With COVID-19’s newest variant ripping through NHL teams in December, the league made some tough decisions about the path forward. The NHL will not be going to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, and instead of a two-week break in February, regular season games will be played instead.
This was necessary to fit in the 62 postponed games that are currently unscheduled. It will be an absolute grind for every team in the second half of the season, and with so many games needing to be placed within the existing schedule, some teams are going to be much better off than others.
To see how things are looking, we broke down each team’s strength of schedule for the remainder of the 2021–22 season.
It’s important to note that due to the NHL’s point system, only nine teams have a points percentage below .500 at this stage. Four teams are at .700 or better, 15 teams at .600 or better, and 23 teams at .500 or better.
Team strength so far
Breaking the league down by conference and looking at average points percentage shows a clear talent gap between the two sides of the continent.
The Eastern Conference is, on average, significantly better than the Western Conference. The top six teams in the NHL and seven of the top nine are East teams. The East also accounts for five of the bottom seven teams, but the clear domination at the top of the standings tilts things in favour of the East.
Breaking it down further into divisions, trends are starting to take shape. One East division is much, much stronger than the other overall.
The Metropolitan Division has been the league’s best so far with an average points percentage of .580. Three of the league’s top five teams are in that division—the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals.
The Atlantic Division has a big split between the top and the bottom. Three of the top six teams in the NHL are in the Atlantic—the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers—but so are three of the worst six teams in the NHL—the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres.
The Central Division has a nice split between all eight teams, outside of the Arizona Coyotes that have been dreadful all season long.
It was widely considered to be the weakest division heading into the season, but the Pacific Division has actually been the second best in the league so far, in terms of average points percentage. The best Pacific Division team is ranked 12th overall, the Calgary Flames, but four teams are ranked in the top half of the NHL. Overall, this division has been the tightest in the league.
Strength of schedule chart
The y-axis of the chart below is set to a range of .510 to .580.
For the rest of the season, the Detroit Red Wings have the toughest schedule out of every team, and it’s a pretty steep drop-off to the next team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Red Wings have surprised people with their strong play this season and are even sitting in a wild card spot right now. However, it will be tough sledding for them going forward.
Other bubble teams that are in for a tough schedule the rest of the way are Edmonton Oilers in the West and the Columbus Blue Jackets in the East. Another long losing streak could spell disaster for the Oilers, and the Blue Jackets will need to beat a lot of good teams to make the playoffs.
On the other side of the chart, the Maple Leafs have the weakest schedule remaining, which could be just the recipe they need to head into the playoffs on a heater and ready to finally challenge for a berth in the second round. With their recent play and upcoming schedule, they are an excellent pick for the Presidents’ Trophy. They are keeping pace with the Hurricanes and Lightning right now, but both have much more difficult schedules left. This could also vault Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell up the Vezina charts.
Several other good teams are also facing weak schedules going forward. The Colorado Avalanche, Panthers, Blues, and Flames are all on the far right side of the chart, and should be locks for the playoffs. The West teams listed should also be legitimate challengers for top spot in their division and conference.
The to-be-announced games
Depending on how the NHL decides to reschedule the 62 games (and possibly more), we could see a shift in other schedule factors like back-to-backs, homestands, and road trips. Once those game are announced, we’ll update our NHL schedule analysis and break down how the new schedule affects each team and their fantasy outlook.
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