The Elephant In the Room Regarding Realignment – The West is Getting Screwed

Everyone’s had their take on the realignment already.  We have.  Puck Daddy has.  Every team blog in the world has.  And I will say, I generally like it.  Everything seems pretty reasonable, cuts down travel costs and will make things interesting in the future.

I should say, everything is reasonable except one thing.  One huge elephant in the room which everybody seems to mention, but nobody seems to be making a big deal about.  I don’t understand why people aren’t yelling about this…because they should be.  

Hit the jump for why this new alignment is widely unfair. 

So the conferences are as follows:

Conference A Conference B Conference C Conference D
Anaheim Chicago Boston Carolina
Calgary Columbus Buffalo New Jersey
Colorado Dallas Florida NY Islanders
Edmonton Detroit Montreal NY Rangers
Los Angeles Minnesota Ottawa Philadelphia
Phoenix Nashville Tampa Pittsburgh
San Jose St. Louis Toronto Washington
Vancouver Winnipeg

Notice anything different about Conference C and D?  Seven teams vs. eight?   Sure that means that some teams will play inter-conference games more often than others, but hey, that’s life, right?  As long as you win, everyone is on a even playing field…

Or not.  Playoff berths are determined by finishing in the top four in the conference. In the first two conferences, that means you have to be better than four teams.  But in the other two conferences, you only have to be better than three teams.  So while a team like Columbus has a 50% chance of making the playoffs, everything else being equal, Toronto has 57% chance to move on.

Don’t people see that this is inherently a HUGE advantage for the 14 teams in the smaller conferences?  How isn’t this a bigger deal?  Doesn’t anybody notice this? 

The only mention I’ve seen of this is a Puck Headline at Yahoo yesterday, which linked to an article at Kings Blog, Jewels From the Crown by Quisp.  The article was titled: “Do the 7-Team Confervisions (his word) Really Have an Advantage Over the 8-Team Ones?” and briefly mentions this notion, before quickly dismissing it as well:

Of course, it’s true that if you’re in an “8”, you have more teams to beat out. But it’s equally true that, if you’re in an “8”, you have a higher likelihood of getting a team in your confervision that truly sucks. If this happens, that’s five or six games against a bottom-feeder that no-one else gets. Obviously, this could work the other way (you have a higher likelihood of having an elite team in your confervision), but I think that is really just another way of saying “you have more teams to beat out.” (It’s only bad that there’s an extra team in your confervision if that team is better than you; if they suck, yay!) In other words, it doesn’t matter that you have more teams to beat out if you also have more teams that suck.

Holy Jesus, that’s a terrible argument on so many levels.  Sure, yes, in an 8 team conference, you might get a few more games against a bottom feeder.  But in the EXACT same vein, you have the same chance of getting an extremely strong team.  And not only that, the only teams you are competing against are the teams in your conference.  They all have to play the same schedule against the easy and hard teams, so there’s absolutely no benefit to anyone in this regard!   HOW AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO GETS THIS!?!?!?!!

Update 3:31 clarification: I don’t know if I explained this well enough, so here’s a bit more on why Quisp’s argument doesn’t really add up.  Essentially, there are four little leagues now.  Within each, the teams have roughly the same strength of schedule and certainly have the same style of schedule.  One bad or one elite team in each division affects all the teams within that division equally.  So if Columbus is historically bad in next season, St. Louis doesn’t benefit with the free points when they play each other, because Detroit, Dallas, Nashville, and the rest of the new central division will also benefit.

Sure the top teams in the division would end up having slightly more points because of this, but there is no comparison outside your league any more.  Just because you have more points than the first place team in another division doesn’t mean a thing anymore.  The only thing that matters is where you end up in your division.

So, essentially, having bad teams isn’t helpful in terms of points.   Thus, the only difference is that for two of the divisions (or leagues, whatever you want to call it), there is one less team.  Thus, instead of being 4 of 8 teams making it, 4 of 7 will for those two divisions. 

Think about it.  If you wanted to enter a lotto with four winners picked, would you want to want to enter that lotto against 6 other guys, or 7? You’d choose the smaller every time because there’s a bigger chance you’d get picked.  Thus, all other things being equal (as in not judging the quality of teams, travel, etc.) this makes it so 57% percent of the teams in the two 7 team conferences make the playoffs, while only 50% of the teams of the two teams in the 8 team conferences move on to the playoffs.

Seriously, Boston might never miss the playoffs again.

There was one other blip of sanity I’ve seen.  One commentator over at JFTC seems to also understand it, as he figured out some stats on the issue:

Teams in 7-team divisions are 14% more likely to make the playoffs by default. In fact, there’s a fairly high likelihood (~45%) that the 5th ranked team in an eight team division will have more points than the fourth-ranked team in a seven team division if you just assign each team a random number of points. (Not only that, the fourth-of-seven ranked team is guaranteed an easier division schedule than an fifth-of-eight would get.)

So again, how has this been passed over without even so much as a discussion is totally beyond me.   No other sport has this inherent inequality built into their alignment. 

Teams in the West have been getting screwed for a while because it has been the better conference, for, well, forever.  But that’s a different discussion, as it was simply due to circumstance.  My biggest problem is that this unfairness is built into the system nowThis is utterly and totally ridiculous.