by PuckStopsHere on 01/28/12 at 11:40 PM ET
Over the years I have often written about how much better the West Conference is than the East Conference. When we look at the head-to-head record, the West Conference has had a much better record. So far this season the West Conference has had a better inter-conference record. They have a 92-89 record with 26 regulation tie points. This makes the conferences much closer than they had been in the past.
In the past, I explained the difference as being due to the difference in travel between the conferences. The West Conference has significantly more travel over a season than the East Conference does as the West has teams in four different time zones and the East is entirely in the eastern time zone. This makes East Conference records better than they otherwise would be and it makes West Conference records worse. This makes West Conference teams better able to get early draft picks and thus draft better players. East players tend to put up better numbers as they have life easier. This leads to them getting bigger contracts and in a salary capped NHL this limits your team’s spending ability.
That theory held up for many years. The West Conference has had the better record for the past many years and the amount that size of their lead grew with the advent of the salary cap. That is true until now.
The Northwest and the Pacific Divisions do not have as many strong teams as they once did. Only three of the top 16 teams at All Star break come from those divisions (Vancouver, San Jose and Los Angeles). That is quite poor for two divisions that make up a third of the league. I am not sure of a systematic reason why these divisions are doing more poorly than they had in the past. It may be bad luck that teams like Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim and Phoenix are poor simultaneously. I don’t think it is a sudden systematic shift in the intra-conference dynamics. It is just a bad time for the West Conference. It is notable that even during a bad period they are the better conference.
In years past the eighth seed in the West Conference has significantly more points than the eighth seed in the East Conference. This year at All Star break both have 55 points.
The distance between the West and East Conference in ability has shrunk so far this season. The West remains better but by a much smaller margin than in the past. Is this a one time fluke or a meaningful change? Only time will tell.
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