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How Hard Is The Road Ahead?

With NHL playoff races tight in both conferences, one factor that could help decide who makes it and who doesn't is Strength of Schedule. In order to help sort this issue out, I've updated the NHL Super Schedule so that the metrics for opponent strength (Win Percentage, Goals For, Goals Against, etc.) have been updated with team values through the games of January 17, 2008. There is also a new field at the far right (Date Value) which can be used to sort and select based on dates, so for example today being January 18, 2008, that translates to 39465 in that column. You can download your own copy of the spreadsheet from Google into Excel, OpenOffice Calc, or whatever spreadsheet program you like, and hammer away at the numbers yourself.

So who's got the hardest and easiest rows to hoe as we come into the final half of the 2007-8 Regular Season? Instead of focusing on Opponent's Win Percentage (which is horribly skewed by the standings point awarded for OT/SO Losses), I prefer to take the ratio of Opponents Goals For/Goals Against, as I believe that to be a better indicator of whether your favorite team is likely to fare well against that foe. For instance, Edmonton's number of shootout wins helps them to a .490 Win Percentage, but their GF/GA is a lousy 0.83, tied for worst in the league with Tampa Bay; chances are, opponents are picking up at least a point each night against the Oilers. The following table reflects data for the games of January 19 through the end of the regular season:

Relatively speaking, the Southeast Division boasts the easiest opposition (hardly shocking, since they play each other so much), claiming 5 out of the top 6 spots. On the opposite end you'll see many of the Central Division teams near the bottom, a further demonstration of how that group has improved as a whole. Among the Western Conference contenders, Minnesota and Vancouver stand out as perhaps having a clearer road to the playoffs than Nashville, Columbus and Chicago. Over in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia enjoys a softer schedule than its Atlantic Division counterparts, whereas Toronto faces a more difficult slate of games than the rest of the Northeast.

Granted, with 33-38 games remaining for each team, there is still a wide enough variety of opposition to keep these numbers relatively close across the league; as the season winds down, wider seperation will develop, so I'll update this table regularly as the playoffs approach.

I hope you'll find this tool useful for analyzing your own team's stretch run, and if you have any additions or modifications you'd like to see made to this resource, just drop a note in the comments and I'll see what I can do.

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