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Scoring difference by conference

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09-07-2013, 10:40 AM
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overpass
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Scoring difference by conference

Many hockey fans have noticed that in the past decade or so, the highest scoring players have tended to play in the Eastern Conference but the better teams have tended to be in the Western Conference. As teams play the majority of their games against their own conference, this implies that the scoring totals from Western conference players may be lower than Eastern conference players because they play better defensive teams.

I took the scoring splits by conference for some of the top scorers since 1999-2000 to find how much more difficult, if at all, it was to score against one conference compared to the other conference.

I selected 15 top scorers from the old Eastern Conference and 15 top scorers from the old Western Conference. (Joe Thornton was included twice, for both his seasons in the West and in the East.) The table below contains their points/game versus each conference and versus each division.

Player Seasons Pts/G East Pts/G West Pts/G NeutralPts/G Diff
Sidney Crosby 06-12 1.40 1.44 1.21 1.36 -0.04
Peter Forsberg 00-04 1.28 1.43 1.22 1.30 0.02
Jaromir Jagr 00-07 1.26 1.25 1.29 1.23 -0.03
Evgeni Malkin 07-12 1.23 1.26 1.11 1.20 -0.03
Alex Ovechkin 06-12 1.23 1.25 1.13 1.20 -0.03
Joe Sakic 00-07 1.16 1.21 1.14 1.18 0.03
Joe Thornton 07-12 1.09 1.09 1.09 1.12 0.03
Joe Thornton 01-04 1.07 1.06 1.10 1.05 -0.02
Dany Heatley 02-09 1.07 1.12 0.85 1.04 -0.03
Daniel Alfredsson 00-10 1.07 1.09 1.00 1.04 -0.03
Pavel Datsyuk 04-12 1.06 1.08 1.05 1.08 0.03
Henrik Sedin 06-12 1.05 1.20 1.01 1.07 0.03
Daniel Sedin 06-12 1.04 1.07 1.04 1.07 0.03
Martin St. Louis 03-12 1.04 1.04 1.04 1.01 -0.02
Ilya Kovalchuk 03-12 1.03 1.06 0.91 1.00 -0.03
Henrik Zetterberg 06-12 1.02 1.05 1.01 1.04 0.03
Marian Hossa 01-08 1.01 1.04 0.90 0.98 -0.03
Teemu Selanne 00,01,06,07,09-12 1.00 0.99 1.00 1.03 0.02
Mats Sundin 00-08 0.99 0.97 1.05 0.97 -0.02
Vincent Lecavalier 03-10 0.99 1.00 0.95 0.96 -0.02
Jarome Iginla 00-12 0.99 1.02 0.97 1.01 0.02
Eric Staal 06-12 0.97 0.97 0.94 0.94 -0.03
Markus Naslund 00-08 0.96 1.09 0.92 0.98 0.02
Pavol Demitra 00-09 0.96 1.17 0.90 0.97 0.02
Mike Modano 00-06 0.96 0.92 0.97 0.98 0.02
Patrick Kane 08-12 0.92 1.04 0.90 0.95 0.02
Patrik Elias 00-12 0.92 0.93 0.87 0.89 -0.02
Patrick Marleau 06-12 0.90 1.06 0.87 0.92 0.02
Brad Richards 01-08, 12 0.88 0.87 0.90 0.86 -0.02
Milan Hejduk 00-11 0.86 0.90 0.84 0.88 0.02
Eastern 7.1% 1.08 1.09 1.02 1.05 -0.025
Western 9.2% 1.01 1.09 1.00 1.04 0.025
Total 8.2% 1.05 1.09 1.01 1.05 0.000

On average, the 15 players from the West saw their points/game increase by 9.2% when playing against Eastern teams rather than Western teams. The 15 players from the East saw a similar increase of 7.1% when playing against the East. On average, the 30 players scored 8.2% higher against Eastern teams than against Western teams.

From this result, I derived a conference-neutral points/game total by adjusting all scoring totals against Eastern teams for these players down by 4.1% (half of 8.2%) and adjusting all scoring totals against Western teams up by 4.1%. The conference-neutral points/game are listed in the columnn titled NeutralPts/G. Note that this method applies a universal difference of 8.2% to all players - it does not use the player's own split, as the split for an individual player is subject to small sample size problems. This is why, for example, Sidney Crosby and Peter Forsberg have had nearly identical results against Western teams and against Eastern teams, but Crosby has a higher NeutralPts/G here.

Looking at the difference between actual points/game and neutral points/game, playing in the East appears to have given an advantage of 0.05 points/game to players around the 1.0 point-per-game level. For example, Marty St. Louis had a points/game in his prime that was about 0.05 higher than that of Jarome Iginla, but when neutralized for conference their numbers are equal.

