On a night where the Oilers brought their record against the East Coast Hockey Conference to a sterling 6-9-1, I thought it might be cool to check in on some ECHC facts so far this year. Eastern teams are collectively playing at a 73.6 point pace against the West. Western teams are collectively playing at a 111 point pace against the East. Here’s the real kicker though: it sort of looks like it’s real. I grabbed the 5v5 data courtesy of Extra Skater.
The West has a little bit of a PDO edge when the game is close but it’s not massive. What catches my eye is the West’s share of the shots with the score close (within one in the first two periods or tied in the third): 55.3%. That’s a phenomenal number: 11-9 over and over and over when the game is close. An edge like that in the shots is so large that it’s impossible for the percentages to overcome it.
Also of note: while I don’t have PP TOI, the West has scored 40 5v4 goals on 418 5v4 shots. The East has scored 38 5v4 goals on 320 5v4 shots. If anything, we’d expect the West to have scored more goals at 5v4 than they actually have and the East may well have been a bit fortunate here.
A note on the records: the West have won about 62% of their games played so far. That strikes me as being in the ballpark of what’s right, given their goalscoring. You shouldn’t expect a team (or conference) that scores 56.3% of the goals to win 56.3% of the games – it’s going to be higher. Think of it this way: if the West won every game 3-2, they’d have 60% of the goals but 100% of the wins. There’s a kind of multiplier effect, where as you move X percentage points away from 50%, you win X + Y percentage points more games. It probably breaks down at some point – I doubt a team going from 90% of the goals to 92% of the goals would win 2% more games – but the band in which NHL teams operate is small enough that this is real.
Dominance like this leads to a question of why. While it’s ultimately unknowable, I tend to think that this sort of thing happens when you get a group of really good teams on one side, pushing the others to either compete harder or accept perpetual irrelevance. There’s no real difference in terms of spending between the East and the West – each conference has about a $62MM cap hit. There do seem to me to be fewer teams in the West that just have no idea what they’re doing or who are pursuing crazy strategies. Even the financially limited teams – Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas, San Jose, St. Louis come to mind – have really good management who are doing smart things. If you’re competing with those people, you have to be better. Those pressures don’t necessarily exist in the East, particularly not prior to this year.
It’s a guess though. There’s probably some randomness in all of this, Western teams just happening to be very good at the same time. It’s sure going to be unfortunate for the teams that just miss the playoffs in the West though – they’re very probably going to be amongst the best 16 teams in the league but wrong place, wrong time.
One other note of interest. As I write this, the Devils sit in eighth place in the East, on pace for 85.7 points. Los Angeles are eighth in the West, on pace for 114.1 points. The NHL has played a higher percentage of the inter-conference games (32.8%) than it has games on the schedule (27.2%). Both conferences will have more conference heavy schedules as the season moves along. The cutline in the East will rise and it will fall in the West, unless the East finds ways for both teams involved in an inter-conference game to lose. That seems unlikely but, given their performance so far, not impossible. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if the eighth place team in the West ends up with 100+ points while the eight seed in the East is below 90.
One other odd note: Eastern Conference hockey is a lot of fun to watch. There are some Western teams with soul but there are a lot of good teams as well that are dreadful to watch: Los Angeles and St. Louis come to mind.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org