Here's an age old-question: Is the East or the West better?
Well, as far as the National Hockey League is concerned, the West is better right now.
After many teams in the East made some significant moves this offseason, I expected the East would be the beast this season. However, after a month of hockey, it looks like the West is best, even if by only a small margin.
Although the East looks good and that most of the top scorers are currently in the Eastern Conference, there are six reasons why the West edges out the East at the moment.
Let's get to it.
For years and years, the Southeast Division was by far and away the worst division in the league. The Capitals have been good during the last few regular seasons, but the four other teams have consistently been missing the playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes, Winnipeg Jets (Atlanta Thrashers) and Tampa Bay Lightning have missed the playoffs a lot in the last few years, and Florida has been accustomed to seeing the floor of the league standings.
The Southeast is looks vastly improved this year, but can its winning ways continue?
At the beginning of this week, the Southeast has four of its five teams sitting in the top eight of the Eastern Conference. As of now, three of them (Washington, Florida and Carolina) sit within the top eight with Tampa sitting in ninth.
Only Winnipeg has been disappointing this season.
Despite the success so far, the Southeast has to be considered a big question mark.
Washington will surely make the playoffs, but what about the others? Was last season just a fluke for the Lightning, or will they make another push for the playoffs? Were the moves Dale Tallon made over the summer, signing a lot of former Capitals and Blackhawks, really enough to turn this team from the league's worst to a quality playoff contender? Does Carolina finally have what it takes to push itself into the playoffs?
Or will this be another typical season where Carolina drops a few places and can't make the playoffs, Florida dwells near the bottom and Winnipeg (Atlanta) can't get it together?
Winnipeg is faring horridly right now, but what about the two other Canadian teams in the East?
Are the Toronto Maple Leafs going to keep up their impressive winning ways or will they fade into mediocrity or worse, as they have done so many times throughout their history? I love how the Leafs look right now—and they have room to improve as Tim Connolly has just returned to the lineup and looks good—but, let's be honest, how many of us are accustomed to seeing them at the top of their tough division?
Likely, a lot of hockey fans aren't used to seeing Toronto doing so well in the post-lockout era.
The Ottawa Senators have had problems with their stars and, like the Florida Panthers, have been more or less accustomed to sitting very low in the East in standings. However, they now sit at fifth place in the East and have a decent record of 7-6-0.
Will Phil Kessel and the Leafs keep scoring and winning?
Will Jason Spezza and the Senators keep up their pace and remain high in the standings?
These two teams give the East a big question mark, as the order of teams in the standings isn't exactly what one normally would expect.
Four of the top-eight teams normally aren't there. So, did the East get weaker? Are Toronto and Ottawa overachieving or other teams underachieving? Or, perhaps, is this the new-look East that we should get used to?
The West certainly has its own question marks, but the East's seem to be bigger.
Another oddity in the East is that its two biggest stars have been nonexistent.
Sidney Crosby is still recovering from his concussion, and although Alex Ovechkin has seen a lot of ice, he has been absolutely terrible and looked out of place.
Now, there are still plenty of other big names in the East that are doing very well for themselves—Phil Kessel, Brad Richards, Jason Spezza, Niklas Backstrom and others—but something seems a bit off in the East this year.
The West's stars, on the other hand, like Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar and the Sedin twins are doing just as one would expect.
Admittedly, this isn't a huge point, but it's still something worth noting when the best aren't being the best.
The Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators are two of the league's elite teams. Currently they sit in 12th and 10th place, respectively. These two teams—and possibly the Anaheim Ducks—can and will still turn it on.
Perhaps the East has teams who still need to turn it on but the only definite team that belongs higher in the standings than currently sits is Boston. The West still has two or three teams that can turn it on.
So, with a perennial powerhouse and a team many people think is a Cup contender this year not winning a lot of games, the West clearly can go up. However, the East has teams that may trail off.
It is certainly possible that teams in the West will trail off as well, namely the Dallas Stars or the Edmonton Oilers, but the East seems to have more teams that may be pretending right now, whereas the West has more teams that are probably better than their young-season record may indicate.
This is not another huge deal, but this early in the season, every small detail counts in the debate of East vs. West.
In cross-conference matchups, the West has bested the East on 23 occasions, whereas the East has beaten out the West 21 times.
A two-game win margin between the two conferences is, as I said, not a big deal right now and it could easily shake down differently as the season goes on. However, if this trend continues, it could result in a significant point margin between the East and the West.
This final point has a little bit more empirical backing to it, for those of you who need some statistics.
Bare with me: As the league now stands (at the time this article was written), the top three teams in the league are in the East, but the East also has four of the five worst teams in the league.
Here's what this means: The East is more spread out, meaning that even though it is currently a small difference, the gap between the best and the worst is bigger in the East than in the West (if Columbus is taken out of the picture). The West typically has tighter competition to make the playoffs than the East, which often times gives teams in the West a better chance to become battle-hardened and playoff ready throughout the course of the regular season.
If the anomaly—the Columbus Blue Jackets—is taken out of the picture, the gap between last and a playoff spot in the West is three points and the spread between the current playoff teams is four points.
In the East, the spread between last and the playoffs is four points and the difference between eighth and first is six points.
Again, the tighter fight in the Western Conference indicates there is more skill spread out between more closely matched teams in the conference, giving the West a leg-up on the East.