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The Outliers: Three teams win at historic rate

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild
By Chris Snow

Director of Hockey Operations
The Zapruder film produced by Fox Sports Detroit on Jan. 3, the one utilized by the NHL to reverse the no-goal ruling on Johan Franzen's high-stick tip-in, cost our team a point in the standings (presuming we held the lead for another 4 minutes, 37 seconds) and cost us the right to say we beat the league's top three teams (Sharks, Bruins, Red Wings) in an eight-day span.
A deeper look at those teams' sublime seasons shows something more. If they can maintain their pace for the remainder of the season, those three clubs will go down as three of the top 13 regular-season teams since NHL expansion 40 years ago. Here at the All-Star Break, San Jose, Boston and Detroit are gathering more than 73.8 percent of the points available to them, a feat accomplished by just 10 other teams since 1967-68, when the Original 6 league doubled in size.

*2008-09 totals are projections based upon games played to date

Season Team GP W L T/OTL PTS PTS%
1976-77 MTL 80 60 8 12 132 82.5%
2008-09 SJS 82 62 11 9 133 81.1%
1977-78 MTL 80 59 10 11 129 80.6%
1995-96 DET 82 62 13 17 131 79.9%
1975-76 MTL 80 58 11 11 127 79.4%
1970-71 BOS 78 57 14 7 121 77.6%
2008-09 BOS 82 59 14 9 127 77.4%
1972-73 MTL 78 52 10 16 120 76.9%
1971-72 BOS 78 54 13 11 119 76.3%
2005-06 DET 82 58 16 8 124 75.6%
1983-84 EDM 80 57 18 5 119 74.4%
1985-86 EDM 80 56 17 7 119 74.4%
2008-09 DET 82 55 16 11 121 73.8%

When adding up all of the seasons played by all teams since Expansion (12 teams in 1967-68 + 12 teams in 1968-69 ... + 30 teams in 2008-09), the league has witnessed 878 "team seasons." This year may produce three of the 13 best among those 878.
San Jose, 34-6-5 under rookie coach Todd McLellan, is on pace to go 62-11-9 for an all-time NHL record of 133 points. However, since expansion, the league has played schedules of 74, 76, 78, 80, 84, 48 and 82 games. This makes points percentage the truest standard of comparison. By this measure, the Sharks are collecting better than 81 percent of available points.
The post-expansion league record is 82.5 percent, by the 1976-77 Canadiens, regarded as the best team ever. That collection of players scored 387 goals and allowed just 171, lost on Oct. 30 at home to Boston and didn't lose again at the Montreal Forum, collected the Vezina and Norris trophies and the individual scoring title, and went 12-2 in a playoff year capped by a sweep of the Bruins. If you ever run into Jacques Lemaire, Mario Tremblay, Guy Lapointe or Doug Risebrough at our rink, ask them about this team.
Detroit stands to crack the top 13 for the second time in four seasons. The 2005-06 Red Wings began 12-1-1, got bored/injured/unlucky for a couple months, beat Nashville on Jan. 24 in OT, decided that wasn't good enough and won 32 of 35 to end the season. (An aside: they lost in six games to Edmonton in Round 1 that spring, a defeat that led the Red Wings to successfully propose an amendment to league rules that changed the structure of the NHL Entry Draft, de-emphasizing regular season success and emphasizing playoff success). This year's Red Wings are unlikely to close the year as well as that team did, but they've begun better and are headed toward 55-16-11.
Boston, 2-2-3 to open the season, is 32-6-2 since. The Bruins lead the NHL in goal differential at a staggering plus-62. At their present pace, they will score 293 goals (3.56 per game) and allow just 185 (2.26 per game).
Combined, the Sharks, Red Wings and Bruins are 99-23-16. Impressively, they've struggled against a common opponent: Minnesota. Against The Big 3, we are 3-1-1 (2-0-0 vs. Boston, 1-1-0 vs. San Jose, 0-0-1 vs. Detroit).
The dominance of The Big 3 presents implications for the league standings.
Because of the point awarded for OT/shootout losses, the NHL season does not present a set number of points as, say, the Major League Baseball season presents a set number of wins (a 2,430-game schedule equals 2,430 wins in the win column). In the NHL, a game results in 2 or 3 points in the standings. Despite this possibility, the league's point total has proven consistent since shootouts were introduced:
2005-06: 2,741 points
2006-07: 2,741 points
2007-08: 2,732 points
2008-09: 2,741 (projected)
While it appears safe to say there will be about 2,741 points gained by the 30 teams this year, the spread of those points stands to change. Last season, the top three teams amassed point totals of 115 (Red Wings), 108 (Sharks) and 104 (Canadiens). That adds up to 327 points. This year, The Big 3 projected to gather totals of 133 points (San Jose), 127 (Boston) and 121 (Detroit) for a sum total of 381 points.
At this pace there will be 54 fewer points spread among the 27 other teams. The impact will be felt more in the Western Conference, where San Jose and Detroit play most of their games. Most likely, the West team that finishes 8th and claims the final playoff spot will do so with fewer points than the 8th-place team of a year ago. There also stands to be more intense competition for that last spot. And, to the successful clubs that claim those 7th and 8th spots? A Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup with two of potentially the best teams the game has seen.
The associated implications are less predictable: How will general managers behave come the March 4 trade deadline? Will The Big 3 go all-in, looking to add the one piece they each may need? Will other teams spend assets (prospects, picks) to get better? Or, will they elect to wait for next year when time/circumstances/cap issues cut the Big 3 to a Big 2 or Big 1? 

Previous editions ...

Jan. 21, 2009: Thoughts about our team at the All-Star break
Jan. 2, 2009: On ... Marian Gaborik's surgery

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