The IIHF World Rankings are talked about a decent amount on here, and I know they aren't the most popular way of looking at hockey strength. The IIHF is handicapped a lot due to the unpredictable nature of the men's international competition that it has at its disposal, but they do themselves no favours by treating the World Championships at equal value to the Olympics, the world's true best on best men's competition. That said, what if it were applied to something that really was best on best, all the time? Would it bear out an acceptable result?
Well, as a bit of an experiment, I decided to test this theory... so here are the NHL Team Rankings, 2011 edition. I'm grading teams the way the IIHF does it: the most recent year counts the most, so it is worth full value. 2009-10 counts at 75% value, 2008-09 at 50% value, and 2007-08 at 25% value. Is this acceptable? You be the judge:
|1||San Jose Sharks||1120||1120||1060||1060||2755||2||+1|
|3||Detroit Red Wings||1020||960||1160||1200||2620||1||-2|
|13||New Jersey Devils||680||1020||1000||960||2185||6||-7|
|15||New York Rangers||840||720||920||940||2075||16||+1|
|16||Los Angeles Kings||920||920||620||560||2060||23||+7|
|19||Tampa Bay Lightning||1100||640||560||540||1995||29||+10|
|21||St. Louis Blues||740||800||880||600||1930||22||+1|
|25||Columbus Blue Jackets||660||600||860||640||1700||24||-1|
|26||Toronto Maple Leafs||700||560||660||660||1615||28||+2|
|30||New York Islanders||600||620||540||620||1490||30||-|
First things first, here is how it breaks down. Like the IIHF World Ranking, first place (Stanley Cup Champion) gets 1200 points, and I've hilighted the four different winners there. I've decided to value the teams based on how the NHL does it for the Entry Draft order right now. Second place gets 1160 points, third place (higher ranked regular season team of two Conference Finals losers) gets 1120, fourth place gets 1100, and then fifth place gets 1060. The difference here is that the next teams must be division winners in the regular season, before the rest of the playoff teams are counted, just like the Entry Draft system. There is also a forty point gap between the final ranked playoff team and the highest ranked non-playoff team, just like the IIHF's system.
The thing that stands out most here is how entirely possible it is for non-Stanley Cup winners to move their way to the top of the list. San Jose and Philadelphia have been consistently strong teams the past four years, but haven't won the most coveted prize. San Jose hasn't even won their conference... but their consistent showing earns them the title of the best organization of the past four years by this method. Washington ranks fourth without having even finished in the final four in any single season.
In fact, in the NHL, winning the Cup today seems to almost ensure a measure of inconsistency: the past three Cup winners are ranked 6th, 7th, and 8th on this list.
There is a lot more mobility on this list than there is on any IIHF World Ranking. For one, there is no possible way a team who finished 30th in the IIHF Ranking to finish in the top 10 the next year, since they would not be in the elite pool. There also is a relatively finite amount of teams that can win, and only slightly more that can finish in the top 4 in a given year.
Perhaps this simple formula has its uses for the IIHF because, well, the results are relatively predictable in international hockey anyways, so a simple formula is all that's really needed to give a relatively accurate picture. But I kind of like this formula for club play: I don't think fans of the Sharks will get a ton of pride out of being #1 on this list without a Cup to show for it, but I think it can be used to show how effective a General Manager has been. Seven of the top eight teams on this list have had the same GM for each of the four years, while Vancouver has had Mike Gillis for the past three.
I came up with this idea a while back, and decided to track the rankings further and further back. I finally quit at the 1967 expansion, figuring once you're down to six teams, it becomes a truly useless exercise. 2011 really is an unusual year for this ranking: only a handful of times is there not a recent Cup winner in the top spot (2006, 1996, 1992, 1991, 1974, 1973). The two recent times were both Detroit, and they went on to win the Cup soon after, so that's a good omen for the Sharks. The previous four times? Those teams didn't win the Cup until 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Its also interesting to track these rankings relative to failing franchises: Don Waddell only ever got Atlanta up to 13th on this ranking the year the Thrashers won the Southeast Division, and the slide began to the lower reaches right after that year. Meanwhile, you see Mike Milbury's tenure as GM, where he only got the Islanders up to 15th (2004), and was so bad that after 5 years of GM, David Poile's Predators had already passed him with only three seasons of play total.
The full spreadsheet can be viewed here for those looking to waste some time. I highlighted all the years attributed to a GM from the post-lockout era for historical reference, going all the way back to Cliff Fletcher's expansion program with the Atlanta Flames. You'll notice that I included the 2004-05 lockout year in my calculations, giving everyone a zero for that year. That's the only way I see fit to treat that ridiculous event.
I'll have more rankings in the coming week... but they'll all be NHL Entry Draft/junior hockey related, I promise.