Around the League: COVID, COVID, COVID…and the NHL

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I am so over the pandemic. And the COVID impacting the NHL.

Kidding, of course. It’s a very popular opinion, and obviously the worst part of this pandemic has been the millions(!) of people who’ve died, the loss of tons of great small businesses, and the social events – both happy and sad – that we’ve had to bypass to avoid community spread.

But, this is a hockey blog, so let’s focus in light of how COVID has affected the NHL. It’s tough from a fantasy hockey perspective (hello maxing out on IR, IR+, and NA positions and subsequently maxing out player adds for the week), but what the heck is going to happen with playoffs? We’re not even a quarter of the way into the season, but some teams have played 11 games, and others only 5. It’s unclear how the league will determine who qualifies for the playoffs. Will it be a points-based system? How will that work if teams can’t make up games? We have games already postponed for this upcoming week (VGK-SJS), meaning the NHL will have to make some decisions regarding COVID, and quickly.

Let’s check in on the divisions almost a quarter of the season in (all #fancystats via NaturalStatTrick):

Scotia North

Technically, Toronto is in the lead, but in terms of win percentage, Montreal is crushing it. The Habs only lost their first game in regulation last night, and at 5-1-2 have certainly come out hot. Their goal differential is +11 – the best in the NHL. Tyler Toffoli seems to have no trouble transitioning, with 9 points through 7 games so far. They boast the sixth best CF% in the league, so it should be interesting to see how their season progresses.

MassMutual East

An Alain Vigneault team pulling wins out of thin air despite abysmal possession stats and barely any shots on goal? In this economy? All joking aside, the Flyers are 7-2-1 with their OT win last night. But they won it on 17 SOG and the back of a not-great game by Semyon Varlamov. The Flyers have a 42.8% CF% – dead last in the league – and the second highest PDO thanks to a sky high 12.5% shooting percentage. If this all sounds familiar to you, I’m sorry for the memories.

Honda West

Actually the most consistent division in terms of games played, though this will change given the postponement of the Vegas-San Jose matchup upcoming. Vegas tops a tight group but this season should really be a fight between Vegas and Colorado for the #1 seed in the West. These two teams might be worth buying NHL.tv just to watch it play out. Don’t sleep on the Coyotes, either; with a +50 CF% and the 9th worst shooting percentage in the league, if they start connecting their shots with the back of the net, they could make a run.

Discover Central

Columbus is a case study in W T F this season: trash season start, drama with their stud young center, terrible possession stats, only to go 3-0-1 after trading the aforementioned center and lead the division. It’s too small of a sample size, and I watch too few games, to really make any kind of educated guess on what will happen here, but it’s certainly something to watch out for. The Stars did famously well after starting their season extremely late, but lost big last night. Tampa (still weird they’re in the Central) is always a threat, but that’s 100% thanks to Andrei Vasilevskiy. I think we’ll need a little more time before the Central really shakes out to make any kind of sense.