The separation between top and bottom has never been so slim in the history of the NHL. Even the last-place Calgary Flames beat the first-place Dallas Stars last week.
If a league is only as good as its worst team, there’s never been more parity in the history of the NHL.
Heading into Monday night’s games, the Calgary Flames currently stand in 30th (and last) place with 22 points in 26 games. Never before in an NHL season has a last-place team had more than 20 points on Dec. 7, which is about the one-third mark of the season.
Two previous last-place teams in the shootout era had 20 points on Dec. 7. The 2008-09 Tampa Bay Lightning and the 2007-08 Washington Capitals were cellar-dwellers after 26 and 28 games respectively. And on three occasions last-place teams had as many as 19 points.
Parity, of course, can have a variety of definitions, but the quality of the lowest-place team is one of them. The 10-14-2 Flames have actually done OK lately. They have six straight wins on home ice and points in six of their last nine games overall.
Remarkably, Calgary is just five points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand on the Arizona Coyotes. And the Flames are within six points of a dozen other NHL teams.
The 1996-97 NHL season also had a lot of parity. Through Dec. 6 games, the Lightning were in last place with 20 points based on a 9-15-2 record. There was overtime then, but no shootout, and no loser point. The Lightning were just seven points out of a playoff spot at that time. In the other conference, last-place Toronto (with 22 points) was five points out of a playoff spot.
If you think a better definition of parity is the point difference between the top and bottom team, the NHL’s 2015-16 season is still a leader by that definition.
Calgary and the first-place Dallas Stars are separated by 20 points, with the Flames having a game in hand. Only once before since the loser point was introduced in 1999-2000 have top and bottom teams been separated by 20 points on Dec. 7. That was 2011-12 when Columbus had 19 points and Minnesota had 39.
The average separation between top and bottom teams on Dec. 7 since 1999-2000 is 25 points.
Going back to pre-expansion years, there was solid parity in 1958-59. Toronto stood at 8-13-4 for 20 points on Dec. 7, which was 14 points behind top-place Montreal (15-7-4).
And in 1930-31, just 17 points separated first-place Montreal (57 points) and last-place New York Americans (40 points) in the final standings. Each team had only played 10 games Dec. 7.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN