Eight reasons why west is best in NHL
The west is best in the NHL and the Anaheim Ducks, led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, are the cream of the conference crop. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
The west is best.
The east is least.
In the salary cap world of the 2014 National Hockey League playoffs, those seem to be the givens.
That doesn’t mean an Eastern Conference team can’t make a concentrated run to the Stanley Cup, especially with the Western Conference teams threatening to physically inflict a beating on each other. Whichever side wins the first-round series between the Kings and Sharks, for example, might be spent by the time it reaches the next series.
Whatever the case, the West, from top to bottom, seems to be the superior bracket. With eight teams in each conference having qualified for the playoffs, here are eight reasons why.
1. Hustle + Muscle
Led by the Kings and Blues, the top teams in the West have brought the term “taking the body” to an entirely new level. In mirroring coaches Darryl Sutter and Ken Hitchcock, every square inch of ice will be a battle for opponents to conquer. Indeed, it will be tough slogging. Only the Bruins and, perhaps, the Flyers, can bring the muscle to the table that many of the Western Conference teams have.
2. Their Cups Runneth Over
Three of the past four NHL titles have been captured by Western Conference representatives, including victories by the Blackhawks (2010, 2013) and the Kings (2012). Only the Bruins (2011) spoiled that western run — and they needed to go to a Game 7 in Vancouver to finally settle matters. Throw in the 2008 Red Wings (still in the Western Conference at the time) and the 2007 Ducks, and you have five of the past seven Cup champions hailing from the West.
3. The Puck Stops Here, Part 1
Of the teams that allowed the fewest goals during the regular season, five of the nine stingiest franchises reside in the West. That includes the Kings (1), Blues (3), Sharks (5), Wild (7) and Ducks (9).
4. The Puck Stops Here, Part 2
Three of the starting goalies in the West — the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, the Hawks’ Corey Crawford and the Sharks’ Antti Niemi — have Stanley Cup rings to their name after leading teams to the title while serving as a No. 1 goalie (Niemi doing it as the go-to guy for the Hawks in 2010). In the East, only one can make that claim: Marc-Andre Fleury. And there are question marks over his head. Just ask Penguins fans.
5. The Paper Chase
When once told that his team looked pretty good on paper, then-Leafs coach Pat Quinn quickly cited a couple of popular uses for “paper.” Said Quinn: “You wipe things with it. You wrap things in it. That’s what it’s good for.” Okay Pat, we get the point. Still, if you look at the teams in each conference “on paper,” the Sharks, Kings, Hawks, Blues and, perhaps, Ducks, appear to have the depth needed for a Cup. In the East, meanwhile, the Penguins and Bruins seem to be the only two teams in that league, although the Habs may have a say when all is said and done.
6. Red-Light District
Five of the top seven highest-scoring teams reside in the West — the Ducks (1), Hawks (2), Avalanche (4), Sharks (6) and Blues (7). Only the Bruins (3) and Penguins (5) represent the East in this Magnificent Seven. If you are beginning to see a trend here — that Boston and Pittsburgh might be the only legitimate contenders in the East — there are a lot of observers who would agree with you.
7. Blue Line Bullies
In Sun Media’s poll of 22 hockey writers from across our chain, the final voting for the Norris Trophy had five of the top six defencemen coming out of the West— the Hawks’ Duncan Keith (1), the Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo (3), the Preds’ Shea Weber (4), the Wild’s Ryan Suter (5) and the Kings’ Drew Doughty (6). Weber is the only one not participating in the Stanley Cup tournament.
8. Dynamic Duos
Anaheim’s Getzlaf-Perry. The Kings’ Kopitar-Gaborik. The Sharks’ Couture-Marleau and Thornton-Pavelski (or any combination of the two pairings). The Stars’ Seguin-Benn. The Hawks’ Kane-Hossa. Or Toews-Sharp. The Avs’ MacKinnon-Landeskog. Whether they play on the same line or combine on the power play, you get the idea.