don’t count them) they all say the same thing. Fans keep talking about VGK record but you can’t use that as a basis for how good this team is. And YES, this is a very good team, some of us just don’t think we are as good as others think. We believe we still need help to beat the other great teams around the League

  2. A VGK Fan

    This article, while having some valid points, is overall horse shit (no surprise based on its author). Why is it horse shit? Here’s one example, Tampa Bay (since this is team being used as main comparison in the article) has been a top for many years, even winning the President’s Trophy.

    And guess what happened when they won the President’s Trophy? I recall them getting booted first round by the BLUE JACKETS. A mediocre, low scoring team. And I also recall them ALMOST losing to the blue jackets again.

    Long story short, you can kick ass all season, and still suck when it matters.

    Another example of why Ken’s article is crapola, is the 2012 Kings. the 2012 Kings barely snuck into playoffs as the lowest seed and ass whooped on the 1st (VAN), 2nd (PHX), and 3rd (STL) ranked West teams, on their way to beat NJD in the Cup Final.

    All that matters is that you make playoffs, and are hot when it counts. otherwise all these numbers and BS ken’s speaks of doesn’t matter

    Try writing a better article Ken. For the love of god

  3. Tim

    Ken you’ve got a one track mind Stanley Cup or bust. As you said in your last podcast our AHL Knights might have 100 people that care put me in as one of them. Watching the kids is fun and I don’t mean the guys over 26 who are history but Jack, Lucas, Pavel, and some of the young D-Men are part of our future. I liked your idea of Conner Garland and my idea of Erik Haula a center and forward that can score. Haula’s contract would wash out trading Holden and he’s probably be a third or fourth round pick. Garland’s contract is minimal entry level and would cost us a first, second, and maybe a third. The good news is we didn’t have to give a prospect up and we helped our offense whats not to like.So you put Tuch, Garland, and haul on the third line. Forth line Carrier, Roy, and Nosak. Kolaser , Reeves are healthy scratches Glass goes to the Silver Knights. Defense Martinez & Theadore, McNabb & Whitecloud, Hague & Coghlan until Petro comes back.

    • Pistol Pete

      I posted this on the 5-1 Blues win article. Sort of the bottom six, of course not including Tuch. In terms of points and +/- Cody Glass leads the group.

      In descending order of points, the Glass 2020-2021 stats (10 pts/+4) are higher than Nosek (8 pts/+1), Kolesar (5 pts/-3), Roy (4 pts/+4), Carrier 3 pts/-3) and Reaves (3 pts/-3).

      I realize pts and +/- are not the whole picture, however Glass does appear to provide the strongest performance in the group, the recent Nosek surge notwithstanding. The four PP goals reign supreme in the Glass 2020-2021 stats, however I think a prospective 5-on-5 ramp up is feasible given his hands, vision and developing speed in the framework of a play.

      Still I cheerlead Cody Glass lol.

  4. Mikegron32

    I read an article recently by a national beat writer that I really respect. He ranks the top 5 cup contenders each week. He actually has VGK odds of winning the cup better BECAUSE of the division they play in, meaning their playoff path to the cup could be easier.
    I like reading Ken’s opinions but I don’t look at them as anything other than a fan with a bigger platform

    • Daryl

      I find that two fold… VGK should be better rested and fresher come playoff time since they have played weaker teams but at the same time they won’t be used to playing long series against stronger opponents. I personally think it hurts them more than it helps them. They won’t be used to the adversity they will face when playing better competition.

  5. sb

    He’s right on with his analysis. The data supports this. VGK play in the weakest of four divisions. He never said the Team wasn’t good. Just not as good as the points indicate. Putting on rose colored glasses and ignoring the holes on this Team is a mistake if winning the Cup is the goal. It was only a few months ago that Dallas capitalized on those deficiencies on their way to the Finals. To win the Cup, VGK need one hi-end center for Stone/Pac and move Stephenson to Tuch/Glass. One big-time player away.

    • Mikegron32

      The data would support this for Gonzaga also

      • This is correct. And like Gonzaga, no one should be comparing their record to Michigan or Alabama. Doesn’t mean they aren’t as good if not better than those teams, it just means you should not use record and stats as the end all be all.

