November 15, 2013

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Admiring the Competitive Balance of the NHL

By: Matt Bowen

Nearly 20 games into the 2013-14 NHL season and the competitive balance is evident. The future of the league is mighty bright. Even after a strike that nearly erased last season, the NHL is thriving at the moment.

The league’s decision to change the divisional structure proved to be a stroke of genius. Now, there are four divisions containing eight teams each in the Eastern Conference and seven in the Western. The league is logistically sound now—this year the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets moved east while the Winnipeg Jets headed west. Suddenly, the NHL makes sense in respect to placement of teams.

Chicago Blackhawks

Can the Blackhawks keep the Central Division lead away from the Colorado Avalanche?

Albeit early, the standings are a bit surprising at the moment. The Tampa Bay Lightning currently leads the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division at the moment with 28 points. Yes, star Steven Stamkos is out with a broken right leg for some time, but his team is flush with young talent and veteran leaders like Martin St. Louis. Seeing Stamkos go down was a punch to the gut to devout hockey fans.  The kid is miraculous on the ice, have faith that when he returns he’ll be better than ever. He’s only 23 years old and a superstar—like the Terminator, he’ll be back. The Lightning surely didn’t let his absence affect their mood as they won the first game without him on November 12, 2-1 over the Montreal Canadiens. That’s good to see that resilience.

The Lightning can’t let up now, nipping at their heels are perennial power houses in the Boston Bruins, Detroit and an up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leafs team that just won’t quit.

Another surprise are the Colorado Avalanche, who led by 22-year-old Matt Duchene are second in the Western Conference’s Central Division with 28 points. This is somewhat hard to believe, but new head coach and Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy clearly knows how to get the best out of his bunch. Top to bottom, this is the best division in hockey right now with the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. This race will go down to the wire come playoff time.

The Central Division may have the most balance, but the Western Conference’s Pacific Division is the league’s strongest. This one will be a dogfight every time teams take to the ice. The Anaheim Ducks are currently the best team in the league with 31 points, but there’s little breathing room. The Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings all have 10-plus wins at the moment. Yes, they’re all going to beat up on each other throughout the season, but they currently have five playoff teams right now.

So, who’s the best team in the league? Right now it’s anyone’s guess and that’s why it’s great.

Don’t forget about the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan division. The Penguins still have a guy named Sidney Crosby while it’s still good to be Ovi in Washington. Crosby is currently tied for the lead with 23 points while Ovechkin is atop the goal list with 14.

The bottom line is that the NHL got it right this time. Everyone should have a smile on their face. The league is as competitive as ever and here to stay. Embrace it, enjoy it, and fall in love with it.

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