Monday, January 24, 2022

The Flyers finally land in the bottom 5, a new team enters the top 5, and is the East just way better than the West?

If you took a look at the NHL standings heading into the weekend, you may have noticed something kind of weird. Based on points percentage, six of the seven best teams in the league were from the Eastern Conference. If you were looking for Western representation, only the Avalanche were among the elite; you had to scroll down the list for a bit, past not just the Panthers and Hurricanes and Lightning but also the Leafs, Rangers and Penguins to get to the Wild and Blues. The Bruins showed up next, giving the East 70% of the top ten.

Does that mean anything?

It might not. “Top seven” is a pretty arbitrary cutoff, after all, and the Wild are .001 percentage points back of the Rangers, which is basically a rounding error. On the other hand … I mean, the idea kind of passes the eye test, right? Do you trust the Wild or Blues as elite teams? What about the Predators or Flames? Other than the Golden Knights, who’ve lost five of seven, does anyone else in the West seem like a legitimate Cup contender?

Yes actually, you might say, followed by a comment about typical Eastern bias, which is fair enough. The Wild are scoring a ton but are still the boring team because nobody out here updates their priors other than Dom. The Blues won a Cup in a year everybody counted them out just a few seasons ago, and we’re making the same mistake again. The Predators look good and maybe we don’t want to acknowledge that because it would mean all the experts were wrong. Sure, that’s possible.

It’s also possible the standings aren’t lying, and the East is just a lot more top-heavy. That means it’s also worse at the bottom end, which also seems to pass the eye test. The West has two truly bad teams, the Coyotes and Kraken, maybe Chicago too if you want, and everyone else is still in the mix. The East has the Habs, Senators, Devils, Sabres, Blue Jackets and Flyers, and all eight playoff spots wrapped up. Maybe that’s our answer right there. The East has more bad teams, which is padding the records of the good teams, and it will all sort itself out once the playoffs get here.

I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m not really sure what to do with the rankings. If the East really does have better teams, then I should move the Avalanche into the top spot because they’ll have a far easier playoff path than the Lightning, Panthers or Hurricanes. If this is just some random noise in the standings, then I should see through it and have more Western teams up high. I could also split the difference and hope you don’t notice. That’s always an option.

Fair warning: We’re also going to mix things up with this week’s rankings, and it’s about time. It’s been a month since we’ve welcomed a new team to the bottom five, and two months since someone has debuted in the top five. Both of those streaks end this week, as both lists enter a state of flux. And that state is Pennsylvania.

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