by PuckStopsHere on 12/08/09 at 02:13 PM ET
For the last several years, the West Conference has had a winning record versus the East Conference. So far this year, the West is 65-51 (with 15 losses credited as regulation ties). This is a better pace than the 141-129 (with 26 regulation tie points) record the West Conference put up last year. Does this mean that the West is becoming even more dominant over the East Conference this year, when compared to last year?
At least part of the early season improvement in the West Conference record against the East is a predictable travel effect. As the season progresses, travel wears on both conferences. The West Conference travels a further total distance. They lose more time that could be spent on practice, rest, injury rehab etc. to travel. After a few months of the season it weakens the West Conference relative to the East, allowing the East to win a few more inter-conference games later in the season. Thus, the early season pace that the West Conference holds in inter-division games is never maintained the full season.
Why is the West Conference the better one when travel favors the East? I think the answer is one of perception. Despite their records, a team that barely qualifies for the playoffs in the East (last year this might be Montreal or the New York Rangers) is not a better team than one that barely misses the playoffs in the West (Nashville or Minnesota fit here last year). A lack of travel (relative to the West) gives the East team a few more points than they would have and takes away a few points from the West team. Therefore, the GM of the West team is more likely to think his team is not good enough and make moves to improve them. The East team is more likely to be a bit more complacent because their team is good enough for the playoffs.
An East player who benefited from less travel than a West player will post better statistics than the West player. This will give him a slightly larger contract and will put the East team against the salary cap with a lesser talent group than the similar West team.
It is clear that the West Conference is better than the East Conference. That has been shown repeatedly by inter-conference records. The system of player and team evaluation causes West players and teams to be undervalued (and East teams and players overvalued). This favors the West because they are driven harder to improve and can resign players at a slightly lower rate (due to travel reductions in their point totals). It is that effect that makes the West Conference consistently better than the East.
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