Jan 312007
 

Yesterday I posted my power rankings which had the top 8 teams all from the western conference. The best eastern conference team was Buffalo sititng in 9th spot. That led Greg Ballentine of The Puck Stops Here to comment “top 8 from the west. I’m not sure I buy that the west is THAT much better.” I must admit that it is a little hard to believe, at least until you dig a little deeper.

This is almost unbelievable but the combined record of those top 8 western conference teams vs the east is an outstanding 37-13-8. I had to put that in bold because it is that good. That is equivalent to a team on pace for a 116 point season, a point total which only 1 team reached last year, and Detroit did that playing 24 games against 3 of the worst teams in the NHL (Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis). It is hard to believe that those 8 teams could dominate a conference so dramatically. Of those 8 teams, only Dallas has a losing record vs the East at 2-4-1 and only the Stars, Wild, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks have a losing record against the east. Even St. Louis is a 4-0-0 against the east and Phoenix is 5-2-0.

Conversely, the record of Buffalo, Atlanta, New Jersey and Ottawa, who I believe make up the eastern conferences best teams, have a combined record of 9-15-4 against the west and that is largely due to Buffalo’s 4-1-1 record. Buffalo, until their recent slump, was consistently in the top 5 and frequently in the top 2 in the power rankings.

It appears to me that the west is in fact that much better than the east.

  16 Responses to “Western dominance of power rankings…”

  1.  

    I agree that the west is better than the east – but not that much better.

    I think the flaw comes from the method you calculate your power rankings. You take into account the teams win/loss record (adjusted for some details) and their strength of opposition. Because the west is better than the east, the west has higher strength of competition, but a team in the east that is dominant over weak competition (ie Buffalo) suffers.

    What record would the Sabres need (with the same strength of opposition) to be rated 1st or 2nd or 3rd? I’m sure that isn’t too hard a calculation for you – given that you have all the nittygritty of the method in front of you (and I do not). Is that a reasonable result? Should Buffalo have to be that much better to be ranked higher.

    The problem is that low strength of opposition is not necessarily a sign that a team is bad. Its only a sign that the teams they are playing is bad. It does mean that their success should be taken with a grain of salt – they may not be as good against better competition, but they may be a very good team scheduled to play against bad teams.

    I do not believe that Edmonton or Vancouver are better than Buffalo, but according to your power rankings they are.

  2.  

    I agree that the west is better than the east – but not that much better.

    I think the flaw comes from the method you calculate your power rankings. You take into account the teams win/loss record (adjusted for some details) and their strength of opposition. Because the west is better than the east, the west has higher strength of competition, but a team in the east that is dominant over weak competition (ie Buffalo) suffers.

    What record would the Sabres need (with the same strength of opposition) to be rated 1st or 2nd or 3rd? I’m sure that isn’t too hard a calculation for you – given that you have all the nittygritty of the method in front of you (and I do not). Is that a reasonable result? Should Buffalo have to be that much better to be ranked higher.

    The problem is that low strength of opposition is not necessarily a sign that a team is bad. Its only a sign that the teams they are playing is bad. It does mean that their success should be taken with a grain of salt – they may not be as good against better competition, but they may be a very good team scheduled to play against bad teams.

    I do not believe that Edmonton or Vancouver are better than Buffalo, but according to your power rankings they are.

  3.  

    With the Kings being so miserably bad this year, i find myself, for the first time ever, rooting for them to really suck it up and have the first or second pick in the draft. QUESTION: Would Angelo Esposito or Alexei Cherepanov help the Kings immediately? Who would you rather have? Who do they remind you of?
    Thanks!

  4.  

    Power Rank ~= 0.0331 + 1.87*AdjWinPct*ScheduleStr (regression: 99%)
    0.65 = 0.0331 + 1.87 * AdjWinPct * 0.465
    Solve for AdjWinPct:
    71%, considering they’re playing against 45% opposition this isn’t too much of a stretch…

    I use a different system that discards the OT results (as they’re too random). Buffalo and N.J are ranked 6+7 (west teams ranked 1-5). No mathematical tool is going to get the east teams in the top. It could be the west vs. east games randomly sided with the west and as a result you get these results. Or the west vs. east games mattered more to the west so there was more effort by west teams to win them, whatever the reason is these are numerical results and opinions my still be different on the reasons for the numerics.

  5.  

