Since the 1993-94 Season, The New Jersey Devils are the Second Best Team in the NHL

It's true.  The New Jersey Devils are the second best team in the NHL since the 1993-1994 season.

You see, one aspect of Devils fans - and I suppose this is true of all fandom - is how a certain few have such a poor opinion of the Devils. That since the Devils haven't done well in the playoffs or that their rosters don't look as good or that in spite of all these wins, they suck.    A clear case of "what have you done for me lately."  I understand that you shouldn't live in the past and the expectations for the Devils are higher than most, but at the same time, it's not to be thrown away as an afterthought either.  When I hear that the Devils "suck" from a Devils fan, I honestly question that fan's perspective. Teams that suck are bad hockey teams, they are not successful teams, and they are clearly below average to the point that you have to refer to their performance as a verb.  Yes, this is all based on anecdotal evidence, I'm not calling anyone out, and I'm sure every fanbase has this sentiment.  Still, it's worth addressing as my initial thought is that the Devils aren't even below average, much less well below that mark!

Back in early May, James Mirtle pointed out how dominant the Detroit Red Wings were since 1992.  Truly a model of success and consistency.  I began to wonder how the Devils have stacked up to Detroit in past seasons. And given the negative sentiment some may have about the Devils, I think a comparison is in order not just between Detroit and New Jersey, but among all 30 NHL teams.  Not just to counteract against this sentiment, but also for my own curiosity.  I think it's worth knowing where you stand after a period of time with respect to your peers.

So with the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, I decided to go to Hockey DB, pull every team's regular season records and playoff results since the 1993-94 season, and see how they all compare with each other in terms of points, winning percentage, point percentage, and playoff success.  I'm using the 1993-94 season as my starting point as Pittsburgh's 2009 Stanley Cup win was the 15th one won since 1994.  While this includes a lost season (2004-05) and a shortened season (1994-95), it affected everyone and the Stanley Cup was awarded all the same.  15 years is a good length of time, I think, to consider all kinds of trends and changes within the league that has happened in that time frame.

Especially now with some fans understandably concerned on how well the Devils will do next season, I figure now is a good of time as any to bring these results to light with some analysis.   It should provide some important perspective on where the Devils stand.  What lies below is a lot of content, mostly in the form of charts.  As they clearly prove the Devils are the second best team in the NHL since 1994.

Let's get right into it.  Here are all 30 teams ranked by the number of points earned since the 1993-94 season:

Total_points_in_nhl_since_1994_medium

Now, I've included the four expansion teams since 1993-94 - Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus, and Minnesota - just to see how they will play out.  I understand they could not have played all 1198 season games since then, so I have them grayed-out accordingly.  

The Devils are right near the top, having earned 1490 points out of a possible 2396 since the 1993-94 season. Detroit is the only team to has performed better in this timeframe.  Moreover, the Devils stand in an area of their own, with a comfortable 53 point lead over Dallas.   The runner ups continue to be teams that have been fairly strong since 1993-94: Colorado and Philadelphia.

As you can gather from the list, teams have tended to fall into clusters. For example, Buffalo, St. Louis, Boston, and Toronto aren't too terribly apart from each other and then comes a little dip (18 points, to be precise) before the next group of San Jose, Pittsburgh, and Ottawa.

Here, the middle point is shared by the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals.  Given that the Devils are well above both teams in this comparison, we cannot say the Devils "suck."

Let's look at it from another angle. This chart sorts the teams by points percentage.  What I did here is the same thing Hockey DB does for it's percentages for regular season records: total number of points earned divided by the total potential number of points. This yields the points percentage.   Just like they did/do in the NHL, wins are worth two points; ties, overtime losses, and shootout losses are all worth one point, and losses are worth nothing.

Points_percentage_nhl_since_1994_medium

As expected, the Devils come in second here - right behind Detroit.  The differences are more pronounced, with Detroit remarkably earning 67.15% of all possible points since 1993-94, and the second-place Devils are a little more than 5% less than that at 61.19%.   No other team cracks 60%, though Dallas and Colorado are just out of reach of that plateau.

Half of the expansion teams fare better in this regard, now that we've taken games out of the equation. Minnesota is actually above the midpoint here! A testament to the team's work ethic as well as Lemaire's coaching ability among other factors.    Nashville isn't too bad, sitting 19th overall.  Columbus and Atlanta swap spots at the bottom, though.The midpoint teams change a little bit as a result.  The franchise with the most Stanley Cups in history, Montreal, are 15th here and the Rangers slide down to 16th.  Given that the Devils are have earned 10% more potential points than those two teams, again, you cannot claim that the Devils "suck."

OK, so that's with points. What about just wins?  Let's put grinding out points in extra time or just earning a tie aside and see how a comparison by pure winning percentages plays out.  To clarify, that's the number of wins earned divided by the number of potential wins.

Win_percentage_nhl_since_1994_medium

As expected, Detroit and New Jersey come in first and second, as no other team has won more than 650 games. That Detroit has won over 700 in this time frame is impressive!  What's not so impressive is that a majority of the league is under 49% in this comparison.  In fact, 11 teams are in that 43-45% range, which I suppose can speak to some of the parity of the league.

There is movement among the teams when you take wins into account instead of points.  Toronto and Pittsburgh move up, Boston goes down, and it is Tampa Bay who has been worse than the Islanders in this scenario! Only Atlanta remains totally at the bottom in both comparisons by percentages - poor Thrasher fans!   Interestingly enough,  Anyway, the holders of the midpoint return to the Rangers and Wahsington, respectively.   I didn't expect the Rangers to be right around the mid-point in all three regular season comparisons, truth be told.  But here are they are!  Once again, given that the Devils have won 10% more of games than both of these teams in the middle, you cannot say the Devils "suck."

