Here's some news you probably haven't seen on your favorite mainstream hockey site. Perhaps our media friends to the North aren't aware of this, but the Southeast Division is kicking some major tail in the Eastern Conference this season.
That's correct, historically the most maligned division in hockey is currently dominating in head-to-head competition against the Atlantic and Northeast Divisions.
The following data is taken from NHL.com (as of 12/20/10) and shows the results of head-to-head competition between each team and the Southeast. The final grouping shows the Southeast teams' results against the other two divisions.
Both the Atlantic and the Northeast have combined losing records against the Southeast while the combined teams from the Southeast have an overwhelming winning record against their rivals from the North.
Over the past couple of years, the Washington Capitals have done most of the talking for the division, but this season it looks like it could be a different story. The Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning have improved management and coaching, plus they have added some decent hockey talent to the mix.
While the Capitals are still the division favorites at this point in time, the Thrashers and Lightning seem poised to jump to the next level and make it to the postseason.
The Hurricanes and Panthers are out of the playoff picture at the moment, but both teams are capable of making a run and getting themselves in. Could four teams from the Southeast make it to the playoffs this season?
Below are the complete records of each of the teams in the Eastern Conference along with the totals for each division. (again as of 12/20/10) The combined teams from the Southeast have more wins, fewer loses, more points, and have scored more goals than the other divisions.
The weakness? The group has allowed more goals than their counterparts in the Atlantic or the Northeast. Can the teams improve upon that stat or will it even matter as long as they continue to outscore the opposition?
After years of prime draft selections, one might think that the lower ranked teams would eventually have to improve. But the draft can be a crap shoot and it takes skill to choose quality players as well as patience to hold onto those picks.
Also keep in mind, most of these teams don't have the money to spend to the limit of the salary cap. This talent has to be developed and nurtured through their respective systems and that takes time. Either that, or they acquire talent via crafty trading. Chances are none of these teams will be buying their way to the Cup anytime soon, nor will they be circumventing the salary cap with 20 year contracts for free agent superstars.
Currently, seven of the top 20 scorers in the NHL are from the Southeast Division. (Stamkos, St. Louis, Ovechkin, Byfuglien, Backstrom, Semin, and Staal.) Take the Western players out of that group and now those seven skaters are in the top nine regarding scoring in the East. (Crosby and Roy are the other two.)
It's been proven in the past that fans will follow a winning team. The Capitals solved their attendance woes long ago and have been selling out every home game for a couple seasons now. Tampa Bay used to sell out every game during their successful years before the lockout and those fans are starting to return. Atlanta has always had trouble drawing a crowd, but they even had over 17,000 show up for a recent game.
How long before the teams of the Southeast Division start out-performing their Northern neighbors at the gate? So far this season, the Hurricanes, Lightning, and Panthers are each enjoying higher attendance numbers than they were last year at this time.
And some still think that the sport will never survive in the South?