Following on from Part I of this heroic series (LINK - highly recommended reading, of course), this effort attempts to see if a second hypothesis put forward by our California bureau stands up to statistical scrutiny.
Hypothesis Número B: The Western Conference is lower scoring than the Eastern Conference (and hence has a better chance of playoff success)
The Werk Wot I Did Thiz Time
- Much the same as for Part I (seriously, you have to read it now) – looking at rankings of teams by both Goals For and Goals Against, separated by conference, seeing how these compare and how they translate to playoff performance
- Again, I've looked at the last 10 regular seasons only (only 1997/98 in this sample was under the old divisional structure with Toronto in the Western Conference)
- As before, 10 years isn't a huge sample size and regular season performance doesn't automatically translate to post-season play
- Three of the four expansion teams that started in this period joined the Western Conference – this possibly distorts numbers a bit, but I'd argue that Minnesota and Nashville at least hit the ground running defensively, so didn't produce some of the ugly Goals Against figures of past expansion teams
The table below compares the conferences over the last 10 years in the following four categories:
- Average Goals For
- Average Goals Against
- Number of players in the top 20 points scorers (including ties, so 21 or 22 in a couple of years)
- Number of players in the top 20 goalies ranked by GAA
- All the categories support the argument that the East is higher scoring, but only by a modest amount over the whole period. (In my mind at least, the West had a reputation of being more wide-open than the East in the mid/late-90s – possibly not supported by the numbers.)
- There isn't actually much of a difference in the comparison if you look at pre-lockout seasons only
- There is a much clearer distinction between the conferences in the last three years in each category – perhaps a reflection of much of the young offensive talent going to Eastern teams or that some teams in the East (Carolina and Buffalo, for example) adapted to (or helped create) the more offensive post-lockout style of play
The charts below are near-reproductions of those I included in Part I – these illustrate overall league ranking by Goals For and Goals Against, the stage of the playoffs each team made (based on the key below) and this time, average rank of playoff teams and Conference Finalists in each conference. (As before, the average for each round includes all teams that made that round, not just those that got knocked out.)
There are some trends to identify here as well:
- Rankings of playoff teams are similar in each conference for both GF and GA (but slightly favouring offense in the East, defense in the West)
- However, rankings of Conference Finalists show much wider differences – on average, East Finalists are ranked 4.5 places higher in GF than West Finalists but 6.4 places lower in GA
- In addition, East Finalists rank much higher in GF than all East playoff teams, but are ranked similarly in GA – a similar pattern applies in the West but for GA
- This last point suggests that, not only is scoring favoured in the East, it is a better indicator of playoff success within that conference, while defense is a better indicator of playoff success within the West
The following two charts (Goals For then Goals Against) are again similar to those I produced for Part I – essentially a diagrammatical representation of the ranking chart information above in terms of actual goal numbers rather than league ranking. (Note the change in colour coding in a not-entirely-successful attempt at clarity.)
Much the same as those above – the main point being the difference between East and West when looking at the Conference Finalists only (the gaps between the light and dark blue bars in each chart).
There does appear to be some distinction in scoring between the conferences, particularly in recent years (interesting to see if that continues) and how that translates to playoff success within each conference. The West have won six of the last ten Cups – very difficult, however, to argue this is just a strong reflection of defense triumphing over offense.
The previously advertised Part III of this series has unfortunately been subject to legal intervention – the producers of “Weekend At Bernie's” have made it clear that a writ will be served if any attempt is made to make a connection to the GM performance of Glen Sather.