Strength of schedule comparison: Florida Panthers and conference rivals

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 12: Al Montoya #35 of the New York Islanders falls trying to make a save off of a shot by Mike Santorelli #13 of the Florida Panthers as Andrew MacDonald #47 falls as well during their game on February 12, 2012 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Two weeks remain before the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline locks teams into the playoff hunt, and with a three game winning streak the Florida Panthers have vastly improved their standing in an unpredictable Eastern Conference. Many factors will determine the actions of the league's general managers, while fans and players become antsy for the deals to begin, gauging the commitment and difficulty of your opponents is a key consideration to make before picking up the phone. Deadlocked in a battle for first place in the division, the focus to the standings on off nights is something we're all familiar with since winning alone isn't always enough to clarify a team's position when a day as critical as deadline day nears. The victories and defeats of rivals is always on the minds of players and management these days, and quantifying the upcoming schedule serves as a 'crystal ball' into the future during this crucial period.

I figure the most accurate way to measure the strength of a team is by their points percentage, or the number of points earned out of the number of points possible. Essentially this stat takes away the 'game at hand' factor of regular standings. The method I used to find these statistics is simple enough, I just averaged the points percentage of the final 27 opponents the Panthers will face and sorted them for a view of the bigger picture. With playoffs still an uncertainty and the Southeast division title still up for grabs, I consider the Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets (obviously) as our divisional competition with the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs also as our 8th seed competition should things go awry within the division.

Team GR Home Away Opp. P% <.500 .500-.599 >.600
Florida 27 15 12 .528 11 10 6
Washington 27 13 14 .555 10 9 8
Winnipeg 25 15 10 .554 9 9 7
Ottawa 24 12 12 .557 9 7 8
Toronto 26 12 14 .562 8 8 10

(Team, games remaining, home games left, away games left, average opponents point percentage, opponents with P% less than .500, between .500 and .599, greater than .600)

The true dogfight at this juncture is for the Southeast crown; while Florida holds a four point lead over rival Washington they also have more home games, an easier strength of schedule and therefore the easiest opponents. Stepping back, Florida seems to have the easiest schedule by a significant margin compared to the four competitors for that last playoff spot, a promising sign.

The other important figure to note is the breakdown of games before the trade deadline itself, which will likely decide which teams are for real and which one were just prolonging their drop.

Team GBD Home Away B2B
Florida 6 5 1 1
Washington 7 2 5 1
Winnipeg 7 6 1 1
Ottawa 6 3 3 2
Toronto 6 3 3 1

(Team, games before deadline, home games BD, away games BD, back-to-backs BD)

Florida and Winnipeg hold the advantage due to a high percentage of home games before the deadline, while Washington gets the short end of the stick. It's hard to tell what GMs are thinking as their teams head towards the deadline, but I assume the Jets will sell if they cant string together a solid streak, thus taking them out of the equation. Ottawa wasn't really expecting to do much this year(nor did the Panthers) so a continuation of bad play might see them stand pat or try and acquire more picks, while no one can really say what Toronto will do while(finally) in reach of a playoff spot. I assume Washington will not accept missing the postseason meaning they may be buyers no matter what, while I'm confident Tallon will make smart acquisitions if the Panthers are still in good position.

Evaluate these numbers however you wish, but there's no denying Florida has a favorable schedule that, paired with decent play, should vault them into the postseason.

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