NHL Parity Evident Early in 2017-18

Unpredictability is one of the reasons why people around the world love watching sports. Everyone can probably think of that ‘what in the world’ moment when they were watching a game and the unthinkable happened.

What about the time when novice college hockey players from the USA beat the Soviets to create the ‘Miracle on Ice?’ Do you remember where you were when Belarus beat Team Sweden, chalk full of Hall of Famers, during the 2002 Olympics?

James Neal Golden Knights
James Neal and the Vegas Golden Knights have been one of many surprises in the NHL. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

What about the expansion Vegas Golden Knights who have stormed out to an 8-1 start in their inaugural season?

In today’s NHL, one of the most predictable things is parity. The league has slowly crept towards parity ever since the salary cap was introduced after the 2004-05 lockout.

Parity Piques Interest

This parity has created a ton of surprises and a new level of interest from fans whose teams were supposed to be terrible this year. Sorry, Arizona Coyotes.

I wrote about four teams that were expected to be bottom-feeders this year but are off to hot starts, and now you can throw the Vancouver Canucks into the mix.

Derek Dorsett #15 of the Vancouver Canucks
Derek Dorsett and the Vancouver Canucks have been good early. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Even though these teams were supposed to be bad, they are among the majority of NHL teams that are grouped together in the overall standings. That number has grown over the years. In 1997-98, according to Drop Your Gloves, only nine of the 26 teams were within three points of .500. In 2017-18, 23 of the 31 teams are within three points of the .500 point mark.

NHL parity has thrown a wrench into predictions. Sure, it’s still early, but when will we see one of these bottom feeders shock everyone by making the playoffs? It’s been a while since we’ve seen a team make an incredible jump in the standings from one year to the next. The last monumental point increase was when the Philadelphia Flyers jumped from 56 to 95 points between 2005-06 and 2006-07, documented here in this great write-up from Hooked on Hockey.

We might not see a point increase like that again since most of the ‘bad’ NHL teams are still in the playoff picture. On the other hand, maybe parity allows more of these ‘bad’ teams to sneak into the playoffs.

Related – Rumor Rundown: Sabres, Red Wings, Rangers, More

Wacky West, Enigmatic East

In each division, there is a cluster of teams within a few points of each other, where at least five teams are between 15 and 19 points. Only a couple of wins separates a second place team from being in the bottom ten.

The Metropolitan Division might be the definition of parity with six teams all within three points of each other and the Pittsburgh Penguins, with 20 points, are only four points ahead of the seventh-place New York Rangers.

New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk
Kevin Shattenkirk and the New York Rangers have clawed their way back into the playoff picture after a horrid start. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

To throw more confusion into the equation, the Penguins have the third-worst goal differential in the NHL at -14. Only the woeful Coyotes and the Buffalo Sabres have been worse. This is partly due to a couple of blowout losses thanks to awful performances by Antti Niemi, but the Penguins aren’t running away with the division by any means.

Even teams just outside of the parity bracket, like the Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers, can’t be counted out because they are all within a couple of points of the bracket.

Only the Coyotes should be relegated to the AHL. (Jokes)

Related – Monday Morning Howl: ‘Yotes Losing Streak Reaches 11

Three Teams Above the Rest

Three squads are doing their best to break away from the pack early in the season. It will be interesting to see if their hot starts are legitimate or if they will crash back down to earth. One of these teams was pegged to be a Cup favourite, while the other two were easily on the playoff bubble.

Tampa Bay Lightning

With Steven Stamkos returning to the Tampa Bay Lightning, most people were picking the Bolts as a Cup favourite. Early in the season, they’ve done nothing to make people feel sour about those odds.

Forget Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the most dangerous duo in the NHL has been Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. They are first and second in point totals respectively, and Kucherov leads the NHL with 14 goals.

The Lightning were hampered by injuries last year but with a stable full of healthy bodies, the team is legit.

St. Louis Blues

Although St. Louis is off to a hot start this year, there are still some question marks about their lineup.

Injuries hit the Blues before the season began, with Jay Bouwmeester, Robby Fabbri and Patrik Berglund all being sidelined long-term.

Alex Pietrangelo
Alex Pietrangelo is playing like a bonafide number one defenceman. (Amy Irvin/THW)

The Blues are still missing a bonafide number one centre, although Paul Stastny and Brayden Schenn are doing their best to change that. Stastny has 12 points in 16 games while Schenn has 18 points in 16 games. With a sniper like Vladimir Tarasenko, a number one defenceman in Alex Pietrangelo and solid goaltending in Jake Allen, the Blues have a chance to keep up their recent success.

Los Angeles Kings

Arguably the biggest surprise of the bunch, the LA Kings have an impressive 11-2-2 record through the first 15 games. Jonathan Quick might be the single biggest reason for their success since the Kings were hurt by his absence last season.

Even though they lost Jeff Carter to injury, the Kings are still finding ways to score. Anze Kopitar is back to his old ways after an off year last year, but the biggest surprise is Dustin Brown. The former captain has 15 points in 15 games after posting only 36 points total last season.

They are also getting scoring from rookie Adrian Kempe, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Mike Cammalleri and top defencemen Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. Although the Kings seemed like they were on the decline, they still have the pieces in place to make a run at the Cup.