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Ranking the best (and worst) divisions in the NHL

Jan 14, 2011, 3:45 PM EDT

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Despite the fact that the Eastern Conference now has a newly minted respectable division – the resoundingly revamped Southeast – the Western Conference still reigns supreme. Yet ESPN’s Scott Burnside decided to take the conference debate a step further and instead ranked the NHL’s six divisions from first (the rough and tumble Central) to last (the somewhat hopeless Northeast) in this column. Here are a few observations, with Burnside’s findings in bold and teams listed in order of their rankings as of today.

(For the record, I agree with his rankings.)

1. Central Division (Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus)

2. Pacific Division (Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose)

I was leaning toward the Pacific, but Burnside makes a good point that the Central division includes two of the last three Stanley Cup winners (not to mention the last three finalists for the West) in Detroit and Chicago. They also have the best team of the 10 in Detroit.

After the top teams, I might like some of the Pacific depth teams a bit more from a talent perspective, although the Kings and Ducks are in a free fall right now.

3. Atlantic Division (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey)

The Atlantic includes two teams that are serious Cup contenders as well the Rangers, a scrappy bunch who just beat the top team in the NHL last night (that would be Vancouver). Yet they also house the two worst teams in the league, so middle of the pack seems reasonably fair.

4. Southeast Division (Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta, Carolina, Florida)

Fourth place might seem like an insult, but the Southeast was once just the Capitals, two awful teams and the hot-and-cold Hurricanes. In other words, they were probably the worst division in the league. Two spots is a solid jump.

5. Northwest Division (Vancouver, Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton)

The Northwest includes the best team in the NHL and the flawed but fun Avalanche, but their bottom three teams leave much to be desired. The Wild and Flames seem like they’re stuck in neutral while the Oilers are still in dress rehearsal mode with their band of youngsters.

6. Northeast Division (Boston, Montreal, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa)

It’s tough to argue with this choice. Ottawa and Toronto are mostly horrible. Buffalo is paying dearly for relying too heavily upon Ryan Miller after his super 2010-11 season. Even their two best teams are a little limited offensively, although the Bruins are showing signs of developing into a serious Cup contender.

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