Earlier today, Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert bemoaned the "mediocrity" of the NHL's Western Conference and saw it as a bunch of middling teams within a few points of each other.
Now, it's certainly been a fierce fight out west, and I've written a few From The Rink posts about how tight it is. The whole conference has essentially been a playoff race since mid-November, and ultimately, that should give the Eastern Conference finalist a bruised and battered opponent come June.
But as Lambert pointed out...
Listen to this list of teams ranging from so-so to submediocre and realize that five of them will somehow pull into the playoffs: Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Los Angeles King, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes. None of these teams are even remotely exceptional. More than half will make the playoffs nonetheless.
From this group of nine teams, only three are above .500 against the East this season. By contrast, eight of them could say the same last year, and the only one that wasn't (Anaheim) was .500 even.
Maybe Lambert was looking at the wrong standings. Here are the records for the nine teams in question against the East and you'll see that it's not just three teams above .500 versus the East. Teams in italics are above .500 against the East (you can check my math here) and I count six of the nine.
|San Jose Sharks||5||6||0|
|Los Angeles Kings||8||5||0|
Edit 10:18 AM PST: Changed "Tie" to "OTL" in the table thanks to a momentary brain fart of Excel formatting.
However, West vs. East teams are usually one-off affairs that don't provide much of a measuring stick about a team's capabilities. Because of injuries and other factors, it doesn't really provide a good sample size for the strength of a team against a certain opponent.
So maybe you can't really quantify it this way, but here is some food for thought. Four Eastern Conference teams are five or more games below .500 against their conference: Toronto Maple Leafs (14-19-4), Ottawa Senators (13-20-4), New Jersey Devils (13-21-2), and the New York Islanders (11-23-2).
In contrast, only two Western Conference teams are five or more games below .500 against their conference -- the Columbus Blue Jackets (15-20-4) and the Edmonton Oilers (9-23-7). Does that support the theory that teams out west are simply beating the tar out of each other and that there aren't any real standouts? I'd say more than likely.
Here's something I will agree with Lambert on:
But these teams are all deeply flawed in at least one important way, and very few have the type of goaltending and/or team defense that can steal a series or three.
That's true. But aside from a handful of teams in the entire league, you can say that about pretty much any team from either conference.
For a few months now, my opinion's been that pretty much any team can come out of the West. There are strengths and flaws between seeds one through 12, and if a team makes the right move at the trade deadline and gets healthy, there's very little separating the top from the bottom.