With over half of the 2007-08 NHL season complete, a quick glance at the standings reveals the level of point-parity that exists across the league. Just 11-points separate the league’s #3 team (San Jose Sharks at 57 points) and the #24 team (Edmonton Oilers at 46 points). Only 2-teams, the West’s #1 Detroit Red Wings and the East’s #1 Ottawa Senators, have managed to distinguish themselves from the pack in the standings over the #2 teams in their respective Conferences.
In the Eastern Conference, the #1 Ottawa Senators (29-12-4) have a 7-point advantage over 2nd-place, a tie between the New Jersey Devils (26-15-3) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (26-16-3). From there, just 7-points separates the 2nd-10th place teams in the East. The tightest race is within the highly competitive Atlantic Division, where a mere 6-points separates the Division’s leader and last place team. All 5 Atlantic Division teams are currently in playoff position in the East, holding down the 2nd, 4th, and 6th-8th seeds. Of the Eastern Conference teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins have picked up the most momentum of late, going 9-0-1 in their last 10-games. The Philadelphia Flyers are also on the move, going 8-1-1 in their last 10.
In the Western Conference, the #1 Detroit Red Wings (33-10-4) enjoy a 13-point lead over the 2nd-place San Jose Sharks (25-13-7). From there, just 9-points separate the 2nd-12th place teams, and the 14th place team is just 11-points out of 2nd place. Pacific Division rivals San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are on the move going 7-1-2 and 7-2-1, respectively, in their last 10.
In addition to salary cap, point-parity across the league can be attributed in part to the Overtime Loss (OTL) which provides a one-point consolation prize to the team that requires a little additional time to lose a game. The biggest benefactors of this rule have been the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the East and the Calgary Flames in the West, all of whom have picked up 8-points so far this season while losing games. In all, 71-points have been earned in the Eastern Conference via OTL and 67-points in the Western Conference. The OTL point diminishes the value of a win, and the consequence of a loss. It decreases the distinction between competitive teams, giving little advantage in points to the teams that can close the deal and get the win in overtime.
The level of parity across the league will result in a highly competitive 2nd half run for the playoffs, in which many East/West playoff positions may not be decided until the final day of the regular season. Along the way, it will make for an interesting trade deadline as teams jockey for position to improve their rosters to gain a competitive advantage. With most teams still in the running for a playoff spot, the trade market might well be constricted in terms of quality pick-ups. Most teams will be looking for additions that will benefit the current season, with few sellers looking to unload quality players for the sake of future rebuilding.