        • You mention Michigan because they played in the Mighty Big Ten. Well, eight of the nine might Little Ten are home and the lowly Pac 12 has a quarter of the teams left in the NCAA tourney. Beat the teams you play in the playoffs. Do not worry about the bottom two or three teams, they are not making the playoffs anyways.

          • Daryl

            He might have been referring to college football. And you are completely missing his point

          • I was referencing basketball. Michigan is a 1 seed. Alabama is a 2 seed.

    • Daryl

      Agreed again…. everyone is jumping down Ken’s neck for posting factual information. He isn’t saying VGK isn’t good and he isn’t saying VGK can’t win the Cup, he is simply stating you can’t use VGK’s record as an indication of how good they are or where they rank with teams from other Division. And you can’t say he is wrong as everything he stated is factually correct.

      • He was not referring to college football, Gonzaga does not play competitive college football. His point was the West was like a mid major. I disagree, the Sharkies and Duckies stink, but the VGK, Avs, Blues, and Wild compete with any top four teams from other divisions. That is who will be in playoffs and who you have to beat. The Central is so strong the Blackhawks would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. I would like to play them instead of the Avs or Wild.

        • Daryl

          Sorry, I missed the part about Gonzaga, but he also wasn’t the one who brought them up. Not sure why he would use Michigan and Bama to talk about football. But either way, I agree with him on the level of competition in this Division compared to the others. And I think you are WAY off to think the Blues or Wild could compete with the top 4 of any other division. The 4 top teams from the East would destroy either of those teams. Obviously this is just my opinion and there is no way to prove otherwise since they don’t play each other, but I don’t see MIN or STL beating NHI, Caps, Bruins, or the Pens. I don’t see either of those teams beating TB, Car, FL, Tor, Winn, or the Oilers. Not just by looking at their records by mostly by watching how they perform on the ice.

          As for VGK or COL, I’m not sure either would beat the top 4 teams from the East, the top 2 from North or the top 2 from Central. I think VGK/COL against Oilers or Panthers would be very good games that VGK/COL could win, but could also lose. I think they are very close to one another.

          I do think the top 4 from the West would beat the Blackhawks though. The Central, top to bottom, is better than the West but the West top 4 teams are better than the top 4 teams from the Central

  6. EK

    It’s ridiculous how many out there get offended by articles that don’t kiss the VGK ring. Have you seen Tampa Bay play? They are fantastic, Ken is right to be concerned about our Knights. They are a very good team but we have no way of knowing how they will perform against the cream of the crop. Once they win 2 playoff series we will get the answer.

    • The amazing part is that VGK doesn’t even have a ring, yet people still cry when you say anything but how incredibly amazing they are.

      • Tim

        Toronto last cup 1967 the Gold Standard been awhile and I’ll bet they haven’t won because of bad trades and bad drafts. In our 4th year were close making a few mistakes but overall good trades and drafts. Patience my friend it’s hard to win you have to be good and lucky and as we found out in year two bad ref call at crucial times in a playoff can end your year as we found out.

        • THE hockey GOD

          hence earning the Toronto Loser Leafs label, which will continue this year. They have no goalie !!

  7. Jake

    * Get in the playoffs, #1 first goal.

    * You are making comparisons off of last year’s results and those teams no longer exist.

    * Vegas could win the Cup, however there are several teams that appear to be “better” but that all gets sorted out, note above, first comment.

    * Great teams win against teams they should beat and rise above those with better talent, to win. Only one team does it best, perhaps Vegas, or not.

    * The good news! Someone has to win it all.

  8. Daryl

    I posted something similar to these numbers in your last article (or the one before) which compared VGK’s wins against the bottom teams. I think it is now over half our points have come against teams with a losing record. Again, that isn’t speaking bad of Vegas just stating facts and pointing out figures. In reality, these numbers are all really useless as anyone who makes the playoffs has a chance of winning the Cup, but if you are using records as an indication of how good a team is, there is plenty of proof that shows you cannot do that.

    I give VGK credit, they have done very well against teams they should do very well against. That is one sign of a Champion. They have to continue to win those games and then find a way to beat teams they aren’t favored against or teams that might be slightly better than them. Splitting wins with CO won’t be enough, they will need to find a way to best them in back to back series, which is very possible.