At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself, "John, tell me something I don't know.  The Devils have been great in the regular season.  It's in the playoffs where they blow it and if you can't make it in the playoffs, then you're not good enough."   To that end, I have put together a chart detailing every team's playoff results since the 1994 playoffs: whether they made the playoffs, what round they lost in, or that they won the Stanley Cup.  Forget seeds, forget number of games in the series, and all of that - this is about results.  Did the team win or lose or were simply not involved?

Since this is a results-oriented business and results seem to be what the Devils fans (as well as the organization) may be most unsatisfied with, I have organized it based on how many Stanley Cups the team has won since 1994.  After all, that is the ultimate goal, right?

Playoff_results_nhl_since_1994_medium

Once again, the Devils are only second to Detroit, who was on the verge of a fifth Stanley Cup this past spring.

Now, I understand the initial criticism will be "Well, duh, I know the Devils won 3 Stanley Cups, John. But that was back in 2003! And look at all those first round exits!"   Let's take a closer look at the numbers presented by this chart.

The first fact I want to point out is that the Devils have only missed the playoffs once in the last 15 playoffs.  This cannot be understated and not just because it's second to Detroit, who have been perfect at making it to the post season.  For a team to have success in the playoffs, you have to actually make the playoffs.

Second, the Devils and Detroit are the only teams to have been to the Stanley Cup Finals more than twice since the 1994 playoffs.  The most other teams have done has been twice, with Colorado winning both times and Dallas, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and Carolina for winning at least once. 

Incidentally, no team has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice and lost since 1994.  As far as the "one-hit wonders" go, it doesn't look too good.  Philadelphia, Buffalo, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Washington, and Florida all failed; whereas the Rangers and Tampa Bay were the only ones to succeed (and against a team who has only made it to the Finals once in that time frame!).  As a further aside, congratulations to Tampa Bay for being the worst team over all the last 15 years to have won a Stanley Cup!  Poor Philadelphia, Buffalo, St. Louis, Boston, Toronto, and San Jose (among others)!

Actually, that little aside brings me to a third fact.  Yes, the Devils' last Stanley Cup was 2003. But those 6 teams I just mentioned were ranked 5th through 10th (inclusive) in points since 1993-94 and they won no Cups.  Half of those teams are experiencing Cup droughts over decades (Philly is the latest winner - 1975), the other half hasn't won a Stanley Cup ever.  (Moreover, the top 4? All have at least 1 Cup!)  Keep this in mind the next time you are concerned that the Devils' last Cup was in 2003.

Fourth, out of the 14 times the Devils did make the playoffs, they still advance past the first round a majority of the time.  It's a percentage that has fallen in recent years, but it's still over 50%.  Moreover, historically, the Devils have moved on from the second round 5 out of 8 times - another value affected by post lockout playoffs. 

While disappointing that the recent results aren't anything to write home about, it's not too terrible in comparison with other teams.  Of all the teams that have only missed the post season 5 times or less (excluding Minnesota as they have been in existence for only 8 seasons), Detroit, Colorado, Dallas, San Jose, and Pittsburgh have a better success rate historically.  Yet, only Detroit and Colorado have a higher success rate since then.  And of course, the Devils are in between those two teams with respect to the number of Stanley Cups.   In my opinion, this puts the Devils' playoff results in a little more perspective.

In fact, for the sake of argument, let's define "playoff failure" as the number of times a team missed the playoffs and the number of times a team lost in the first round.   After all, if we're making the post season, let's not crash in the first round.   That would mean the Devils "failed" 7 times, as many as Minnesota (again, 8 seasons of playoffs so ignore them) and San Jose (who has never made it beyond the third round and reached that level only once).  Only Detroit (4 first round losses) and Colorado (3 missed playoffs, 3 first round losses) have done better than New Jersey. 

Here's my final conclusion regarding the playoffs.  Yes, it sucks that the Devils have not made it past the second round since the lockout. Yes, the last two playoffs were disappointing.  But again, I am stressing perspective. and based on the results of the Devils - only Detroit clearly has done better than the Devils and depending on what metric you use, Colorado can be argued to have been more successful at going deeper than the Devils.  It's not as definitive, but the Devils are way ahead of most teams in the postseason. It's why anecdotal conventional wisdom in April seemingly always has the Devils as contenders of sorts.

Furthermore, this I think gives further justification to theory that the first round is the Devils' biggest stumbling block. This is true, given 6 first round exits as compared with only 5 post-first round exists.  Once the Devils get past that first round, the odds of them moving on tend to go up based on past history.  Also based on past history, you can almost count on the Devils making the playoffs. 

Or in other words, based on what the Devils have done in comparison, the Devils do not "suck."  The New Jersey Devils are the second best team in the NHL since the 1993-94 season.   Only Red Wings fans can truly see the Devils as an inferior team.

This will be it for the blog this weekend and until Monday afternoon, unless there is some news happening.  Enjoy your July 4th weekend!   As always, feel free to leave comments agreeing or disagreeing with what I have found.  Make comments about other findings you can gather from this (outside of wow, the Islanders/Lightning/Kings/Panthers sucked).  If I made an error or you need a clarification, let me know and I will be more than glad to address the issue.

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