MONTREAL - The institution of new rules and a new collective bargaining agreement was supposed to give way to parity in the National Hockey League. But measuring parity is a pretty tricky thing to do.

I think as this season rolls along, parity will be more of a theme among the pundits than it ever has before. Take a hard look at the standings in both conferences, and so far, through 73 games, there are no runaways at the top nor are there any teams that have yet to accumulate a point.

Yes, it's extremely early in the season, but right now, teams that didn't make the playoffs last year currently hold down 6 of the 16 available spots between both conferences.

3 of the 7 teams tied for last place in the league right now finished at the top of their respective divisions last season.

3/6 division leaders in today's standings finished last in their respective divisions last season.

Another key parity indicator: There's been a relative increase each year (with the exception of '07-08) in the amount of 1-goal games through the first 73 of the year:

2005-06: 34 1-goal games/73

2006-07: 36 1-goal games/73

2007-08: 23 1-goal games/73

2008-09: 36 1-goal games/73

2009-10: 40 1-goal games/73

2010-11: 43 1-goal games/73-- the highest total since the lockout

Here's another clue that the league is closer today than it has been since the new collective bargaining agreement came into effect: The amount of games won by a 3-goal margin in the first 73 of the year, since 2005-06:

2005-06: 20

2006-07: 23

2007-08: 26

2008-09: 20

2009-19: 23

2010-11: 16-- the lowest total since the lockout.

I can't say with certainty that these early statistical trends will have any bearing on the tension of each conference or division at year's end, but these numbers do support what I've witnessed across the league since this season started:

The disparity of talent between teams isn't great.

Handicapping the outcome of any given game seems harder to do than ever before.

If you look through each conference, it's rather hard to identify a single team that you'd feel comfortable betting against on any given night.

Isles, Leafs and Stars Prove it

The Islanders were picked by 99% of people with an opinion on hockey (estimating here) to finish last in the league. I'm not saying that isn't a likelihood, but I am saying it's tough to count them out of games-- no matter who their opponent is.

So far, through 6 games, the Isles have wins over the Rangers, Avalanche and Leafs. They managed single points against the Penguins and Stars, and lost a nail-biter by a score of 2-1 to the Capitals.

That's 3 of 4 points against teams that were undefeated (Stars and Leafs), 5 of 8 points against clear-cut favorites (Avs, Rags, Pens, Caps).

And if the Islanders can do it, any team in the league can beat any other team, on any given night.

Look at what the Leafs have done so far, winning 4 of 5 games (losing to the Isles in OT last night).

Toronto finished last season with 53 more goals scored against than they scored. This year, they're +6.

The Leafs couldn't win a 1-goal game if their lives depended it on last season, this year the team has gone 3-1 under those circumstances.

The Leafs have yet to allow more than 28 shots against in a game. They're winning with defense and goaltending, and have yet to surrender a lead all season.

The only teams to have started 4-0 only to miss the playoffs since '08-09 are Calgary and Minnesota. Everyone else with a 4-0 record not only made the playoffs, but finished near or at the top of their conferences.

Will Dallas and Toronto be like Calgary and Minnesota, or like everyone else? The Leafs finished 29th overall last season, and the Stars finished 20th.

Where does Montreal fit in?

The Canadiens are 3-1-1, in five 1-goal hockey games this year. They've managed that record without Andrei Markov; without Roman Hamrlik for the first two games; without Cammalleri for the first.

They've scored 1 powerplay goal, 12 at 5-on-5, 1 at 4-on-4. They've allowed 2 goals against on the powerplay--both against the Lightning, shutting down the four other teams they've played.

It's very likely Andrei Markov will suit up by Saturday (perhaps as early as Thursday against the Devils). That certainly increases the likelihood of the powerplay improving (even if it's a marginal improvement it'll make a difference with the way the team is playing at even strength.)

I'd say they've gotten off to an excellent start, especially considering Price's standing since the beginning of the season.

And in a league this tight, there's no question about it: The points in October are clearly as important and as difficult to get as they are in April.