    It’s tough for a mathematical algorithm to overcome those lopsided west vs east results. But that said, I do think that Anaheim, San Jose, Detroit, Nashville and Calgary are all probably as good or better than anyone in the east. Buffalo should be right there with them. Ottawa would be if they didn’t get off to such a horrible start to the season. I would say those 7 teams are the best 7 teams in the NHL. After that I would put the Devils, Atlanta and Dallas close behind. If I were doing the power rankings myself, those would be the top 10 teams. After that you get into teams with significant issues. Vancouver it is lack of scoring and depth. Edmonton it is defense. Montreal it is lack of scoring. Most of the rest of the east is defense and/or goaltending. etc.

    To answer Greg’s question, if Buffalo had a .700 record they would have a Power Rank approximately that of Detroit and Anaheim. On Jan. 2nd Buffalo had a .679 AdjWinP but since then they have gone 5-7-1 on a fairly easy schedule (SchedStr dropped from .486 to .465 during that time).

    To answer Brett’s question, I can’t really say who would be better as I a not a scout and haven’t seen them play a lot but I would not expect either of them to be contributors next season. I think it is a mistake to rush players along. I don’t think the Bruins did any favours for Phil Kessel by rushing him along and it may even slow his progress.

  6.  

    Now David, lets go back to an old discussion we had. We agree that:
    1) the west conference is better than the east this year
    2) the highest scorers (at least in raw numbers) come from the east

    How do you reconcile those two facts? Is the east worse DESPITE having better scorers (which seems like a contradiction) or is it because the east is worse it is easier to score there and thus the eastern players have inflated totals?

  7.  

    First, defense and especially goaltending win. It’s always been that way.

    Second, my gut tells me that Crosby, Ovechkin, Jagr, Kovalchuk, Hossa, Heatley, Spezza, Alfredsson, Sundin, Savard, Lecavalier, St. Louis, Briere, Staal, Malkin, Elias etc. are better than Thornton, Selanne, Kariya, Marleau, Sakic, Iginla, McDonald, Sullivan, Frolov, Datsyuk, Tanguay, Havlat, etc.

    Third, I did concede that I couldn’t prove that the east did have better offensive players. It was a gut feeling, just as you had a gut feeling that the west was just as good offensively. But for some reason when I said that I got attacked

    But conceding that neither of us had really proven our points (they are gut feelings for a reason)

    Maybe those guys in the west are as talented and only great goaltending is the difference. I conceded that I couldn’t prove my point. You may be right, but when I suggested that you hadn’t proven your point either (and the burden is probably more on your shoulders because you are trying to prove something that the point and goal standings indicate otherwise) I got attacked and told I should watch hockey games implying that any idiot who watches a hockey game could see you were right. Well, that is not true, and that is not what Bill James would ever say.

    So to summarize, you might be right and I might be wrong but telling me to watch hockey games isn’t going to prove that one way or the other.

  8.  

    Ok logically if the West is “better” because it wins more games based on Solid Goaltending and Defence, then that is the exact same reason Western Conference shooters are suffering from lower point totals. If you place the Western’s top guns in the East they’d likely rack up similar totals to the Eastern Shooters. If you concede that the East has less adept Goalies, and Softer D, then you are providing yourself with the explanation why players who play Eastern D and Goalies more often have higher point totals. It’s entirely logical and relatively self-explanatory. If you want to check the stats just look at conference point totals. For example:

    67 of Crosby’s 79 points come against Eastern Teams. He has 54 assists and only 11 of those came against Western Teams. He’s only played 12 games against the West but he’s scoring at almost a 2 ppg clip against the East and just under a 1 ppg clip against the West.

    61 of Ovechkin’s 69 points come against Eastern Competition. Heck, 35 of his points come against 4 teams (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Philly).

    St. Louis is a bit of an anomaly since he’s only played Western teams 4 times all year. But 62 of his 68 points are against Eastern Teams.

    Joe Thornton, the leading scorer in the West has 56 points in 44 games against Western Competition, and in 7 games against the East he has 7 points.

    Selanne has 50 points in 42 games against the West, and another 12 points in 10 games against the East. His scoring production hardly changes against Eastern Conference teams.

    Kariya has 49 points in 45 Western Conference games, and then another 8 points in 7 games against the East. Again, his scoring totals hardly change.

    The fact that the Eastern snipers go from something approaching a 2 point per game pace against the East to less than 1 point per game against the West is sort of indicative of an easier time against Eastern D and Goaltending.

    Also, the fact that the Western Scorers numbers don’t significantly change would indicate to me that while they score regularly against their home conference, if you gave them more games against Eastern teams, they’d figure out ways to put more points on the board there too.

  9.  

    If you go by the premise that the western conference teams have better goaltending and defense and that is why they offensive players produce fewer points then when eastern conference players play the west their point totals should drop and when western conference players play the east, their point production should increase.

