Wow, I'm back like a fucking phoenix, burning bright as all hell in my return.
Anyway, today, my cousin was looking at the NHL standings and asked me why it is that the bubble in the West is so much higher than the bubble in the East. And it's true. In the East right now, the Devils would have home ice advantage even if they had only 80 points, while in the West, Detroit's 80 puts them in the bottom playoff spot. Glancing at the standings, it's hard to figure out why you need so many more points to be competitive in the West. So I took a dive into why. If you think math is boring, skip this whole post.
So, my first guess was that the West has more evenly matched talent, thus sending more games into overtime (and in the NHL, you get points for losing if you drag it out for long enough). But as it turns out, the Western Conference has only 115 total points from overtime losses, to the East's 126. So that's not it.
It could be due in part to a shifted schedule, so the West has played more games than the East. But, again, no - the East has actually played 2 more games (1039 to the West's 1037). So, we look deeper: does the West actually have more points than the East?
Partly, yes. The West's teams total 1147 points on the season so far; the East's, 1130. So there's a 17-point difference. That's significant. The only other reasonable explanation, then, is that the West is just far better in inter-conference play than the East. Inter-conference play, as you know, has increased since a few seasons ago, because Gary Bettman decided that what Kings fans really needed to get back into the sport was more Crosby. In fact, we're right about that: the Western Conference appears to be 143-81-27 against the East. That would certainly well account for the disparity.
However, is that actually all we're seeing here? Their conference only has 17 more points, total, than ours. That doesn't seem like enough to explain the huge disparity in the middle we're seeing. For that, we need to find another explanation. Let's take a look at the outliers.
In the East, the Capitals are sitting at the top of the conference with a Herculean 103 points. Their closest runner up, Bettman's Pens, sit 16 points below, at 87. Meanwhile, the Western Conference-leading Sharks have 96 points, only 2 ahead of the 'Hawks's 94. At the bottom, the Oilers sit at a 49-point total that somehow makes me feel better about the Rangers, a full 18 points behind the 14th-place Blue Jackets, while the East's bottom-dwellers, the Leafs, are only 4 points behind the 64-point 'Canes.
What's the point? These outliers drive the middles of their conferences. "It's only one team," my cousin protested, but it makes a big difference. Think about how many extra points the Oilers are leaving up for grabs, and think about how many the Caps are taking away.
To confirm this theory, I added up the point totals of the second through fourteenth place teams in each conference, leaving out first and last in each. This paints a much more extreme difference: places 2 through 14 in the West total 1002 points, while the identical ranks in the East total only 967: a 35-point difference.
Thus, the disparity can be blamed partly on the West outperforming the East in inter-conference matchups and partly on the Caps being so statistically unreasonably good and the Oilers correspondingly bad. Neat, huh?
I mean, maybe you think it's neat. Sorry if you don't. I'll try not to turn this into a math blog, oh miniscule audience.