  9. Mike StG

    Interesting that VGK scouted the ARI-COL games last night, and it wasn’t for MacKinnon. Garland is a very good player, plays LW/RW, is an RFA. Could be a really good long term addition to the team. Haula still looks fast, plays C or wing, very good net front. Could be a legit 2C as he was in Year 1. I’d like to see either join the team.

    • Daryl

      I wouldn’t mind Garland at all…. but I think they need to concentrate on a Center above all else. Only problem is they might be limited on those players

      • Mike StG

        Elite centers are drafted and developed usually. We’ve never had higher than the #6 pick due to Vegas’ success. And we won’t have one either in the foreseeable future. Best we can hope for is maybe someone like Haula who could be a solid 3C or 2C. At least we’re not in the mushy middle like Minny or Calgary.

        • Daryl

          Mostly I agree but there is always a chance for an elite Center in the off-season. I do believe there is always a good chance for a strong #2 Center even at the trade deadline. Haula would be good but I wouldn’t mind someone like Staal either

      • knights fan in minny

        i would think garland would be part of the yotes future that would be my guess he is a good player

    • Garland is too small imo. Marchessault and Smith are VGK’s smallest players but bigger than Garland. I realize there are many cases of successful small players across the history of the NHL, I just think VGK should stay heavy. Haula is much bigger than Garland.

  10. knights fan in minny

    enjoy the season stop worrying so much i would take garland over eh i had season tickets for the gophers love haula fantastic speed something you cant teach i dont think he is the same player he once was maybe if he came back to vegas he would regain his form who knows

  11. THE hockey GOD

    well the plus side it that while the other teams in these “harder” division are beating the crapola out of each other, maybe the VGK will come out better rested. It is a tournament of endurance, it’s marathon, not a sprint.

    The same thing in horse racing. The pundits ask “who’d that horse beat”. Every year Baffert sends out American Pharoah or Justify or Life is Good. The win easily, everyone says “who’d the horse beat? NOBODY”. Then horse goes on to win the DeRBY. Same story with California Chrome trained by Art Sherman.

    Who’d you beat doesn’t matter until you beat everyone else that have beaten each other up trying to get a chance to beat “who’d you beat’ team.

    WTH did I just say.

    That said, upgrades at certain positions would be nice.

    sez me

  12. THE hockey GOD

    scene one close up cut action
    Oddball : Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?

    Moriarty : Crapola!
    cut

    scene two , wide angle, action

    Oddball : [looking at aerial pics of the a remaining bridge] Beautiful.

    Moriarty : suppose the bridge ain’t there?

    Oddball : [groans] Don’t hit me with them negative waves so early in the morning. Think the bridge will be there and it will be there. It’s a mother, beautiful bridge, and it’s gonna be there. Ok?

    Oddball : [Later: Oddball is looking through binoculars at the bridge] Still up!

    Oddball : [planes fly and bomb the bridge] … No it ain’t. See what sending out them negative waves did, Moriarty?

    Moriarty : That ain’t my fault, Oddball, I’ve done nothing but have good thoughts about that damn bridge ever since we left!
    cut
    PS
    Always with the negative waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves.

  13. Vic

    Jack Eichel would be nice. I know…minor details like money, cap space , draft picks and the untouchables we would never part with. Would be great to rescue a talent like that from hell.

    • Mike StG

      Not a fan of Eichel. It’s the attitude, maybe entitlement? They traded O’Reilly because of Eichel. Put the C on his chest, so he’s the captain but definitely not a leader. He checked out weeks ago. Vegas doesn’t need that.

  14. Zach

    Okkk???? Counterpoint, had the playoffs not been expanded to include 8 additional teams and only the 16 teams like notmal. The now Central & North Divisions had 3 playoff teams, the West had 4 and the East had 5 for this logic is really stupid

  15. Zach

    Okkk???? Counterpoint, had the playoffs not been expanded to include 8 additional teams and only the 16 teams like normal. The now Central & North Divisions had 3 playoff teams, the West had 4 and the East had 5 s this logic is really stupid

    • You are missing the point. It’s not about whether or not a team actually made the playoffs. It’s about how bad the California teams are. When you get 24 games against them, almost half your season, your record cannot and should not be compared equally to a team like Tampa that only gets 8 against one of the bottom teams in the league.