    Crosby’s
    West: 12 points, 8 games, 1.5ppg
    East: 67, 38 games, 1.76ppg
    Crosby’s production supports claim.

    Ovechkin:
    West: 8pts, 8 games, 1.0 ppg
    East: 61pts, 43 games, 1.42ppg
    Ovechkin’s production supports claim.

    St. Louis:
    West: 6pts, 4games, 1.5ppg
    East: 62pts, 48 games, 1.29ppg
    St. Louis’s production does not support claim.

    Thornton:
    West: 56pts, 44 games, 1.27ppg
    East: 7pts, 7 games, 1.00ppg
    Thornton’s production does not support claim.

    Selanne:
    West: 50pts, 42games, 1.19ppg
    East: 12pts, 10games, 1.20ppg
    Selanne’s production does not support claim.

    Kariya:
    West: 49pts, 45games, 1.09ppg
    East: 8pts, 7games, 1.14ppg
    Kariya’s production doesn’t really support claim.

    Using those players the evidence to support the premise is precarious at best.

    if you gave them more games against Eastern teams, they’d figure out ways to put more points on the board there too.

    Really? And why wouldn’t Crosby and Ovechkin figure out how to put more points on the board against the west? Are western conference players smarter and can figure that out while eastern conference players are dolts and can’t? I don’t understand that arguement.

  10.  

    Ok a few points here.

    1. Crosby scored 7 points in 2 of his Western games. Phoenix and LA. In the other 6 games he only scored 5 points. That said I guess the argument could also be made that he racked up 42 points against 4 teams (NYI, NYR, Philly, Toronto).

    2. The difference in sample sizes really has a major impact on these numbers either way.

    3. My point about having “more games = more points” for the Western players is, since the Goaltenders and Defenders in the East are typically considered “weaker” overall it could be argued that they have an advantage of less scouting being done on them by the western players/teams in general. While I agree the Eastern players suffer from a similar disadvantage, the drop off in production by Ovechkin, Crosby, Heatley (64 of his 67 points are against the East, he has 3 points in 7 games against the West with Colorado, Minnesota and Vancouver giving up 1 goal and 2 assists to him), might be explained by improved D of Western Teams.

    In Crosby’s 4 games vs. Anaheim, Dallas, Detroit, and San Jose he has 3 points. That’s less than a point per game.

    You’re right that the claim is difficult to support due to imbalances in the schedule. Overall all of this makes the scoring race sort of hard to handicap. If you think the best defensive division in the League is the Pacific with Dallas, San Jose, and Anaheim all being in the top 5 in GAA. Then the Northwest with Vancouver, Minnesota, and Calgary being in the 6, 7, 8 slots in GAA. It makes one wonder about scorers playing predominantly in those divisions. The only team in the East in the top 9 is New Jersey and they’re first overall, but the next best team in their division is the Islanders and they’re 15th. The Northeast is the best defensive division in the East with Ottawa, Montreal and Buffalo being 10th, 11th and 12th respectively, but considering the fact that two of those teams are ranked 1st and 3rd offensively you begin to wonder about the D of the East in general.

    The Southeast is a joke defensively with the top ranked team in the division being Atlanta, who are 16th in the league in GAA, and the other 4 teams in the division being 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 26th respectively. It makes you notice when 4 of those teams are in the top half of the league offensively. They play eachother 8 times a year, I wonder if that pads the stats at all?

    Conversely St. Louis, Chicago, and Columbus are 27th, 28th, and 29th in the league offensively so you wonder if Nashville and Detroit are as good defensively as the league thinks, or if those opposition teams are remotely decent on offence, maybe they ARE that good.

    Basically when the Northwest and Pacific teams beat up on each other but still maintain top 10 standings both Defensively AND Offensively (as Anaheim, Calgary, and San Jose all happen to) you notice. The only teams in the East remotely close on that front would be Ottawa and Buffalo. Beyond that they’re all pretenders on O or D one way or another.

    All in all the West deserves the respect it gets, the East is the weaker sister and even if it’s hard to quantify, I think we’re all aware of it.

  11.  

    Yes, the sample sizes are way to small to draw any conclusions either way. My point was that the examples you used didn’t prove anything.

    My point about having “more games = more points” for the Western players is, since the Goaltenders and Defenders in the East are typically considered “weaker” overall it could be argued that they have an advantage of less scouting being done on them by the western players/teams in general.

    Yes, I agree, but this is kind of what we are trying to show so you can’t really use it in your arguement to prove itself. Ultimately it is not easy to prove without doing some serious analysis of all players.

  12.  

