Since the NHL's second lockout that wiped the 2004-05 season from existence, the Western Conference has been using the Eastern Conference as a punching bag, thoroughly dominating the inferior grouping for nearly a decade.
Based on the start of free agency and the moves made since the end of the season, that doesn't appear likely to change in 2014-15.
Many of the sport's best available players either remained in the West or defected there from the East. Jason Spezza, James Neal, Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla and Ales Hemsky will all be adjusting to an earlier time zone, and that doesn't account for Marian Gaborik signing a seven-year deal with Los Angeles after coming to the team from Columbus at the trade deadline.
The East's top acquisitions from the West, arguably, were Mike Cammalleri, Dan Boyle and Matt Moulson, who spent most of last season languishing with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders anyway.
Conference dominance can be cyclical, but this cycle shows no signs of being over in the near future.
The level of play in the West has been so high for so long that it has had a snowball effect, forcing lesser teams within the conference to get better to keep up with the league's best teams. Look no further than general manager Jim Nill's comments after the Dallas Stars acquired Spezza from the Senators on Tuesday.
“This is a huge move for our organization," Nill said on a conference call, as transcribed by Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News.
"We have some great centermen here, but anytime you can add a world-class player like Jason Spezza, it’s going to help us keep up with the rest of the West," Nill continued. "The West is getting stronger every year. You saw how St. Louis made a big move (signing Paul Stastny), the Chicagos and Anaheims, so this was important for the organization. Anytime you get a player like Jason Spezza, it’s just a great day for the organization.”
The Stars missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons before last year, as acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins during the previous offseason helped them get better and weaken the already weaker East.
Since the second lockout, the West has won the head-to-head battle with the East in every season and has captured six of nine Stanley Cups.
|West vs. East, since 2005-06|
|Season||West Pts. Pct.||East Pts. Pct.||Cup champ from|
It's interesting that in Stanley Cup Final, the three East winners (Carolina, Pittsburgh, Boston) needed seven games each time. The gap was never as wide as it was in 2009-10, although the East had its best showing against its big brother in 2011-12. But after the conferences didn't intermingle following the league's third lockout last season, the West delivered a bludgeoning to the East in 2013-14.
A look at the most impactful cross-conference moves in the past two weeks shows it could be even worse next season.
It's a bit subjective, but looking at only skaters, the West picked up 12 key players from the East while the East grabbed 12 players who resided in the West last season. Here's the list you can nitpick:
West: Spezza, Iginla, Neal, Vanek, Hemsky, Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne, Mason Raymond, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson, Daniel Briere
East: Moulson, Boyle, Cammalleri, Patric Hornqvist, Marty Havlat, Willie Mitchell, Stephane Robidas, Alex Chiasson, Nick Spaling, P.A. Parenteau, Jason Garrison, Cody McCormick
Here's a look at the statistics, fancy and regular, of each conference's 12 biggest additions from the other conference.
|West vs. East, offseason additions from the other conference|
|West additions||East additions|
|Points per game||0.576||0.473|
It's hard to say what the impact will be of around two dozen players changing conferences when there are about 300 skaters in each conference; those West additions constitute about five percent of the skaters in the West.
However, there's no denying the rich talent pool in the West has gotten a little deeper since the Kings won the conference's third straight Stanley Cup. Considering how large the disparity in skill and speed between the conferences was last season, it shouldn't turn in favor of the East any time soon.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.