      • Daryl

        Exactly… everyone is missing the point. Nobody is saying VGK is bad and nobody is saying VGK can’t win… it’s simply showing the disparity in competition and you can’t use records or stats to compare teams,at least not this year

  16. Well Ken – it is amazing the responses you get when you come up with these type of articles that speak the facts versus just conjecture. Some people just refuse to acknowledge the obvious. They also refuse to admit VGKs has struggled at times against these lesser teams which speaks volumes. No one really has any idea how good or how bad the Knights are for comparison until they are truly tested against some heavy competition. IMO they have a decent team, not sure a championship Cup team, but one never knows. They have some dead wood they could do without which would help their cap situation assuming they could find buyers. I like Eric Haula but question if he would really want to come back here. Maybe some of the knowledgeable poster know otherwise as they were authorities on Neal and Perron’s attitude
    or the armchair accountants who question the value of ROI. Hopefully VGKs can prove their worth – if they show up against the stiffer competition with the right attitude that will be a start.

  17. Frank

    Well, someone has to win the west (as terrible as it may be). Also the knights have acquitted themselves fairly well vs the better teams in the division (Avs, Blues, Wild)… I give VGK a good chance of defeating any team in the NHL in a playoff series as it stands right now. Certainly not anointing them stanley cup champs at this point, but they have a good shot if they play to their potential. We will see when the games are played.

  18. So Cal Knight Fan

    So How does Bowling Green stack up against the Kings, Ducks and Sharks?

  19. Pistol Pete

    Speaking of playing “weaker” teams in the same division it’s worth noting that of Tampa Bay’s eight losses, four came against Columbus, Chicago, Detroit and Nashville, not exactly powerhouses. The other four were Carolina (2) and Florida (2). I’m not sure how much it really matters the level of competition within the division other than getting battle tested ahead of the playoffs.

    • Of Tampa Bay’s four losses to the lesser teams, just one was an OTL (SO). Their other OTL was to Carolina.

      • And the OTL (SO) was to Chicago, currently the strongest of the “lesser” teams.

        • Compared to Tampa Bay (6 reg/2 OT), Vegas also has eight losses (7 reg/1 OT). As with Tampa Bay, four of the losses including the lone OTL (SO) to St. Louis were to the bottom five teams in the division. Probably Tampa Bay has tougher competition in the top three in the division if one grades Minnesota below Carolina, but really there is not that much of a difference between the two divisions (imo). What matters is being prepared for the post season.

          • East looks the toughest thus far with Philly (15-12) having the best fifth place record in the league. Otherwise the other divisions are pretty equal in terms of records for the top five teams ie. the fifth team is 500 or below.

    • Daryl

      I think the “battle tested” is huge…. it’s hard to see exactly what improvements need to be made when you play weaker teams so those games against tough competition is major.

      And let’s not forget that VGK has losses against ARI, LAK, and ANA….

      • Pistol Pete

        Yeah but TB lost to Columbus, Nashville and Detroit plus Chicago.

  20. Pistol Pete

    Flyers btw are 15-12-4, below 500 as a matter of fact. Overall competition for the top teams in each division are fairly equal IMO.

    • Daryl

      Part of the problem with looking at the records is how many times a team has played those weaker teams. VGK has played JSJ and ANA a total of 11 times. Add in ARI with 4 and over half of VGK wins are against teams not only with losing records but at the very bottom of the Division. Now, I have no idea how many times TB has played anyone nor any other teams record vs certain teams, just pointing out the there is more to someone’s record than just the win/loss

      • Pistol Pete

        True, just thought it was significant that each team lost an equal number of times to the lower five teams in their division. I guess to Ken’s point, Tampa Bay to this point has played more of the top teams in their division than Vegas has. Again, all that matters is how the post season goes. Again I hark back to a couple seasons ago where the Lightning won the President’s Cup and sucked in round one getting swept by Columbus.

        • Daryl

          For that matter, look at the Caps. How many times were they the winningest team only to get knocked out of the playoffs in the first or second round until finally winning it all. I agree with you that none of this really matters in the long run and it will all be decided come playoff time, but I do believe there is some validity in the numbers, they just aren’t concrete.

          • Pistol Pete

            TB playing the mighty Stars lol so we’ll see how that goes.

  21. Pistol Pete

    TB loses to Dallas in regulation.

  22. Mark

    The best part of this graph is that in the top 7 sits the Buffalo Sabres. They haven’t won in 15 games, but they can beat up non playoff teams.

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