What is the best division in hockey? Is it the Atlantic with Pittsburgh, the Rangers and the Flyers? Is it the Central with Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis? It’s all up for what would be an interesting debate – one that could lead to blows.
One division that is not in the conversation right now is the Northwest Division.
Despite the overall mediocre hockey being played in the Northwest it may just turn out to be the most important division in hockey as the rest of the Western Conference is feasting on the five clubs playing out west – and north.
Coming into Wednesday night’s games the top eight teams in the Western Conference are a combined 39-13-6 against the Northwest division. That’s 84 points the Northwest has handed these teams in a lock out shortened season where every point is precious.
Here are some other quick facts, going into Wednesday’s action, about the doormats of the Western Conference.
The Vancouver Canucks lead the Northwest division with a less than exciting 11-6-5 record, good for 27 points and are feasting on their own. The Canucks have picked up 13 of those 27 points (48%) against Northwest opponents. They are only 5-5-4 against the rest of the Conference, a pace that is not good enough to guarantee a playoff spot.
Vancouver most likely will end up with at least the number three seed and home ice advantage, thanks to their brethren up north, and west.
Who has benefited the most from the Northwest? The San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks have dominated the Northwest Division going 7-0-0 after their shoot out win in Vancouver Tuesday night. That’s good enough for 14 of their 26 points (54%) and has them currently in the fifth slot. They are 4-6-4 against the rest which is a record that gets your fan base excited about mock drafts in March.
Chicago is beating everybody these days but has also picked up 10 points from the Northwest, and how different would Anaheim’s surprise season look if they haven’t picked up 12 of their 33 points (36%) from Northwest foes.
Of the top eight, Chicago and Detroit (31% of their points) are relying on the Northwest the least to feed their point totals.
Northwest member Minnesota is in the playoff hunt, just out of the top eight thanks in large part to their 11 points (45%) picked up against their neighbors. What is going on here?
Looking at the teams in the Northwest its clear why they have been such fodder for the rest of the conference. Their leader in Vancouver has injury problems, two goalies instead of one and can’t seem to figure out how to use their top free agent pick up on the power play.
Minnesota made a big splash this year but still lacks the depth to play with the big boys. Edmonton and Colorado have a healthy group of young-up-and-coming players who have yet to mature enough to make them contenders and Calgary, well Calgary doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing.
When you add it all up the Northwest is the biggest key in determining who will represent the West in the Stanley Cup finals. The pressure will be on to keep beating the Northwest teams for fear the club just behind you will, and pick up the points. Instead of tracking games in hand perhaps we should start tracking ‘games left against the Northwest’.
Needless to say, points are to be had in the Northwest and any teams that don’t take advantage of it may end up on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.