Saturday, November 13, 2010

NHL's West Dominates East

CBC's Jim Hughson published a great article today highlighting some interesting statistics between the NHL's Western and Eastern Conference teams.  It appears as if the West is dominant - and that should not be a surprise - but what might be a surprise is just how wide the gap appears to be.

Last season the West was 66 wins over .500 against the East, and only three teams (Dallas, Edmonton and Columbus) had losing records against the opposite conference. All three missed the playoffs.

Already this season the West is 35-15-7 against the East through Wednesday's games.

Since the start of the 2005 season (post-lockout), the West is 574-359-114 for a .603 winning percentage against the East.

Hughson lists a few reasons for the dominance, including a defence first style in the West vs. offence in the East due to high level draft picks - but I beg to differ.

Sure, Washington and Pittsburgh have traditionally been built around offence in the past few years, but if you look at the playoff bound teams in the Eastern Conference in recent years, the defense first New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres are always in the mix.  Philadelphia seems to be a blend of defense and offense, with only Washington and the suffering traditional non-playoff teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta relying too much upon offense and not defence.

If you look at the Western Conference, there are not a lot of defense-first hockey clubs at the top.  Teams like San Jose, Chicago, Detroit and Vancouver have always been known for a blend of offence and defence.  Those teams are just more well rounded.

I must admit, I did laugh a bit before the regular season when many predicted the Washington Capitals to win the Stanley Cup.  Is their offense that dynamic that it will overcome their questionable defense and rookie goaltender?

I would be much more inclined to pick a team like Philadelphia out of the East again.  However, if the Capitals do make the Stanley Cup Finals, could they shut down a team with the depth of Detroit or Vancouver or Chicago?  All three of those Western teams have incredible depth in their forward lines and on defence, and solid goaltenders.  When you throw Los Angeles, St. Louis and San Jose into the mix, the Western Conference has a lot of strength.  Even the teams fighting for the last few spots could really do some damage.  The Colorado Avalanche lead the league in goal scoring, and you can never count out Anaheim or perhaps even Dallas from making an impression this year.

Hughson is right about one thing - the Western Conference teams need to load up just to compete.  When you look at the East, the bottom teams in the top 8 would likely be nestled at the bottom of the Western Conference.  Imagine if the league had a more interlocking schedule where the weaker teams in the East did not have the chance to play each other six times a year.  The point spread by season's end would be staggering.

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