    I can think of one way to approach the question without doing a lot of number-crunching on individual players’ stats. That is to compare the average goals for per game for each conference in intra-conference vs. inter-conference games. My numbers are not exact, because I compiled my data manually from NHL.com’s schedule information for the season so far. There seem to be some small omissions in their data, and of course I may have made errors of my own.

    For some reason, I was only able to find the scores of 98 inter-conference games out of 101 played to date. (I made a hard copy of the entire schedule and checked it three times. There must be some results missing.) Here’s what I did find:

    In the 98 games I was able to analyse, the Western Conference teams outscored their Eastern opponents 289 to 254 (excluding shootouts).

    Here is (I hope) a quick tabular summary of goals scored per game in inter- and intra-conference matches by each conference as a whole:

    GPG: v. West v. East
    West 2.87 2.95
    East 2.59 3.13

    In other words, both Eastern and Western Conference teams score significantly fewer goals against Western opponents than against Eastern opponents. The difference is slight for Western teams, but very marked for Eastern teams, whose scoring drops by an average of 17 percent when they play inter-conference games.

    If I make a rough and ready extrapolation from these numbers to a fully balanced league-wide schedule — that is, assuming equal numbers of intra-conference and inter-conference games, which actually a balanced schedule wouldn’t quite provide, but let’s ignore that small difference — then the expected goal scoring for each conference as a whole would equal the plain old arithmetic mean of their scoring in inter- and intra-conference games. We should then expect Western teams to average about 2.91 goals per game, and Eastern teams 2.86.

    I can therefore say with some degree of confidence that the bulk of the difference in scoring between the conferences is due to the stronger defensive play of Western teams, and not to any inferiority in offensive skill.

    Of course this is a very rough analysis, done almost literally on the back of an envelope. I’d like to see what results someone could come up with if they had a spreadsheet with all the relevant data. It shouldn’t be difficult to come up with the necessary formulae.

  13.  

    The one problem with your analysis is that the results for each conference don’t jive. If it was western conference defense and goaltending that has led to lower western conference scoring then one would expect the west to score more when they play the east which for the most part isn’t true.

    Why is that? Who knows. Maybe it just means that teams often use their backup goalies in interconference games and the west has better backup goalies or maybe the west doesn’t use their backup goalies as often in interconference games as the east does. Maybe it is because some of the weaker defensively western conference teams haven’t played as many interconference games yet or the offensive teams in the east haven’t. For example, Los Angeles, the worst defensive team in the west, still has 4 games left while Buffalo, the best offensive team in the east, still has 4 left, Ottawa 3, and Toronto 3. The sample sizes are small enough still that the ‘error’ in your analysis could come down to that.

  14.  

    One thing that does tend to skew the results is the time distribution of the games. In October inter-conference games, the West and East each scored 84 goals (ignoring the three mystery games); in November, the East actually outscored the West 61-57. It wasn’t until December that the stats became wildly lopsided.

    October was an unusually weird month in the NHL this year. Two good teams, Calgary and Ottawa, got off to horrific starts, and Calgary went on the road in October to give out free points to Northeast Division teams. St. Louis, Columbus and Phoenix were also abnormally bad at the start of the year. Nashville improved significantly after Tomas Vokoun returned. Most of these teams are in the West, which probably accounts for the dramatic improvement in the West’s fortunes starting in December. But enough inter-conference games were played by teams in deep slumps to obscure the overall trend somewhat. Two or three blowouts can really skew a curve.

    As you say, the sample size is still small enough that a few anomalies like this can throw off the results. That’s why I only said ‘some confidence’. I didn’t mean that as an understatement. I don’t have very much confidence in these results, but I think they may be indicative to some degree. It would be very interesting to see the same analysis done when all 150 inter-conference games have been played, so that the effect of scheduling quirks is minimized.

    Anyway, I’m glad you seem to think the overall approach may have something to it. I’d hate to have done all that counting on my fingers for nothing!

  15.  

    Actually, Chris Mason was awesome while Vokoun was injured and he has the best save % in the NHL. Mason has a 21-8-2 record and Vokoun is 15-6-1. Not much difference really.

    There are several inter-conference games next week which might prove interesting to keep a track of.

    Toronto plays St. Louis and Nashville on Tuesday and Thursday

    Atlanta plays Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary beginning next Thursday.

    Buffalo plays Calgary next Saturday

    Los Angeles plays Florida, Tampa and Washington starting tonight.

    Florida plays L.A. tonight, Colroado Tuesday, Minnesota Thursday and Phoenix next Saturday.

    All those games, some of them featuring top offensvie teams from the east vs top defensive teams in the west, could change things a fair bit. Lets see how the power rankings look a week and a half from now.

  16.  

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