At the beginning of the season, my thoughts on the Western conference were that many teams were on the decline, and that we would start to see a power shift towards the East. I pointed to the fact that Vancouver and San Jose were aging. Perennial powerhouse Detroit had moved to the East. Anaheim also had plenty of luck last year. The only teams I felt confident in were Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Louis.
However, over a month into the season, it's quite clear who the better conference is...and it's not even close. The West has dominated the East, making them look like minor-leaguers. The West is 72-28-11 vs. the East, with an astonishing winning percentage of .649%. There's only one team with a record below .500 vs. the East, and it is the worst team in the conference--the Oilers. Consequently, there are only 4 teams in the East with a record above .500 vs. the West: Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Detroit. Even that last stat is sort of cheating as if you include OT losses into the equation, Boston is 2-2, and Detroit is 4-5.
Another crazy thing that I can't wrap my head around is the fact that if Tampa Bay were in the West (1st place in the East right now), they would have the same amount of points as the 8th place Vancouver Canucks. Tampa Bay would be the only Eastern team in a playoff position right now. Only 6 of the top 16 teams in the league are from the East, as well as 0 of the top 5, and 2 of the top 10. I'm not sure if there has ever been such a disparity between these two conferences. Sure, for a while now people have been saying the West has been better, but there has never been this large of a gap.
By sorting the teams by Fenwick For % in 5-5 close, (% of shot attempts per game, not including blocked shots during a close game) you can see why some Western teams are dominating. Only 6 of the top 16 teams are from the East, as well as the Buffalo Sabres being a historic-low 39.6%. Who is not too far ahead of the Sabres? The Maple Leafs, at 41.7%. Now, Fenwick isn't the be-all end-all stat, as it doesn't measure everything. However it does show that the top Western teams are getting tons of possession, zonetime, and shot attempts...which you know, tends to lead to goals. Particularly, Chicago and San Jose are putting on absolute clinics as usual, as their games are just so impressive. Chicago’s FF% during 5-5 close is 60.9% (!), and San Jose is at 58.2%. Winnipeg is the only non-East bottom 10 team, pulling in at 46%. It will be pretty hard to win games when the opposition is getting 6 out of every 10 shots attempted.
Now, there is tons of evidence suggesting reasons why the East has been so poor, like looking at Fenwick and Corsi. However, I still don't exactly know how the West has had such great possession numbers. Obviously their roster construction has been much better, and most likely better coaching. But usually there are at least more than a handful of good Eastern teams.
It'll be interesting to see what the point threshold to get 8th place in each conference will be. As of now, it is 106pts in the West, yet only 82 in the East. Watching inter-conference games right now is like watching men against boys. There are two completely different tales in two completely different conferences.