Before tonight’s home opener, the Washington Capitals will raise a new Southeast Division Champions banner for the last time. The Capitals won half of the Southeast’s 14 division titles since 1998, but as of this season they will have to compete in the tougher Metropolitan Division, a sort of super-sized Patrick Division.
Some think the change will be disastrous for the Caps. “They will actually have to play against some tough teams in arguably the league’s toughest division,” the Pensblog said in their division preview story.
That’s not entirely correct.
Two years ago, in the last 82-game season, the Caps played 32.9% of their games against Metropolitan teams. This year, they will play 37.8% of their game in division. That’s a whopping 4.87% of the regular season — just 4 games.
The Capitals played the Penguins four times in 2011-12. After realignment, the Capitals will play the Penguins four times in 2013-14.
The big change under alignment isn’t so much about the new divisions, it’s more the playing of all non-division teams twice per season. Yes, the Capitals will have fewer run-ins with the soft-serve Panthers (2 instead of 6), but it also means they get to play the Flames and the Avalanche twice each.
The number of games they play against Metropolitan teams doesn’t change much at all. That said, realignment does change how playoffs teams are decided (though I wish there’d be a more meaningful decider: a division-level playoff round). I don’t believe the 2012-13 Caps could have made the playoffs outside the Southeast; they needed Carolina and Winnipeg to go belly-up late in the season, handing a bunch of wins to the Caps in the process.
To be fair, if someone say were to say the Caps won’t have the Southeast Division to beat up on anymore, they’d be largely correct. The Caps will play 12 fewer games against their old Southeast opponents.
It seems to me that rumors of the Caps’ tougher schedule have been exaggerated. The Metropolitan Division, or at least the extent to which the Caps face teams in that that division, isn’t much of a change at all. The larger change is those home-and-home series against all non-division teams, which I bet will lead to compaction in standings across the league. We’ll see, but for now, let’s all use our FSM-given skepticism next time we hear the No Moar Southleast argument getting bandied about.
Ultimately, the quality of a team will matter more than realignment. This year’s Caps team is miles better than the one we’ve seen the last two seasons*, and that is crucial. As Brooks Laich said, “I believe we are closer than ever before. That’s why I could care less about this new realignment.”
I think he meant he couldn’t care less, but you get the point.
* I think. I hope.
Note: I have clarified that the 4.87% is a percentage of the regular season, not a percentage increase. Thanks to Charlie for pointing it out.