East vs West – Which Conference Is Better? The Impact Of Detroit Joining The Atlantic


With the shifting divisions – and for some teams, conferences – there has been a lot of chatter about how the conference newcomers are going to far.  The prevailing opinion I have heard over and over is that the Detroit Red Wings are going to have a field day with their move to the Eastern Conference.  If that was the case, then the West would have to be the better conference, right?

May 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg (40) carries the puck around Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) during the second period in game seven of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t necessarily buy it.  It has long been a common opinion that the West has been tougher and more competitive. I have never bought that opinion personally.

It is a very difficult thing to quantify, as well as to determine what the definintion of “better” or “tougher” is.  Its hard to quantify, especially since the conferences only played 6 games against each other in 2013 – the 6 games in the Stanley Cup final.

Its also tough because of the “East Coast Bias” when it comes to media coverage.  With the biggest media markets in the East, there is a natural lean towards the teams they see more often, which makes it even more puzzling that they would hold the West in such high regard.  Also, the West is more of a mystery to most casual hockey fans in the East because they simply don’t see enough Western conference games because they start at 10pm and most are going to bed at that time.

So how do you decide which is better?

In the Stanley Cup Finals – the ultimate battle in which each conference’s “best team” face off against each other, the conferences have split 5-5 in the last 10 matchups.

In the 4 seasons from 2008-09 to 2011-12, here are the records for each conference in terms of inter-conference play:

4 yr TOTAL1283114952.8/47.2

I chose those 4 years, and just those 4 because prior to 2008-09, the teams didn’t play against each division in the other conference.  This could skew the data greatly, and it isn’t a great scientific experiment to begin with.  So, in 4 years, the West took a total of 134 points more than the East in interconference play, or a difference of about 5.5%.

I will leave it to those more mathematically inclined to determine if that is a significant amount or not, but to me it doesn’t demonstrate that the West is appreciably better than their counterparts in the East.  It doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference considering the size of the sample field.

Now, what does that mean for the Red Wings, in particular?  The Wings are the club that is pointed at as having the biggest advantage by shifting conferences.

The Wings record against the teams in the new-look Atlantic Division over the same last 4 years of interconference play (2008-09 to 2011-12):

vs BOS – 4-1

vs BUF – 6-1

vs FLA – 2-1-1

vs MTL – 2-2

vs OTT – 4-0

vs TBL – 4-0

vs TOR – 1-3


So, maybe the pundits are right, and the Red Wings will have a field day with the Atlantic Division.  Did Alfie know something we didn’t know? Then again,  that is why they play the games.