The numbers can also be viewed by the old divisions that were in use for the last few years.

Conference Player Seasons Atl Pts/G NE Pts/G SE Pts/G Cen Pts/G NW Pts/G Pac Pts/G
Eastern Sidney Crosby 06-12 1.53 1.38 1.37 1.19 1.17 1.27
Western Peter Forsberg 00-04 1.55 1.29 1.42 1.44 1.22 1.00
Eastern Jaromir Jagr 00-07 1.29 1.16 1.29 1.45 1.16 1.23
Eastern Evgeni Malkin 07-12 1.19 1.34 1.29 1.21 1.05 1.07
Eastern Alex Ovechkin 06-12 1.22 1.21 1.30 1.17 1.17 1.06
Western Joe Sakic 00-07 1.26 1.10 1.27 1.10 1.12 1.21
Western Joe Thornton 07-12 1.15 1.07 1.03 1.17 1.05 1.07
Eastern Joe Thornton 01-04 1.21 0.76 1.25 1.03 1.15 1.12
Eastern Dany Heatley 02-09 1.06 1.18 1.11 0.70 1.00 0.82
Eastern Daniel Alfredsson 00-10 1.00 1.11 1.15 1.00 0.93 1.09
Western Pavel Datsyuk 04-12 0.91 1.08 1.23 1.10 0.94 1.10
Western Henrik Sedin 06-12 1.37 1.21 1.00 1.05 1.04 0.94
Western Daniel Sedin 06-12 1.07 1.17 0.93 1.02 1.09 0.98
Eastern Martin St. Louis 03-12 1.06 0.93 1.10 1.02 1.24 0.88
Eastern Ilya Kovalchuk 03-12 0.99 0.98 1.17 1.10 0.79 0.82
Western Henrik Zetterberg 06-12 1.09 1.03 1.03 0.99 0.88 1.17
Eastern Marian Hossa 01-08 1.01 0.86 1.21 0.92 0.76 1.03
Western Teemu Selanne 00,01,06,07,09-12 1.03 0.76 1.16 1.00 1.03 0.98
Eastern Mats Sundin 00-08 1.01 0.85 1.08 1.02 1.12 1.00
Eastern Vincent Lecavalier 03-10 0.92 1.00 1.05 0.85 0.97 1.03
Western Jarome Iginla 00-12 0.94 0.89 1.29 1.06 0.92 0.96
Eastern Eric Staal 06-12 0.78 1.05 1.06 0.84 0.97 1.00
Western Markus Naslund 00-08 0.98 1.05 1.28 0.90 0.95 0.89
Western Pavol Demitra 00-09 1.29 1.07 1.16 0.91 0.98 0.81
Western Mike Modano 00-06 0.86 0.95 0.95 0.94 1.04 0.93
Western Patrick Kane 08-12 0.92 0.86 1.31 0.93 0.87 0.89
Eastern Patrik Elias 00-12 0.96 0.77 1.05 0.86 0.79 0.94
Western Patrick Marleau 06-12 0.91 1.09 1.18 0.77 0.92 0.90
Eastern Brad Richards 01-08, 12 0.91 0.78 0.91 0.92 1.00 0.80
Western Milan Hejduk 00-11 0.91 0.81 0.98 0.85 0.87 0.80
Total Eastern 7.1% 1.07 1.02 1.16 1.02 1.02 1.01
Total Western 9.2% 1.08 1.03 1.15 1.01 0.99 0.98
Total Total 8.2% 1.08 1.03 1.15 1.02 1.01 0.99

We can see that the three divisions out West were almost equally difficult to play against, and the Northeast division was on the same level. The Atlantic was somewhat easier to score against, and the Southeast division was clearly the easiest to score against. But for the most part, individual players have played a similar number of games against the three divisions in their conference, so the divisional numbers don't add anything. The exception is the three seasons from 2005-06 to 2007-08, when teams played 32 games against their divisional opponents. I have not attempted to adjust for this factor here but it could be done.

Methodological note: The method of choosing involved looking at hockey-reference play index searches of the top players in points scored and points/game from the last decade-plus. Once the players were chosen, I picked a selection of years in which they were scoring at close to their peak/prime level, leaving out clearly pre-prime or post-prime seasons. The method was not entirely systematic. I can only say that I was choosing players before I looked at their numbers, and was not trying to cherry-pick players for a desired result. While you may disagree with a couple of the choices, I think a look at the list as a whole should show a list of the top scorers of the 2000s.

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