With the exception of Port Huron, who has somehow only played 13 games so far, the rest of the FPHL has eclipsed the 14-game mark, meaning that the season is more than 25-percent done. Time flies in minor league hockey.
That’s a pretty good time to take stock of where the league and its teams are at, and what to keep an eye on the rest of the way.
It’s Carolina and everyone else
A quick look at the standings and two things stand out, the first of which is just how dominant the defending champion Carolina Thunderbirds have been to start the season. They’re 14-1-0-0 (W-L-OTW-OTL), with that one loss requiring a crazy comeback by the Danbury Hat Tricks on banner-raising night. That puts them on pace to roughly lose only four games this season, which would smash their record-setting team from last season.
But beyond that, it’s been domination, with a goal differential of of 60, meaning they are winning by an AVERAGE of four goals per game. They’ve scored the most goals in the league and given up the fewest goals in the league, they’re pretty clearly in a class of their own, even after losing a number of key players to expansion and other leagues.
If there is one TINY asterisk to throw on them, it’s that of their 15 games, five of them have been against the brutal Battle Creek Rumble Bees, so that’s going to skew the data a little bit. Still, they’re 9-1-0-0 against everyone else.
Speaking of Battle Creek…
The Rumble Bees might be the worst team in FPHL history
Again, it’s important to remember that they had less than three months to get all this together and didn’t get any help in the form of an expansion draft, but still.
At 0-17-0-0 they’ve already set the mark for the worst start in league history, breaking the 0-14 run to open the season by the SW Pennsylvania Magic/Steel City Warriors team that ended up going 3-44-0-2 over their 49 games.
This is going to amaze you, but Steel City/SWPA gave up an average of 7.58 goals per game, while scoring just 2.85 for a difference of 4.73 goals per game. After getting drubbed by Carolina over the past five games, Battle Creek is giving up 7.17 goals per game, and scoring just 1.58 for a difference of 5.59. That’s right, through 17 games Battle Creek is WORSE than the worst team to date in FPHL history.
Again, it’s important to note that their last five games were against Carolina, but even in the other 12 games, there were maybe 2-3 games that had respectable final scores. They’re also closing in on the modern minor league hockey all-time losing streak record of 22 games, set by the Wichita Thunder of the old CHL back in 2009-10. That team ended up going 9-50-0-5.
The Rumble Bees have shown signs of life of late and continue to make moves, but it appears they’re still a long ways off from winning games, or even consistently making teams work for a win.
The league is deeper than ever
Not just because there are 10 teams, but aside from Battle Creek, every team is competitive. Danbury has won seven games in a row and is within striking distance of first in the East, Columbus is hanging tough in the West, and is just three games back of second place Danville with games in hand. Delaware’s record looks bad at just 2-12, but when the average game is 5-3, they’re close, and honestly a bit unlucky to not have another win or two, or at least a few overtime points collected.
And then all the other returning teams are playing fairly well, and drawing fans at a strong rate. Fans are up in Port Huron, Mentor is playing exciting hockey, Watertown is probably the best team in the league not named Carolina, and Elmira and Danville are heating up, there’s a lot of good hockey to watch in the Fed, and with up to five games a night, there’s more than ever to watch too.
That’s quite an accomplishment for the league, to go from having at most five teams that were competitive in past seasons, to at least eight this season, and possibly nine.
The YouTube streams are the best thing in minor league hockey this year
We’ve been over this before, but the league making every game free to stream on YouTube, and one team on Facebook, is a total game changer. The streams continue to improve with each week, and it’s made it so much easier to follow the league’s teams and games, even SPHL fans are watching and complimentary of how its gone so far.
When you compare how the Fed’s streaming service is to other leagues like the SPHL and ECHL, which charge a lot for their service and often have streams that don’t work, making games completely free is pretty much unbeatable for fans, even with the minor complaints that have come from some fans.
The 8-team playoff format stinks
The league has improved this year, but switching to eight teams making the playoffs has already proven to be a dud, even this early in the season.
Yes we’re only 14-15 games into the season but the playoff field is pretty much set, barring something insane happening over the last 40 games or so. Battle Creek hasn’t won a game, so congratulations to Carolina, Danville, Port Huron and Columbus on their playoff spot in the West Division.
The East isn’t much better, with Delaware also six games and 18 points back of a playoff spot, meaning Watertown, Danbury, Mentor, and Elmira are your teams in the East field.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t things to keep an eye on, because in the East those four teams are all within three games and nine points of each other, so it seems like it should be a wild race to the finish to see who gets the top-seed and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. In the West, the fight between Danville, Port Huron, and Columbus to see who can finish in second and third to avoid Carolina is really close, and like the entire East race, should take most of the season.
But for the playoff field to be set a quarter of the way into the season stinks. Hopefully they reassess things for next year, but having eight of the league’s 10 teams get in so far looks lame.
So a quarter of the way in, things are mostly positive in the FPHL this season, not perfect by any means, but the league continues to make strides to being a more legit, respected league in the hockey world.
What are your thoughts on what the league has done to this point in the season?