How Move to Eastern Conference Has Helped Detroit Red Wings in 2013-14

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst INovember 17, 2013

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 30:   Daniel Cleary #71 of the Detroit Red Wings congratulates goals scorer Daniel Alfredsson #11 while Kevin Bieksa #3 and Mike Santorelli #25 of the Vancouver Canucks skate away during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 30, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The Detroit Red Wings' move to the Eastern Conference this season was supposed to be a boon for the team in a few different ways.

A much better travel schedule was the obvious upside, along with some renewed rivalries with Original Six colleagues, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins.

With 21 games now in the review mirror, though, Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference has provided the team with an even bigger benefit than forgiving travel or nostalgic matchups—it’s allowed them to be a weaker team and still look good in the standings.

Now, before anyone gets their respective undergarments in a knot about that assessment, let’s examine where the Red Wings are after 21 games played.

Detroit has earned 25 of a possible 42 points, has scored 54 goals while allowing 60, has an embarrassing 3-2-6 home record and has yet to see their number of wins turn into double digits. Earning 25 points in 21 games isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Nevertheless, the Red Wings still sit comfortably in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

From a divisional standpoint, Detroit’s fourth-place spot isn’t quite as comfortable, as under the NHL’s new playoff seeding format, they would be in the first wild-card slot, just missing a guaranteed playoff spot in April.

However, where would the Red Wings sit with the same record if they had remained in the Western Conference?

Well, rather than speculate, why not examine another team’s record through 21 games?

Detroit Red Wings vs. Vancouver Canucks Through 21 Games
RecordGoals ForGoals AgainstConference Standing
Red Wings9-5-75460Fourth

The Vancouver Canucks, like the Red Wings, have earned 25 points but via an 11-7-3 record. They’ve scored almost the same amount of goals—55as the Wings but have allowed fewer56.

When compared side-by-side, the Canucks have slightly better numbers than the Wings, however, they currently sit ninth in the Western Conference.

Clearly, the exchange rate of points between the Eastern and Western conferences is not one-for-one and, as such, the Red Wings are getting more for their 25 points than are the Canucks.

So, why make this comparison and bring up all this playoff talk in November?

Well, for years, it was a common assumption that teams that were in the playoff picture by the last Thursday in November (aka, “American Thanksgiving”) were almost certain to make the playoffs. Teams that were on the outside looking in at the same time were almost surely to be left in the cold by the time April rolled around.

This assumptive wisdom was put to the test a few years ago and reported on by Kevin McGran at the Toronto Star.

Call it Bleak Thursday if you want, but teams outside the playoffs today have — at best — a 22.5 per cent chance of moving into a playoff spot based on a Star statistical analysis of the NHL standings back to 1993.

According to the Star’s analysis, teams ranked lower than eighth in their conference have just a 22.5 percent chance of making the playoffs.

DETROIT - OCTOBER 12:  Executive Vice President and General Manager, Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings address the media during a press conference to announce the retirement from hockey of Kirk Maltby #18 before a NHL game against the Colorado Avalanch
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and though the Red Wings have room to fall and the Canucks room to rise in the standings, should they maintain their positions, the former team may have much more to be thankful for than the latter.

When asked by George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press about his team’s move to the Eastern Conference, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said, “Certainly I didn’t know a lot about the East, but I knew the West was very, very good and very deep.”

This being the case, Holland may still not know a lot about the East, but he’s got to be feeling better about his team’s future now than he would had they remained in the Western Conference.

The Red Wings 9-5-7 record isn’t an impressive one, but it’s given them a shot at respectability in the East, and that alone may well prove worth the price of admission.