Over the weekend, I was watching the beginning of the Blackhawks/Canucks game and was struck with how much talent and speed there was all over the ice. Being as impressed as I was with the beginning of the game (and Game 1 of the Sharks/Wings series), I casually mentioned that it seemed like “the East is the JV tournament this year.”
Understandably, there were some fans in the East that weren’t particularly happy with the assessment. They would talk about how teams from the East won the Cup last year, in 2004, and 2006. In their responses to “the East is the JV tournament this year,” they showed that they didn’t want to talk about this year at all. Nothing that’s going on right now changes the fact that the East has a few Stanley Cups over the last few years. And it doesn’t mean that the team that comes out of the East won’t win the Stanley Cup finals this year.
But it doesn’t change the fact that the Western Conference teams left are on a completely different level this post-season. Anyone who doesn’t admit that is either blinded by the homer light or just started watching hockey about 2 weeks ago. Regardless, let’s set the record straight. Here are 10 reasons why the big boy tournament is out West this year.
1. It only took 1 round for all three division winners in the East to be eliminated. Sure, upsets happen. But it’s not like the 6, 7, and 8th seeds were dominant teams in a stacked conference. None of the 3 would have even made the playoffs in the Western Conference—and it wouldn’t have been close.
2. Let’s face it. With the foursome that’s left in the Eastern playoffs, it would be a huge surprise if the Penguins weren’t in the Finals. They had 101 points this season… to give a little perspective; the Predators (7th place team in the West) had 100 points.
3. The WORST team left in the Western Conference playoffs has been to the Cup Finals the last two years. And that’s the “easy” team left.
4. It doesn’t matter WHO is in the Cup Finals this year—the Western Conference will have home ice advantage. That’s right… even the worst team in the West has a better record than the BEST team in the East.
5. I’m a huge fan of goal differential in the regular season to give greater insight into not only who was winning—but HOW they were winning. The teams left in the Eastern Conference playoffs were a combined +31 in the regular season. To give a little perspective, the teams remaining in the West were a combined +174. In fact, 3 of the 4 teams remaining were better than the Eastern Conference’s +31.
6. If the Penguins go through the TOUGHEST road left, they would have beaten teams with an average of 91 points. Just as a reminder, the worst playoff team in the Western Conference had 95 points this season (Avs).
7. The average points for teams remaining in the East: 92. For the West? 108. Forget making the playoffs, 3 of the 4 remaining teams would have been so far behind the 8th seed, they probably would have been sellers at the deadline.
8. It’s not like the Western teams that lost in the first round sucked. In fact, they were a staggering 49-19-4 against the Eastern Conference. Just imagine the damage they could have done if they were playing in the Prince of Wales.
9. Here’s how good things are in the East. Teams like the Bruins, Habs, and Flyers can make the playoffs and even get to the 2nd round—yet they still (editor correction: would get to choose if it were solely based on record) get to choose before teams like the Blues and Flames in the draft. And those are teams who didn’t even MAKE the playoffs!
10. The West is so stacked, three teams had some of the best years in franchise history—only to still lose in the first round. And really, none of them were really upsets.
The Penguins have proven over the last two seasons that not only are they competitive in the Cup Finals, but they can win—and there’s no reason they can’t win this year as well. But when you take a step back and actually look at the individual conferences and their playoffs, there’s no way that anyone can dispute the overall depth is about 1472977x better with the Sharks, Blackhawks, Canucks, and Red Wings. The cream of the crop is in the West.
But don’t fret, Eastern Conference fans. Even though the East is the weaker conference this season (and specifically these playoffs), you should just remember that these things are cyclical. The Hawks and Kings were absolutely awful a few years ago—but high draft picks, youth movements, and a bit of luck have their respective organizations filled with hope. There’s no reason to believe that the same thing won’t happen with some of the struggling teams in the East this season.
But until then, the East, well—they’re the Junior Varsity this year.