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Why winning the Pacific is kind of a big deal

Mar 29, 2012, 8:00 AM EDT

Calgary Flames v Dallas Stars Getty Images

Many people have analogized the Pacific Division race to musical chairs – and with good reason. It seems like the top seed changes all the time and without much reason yet with a strange amount of rhythm.

(Excuse me for underrating the art of musical chairs, but winning the Pacific does take more skill, though.)

CSNBayArea.com’s Brad Weimer originally looked at the advantages that would come from gaining a third round spot from a San Jose Sharks’ perspective, but it works for all the four teams with a shot at the crown. Here are some of the numbers that show the difference between finishing in third versus the likely alternative – the seventh or eighth seed.

(Warning: there will be some all caps.)

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS TO MAKE CONFERENCE FINALS (since 1994)

3rd Seed: 26.4%
7-8 Seeds: 8.8%

With LESS chances (there are only two 3 seeds per year vs. four 7-8 seeded teams) the 3 seeds make the conference finals over THREE TIMES as much as teams seeded 7 or 8.

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS TO MAKE STANLEY CUP FINALS (since 1994)

3rd Seed: 14.7%
7-8 Seeds: 7.3%

Being a 3 seed DOUBLES your chances of making the Stanley Cup Finals over being seeded 7 or 8.

What about the Sharks ultimate goal, hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup as the champions of the NHL?  Well here’s the bottom line folks….

There have been three Stanley Cup Champions from the third seed under this playoff format.  From the last two seeds?  ZERO.  Five teams have made it to the Finals, but all have gone home in defeat (ask Bret Hedican (’94) and Curtis Brown (’99) who both have been on the losing end as an underdog team in the Finals).

Weimer emphasizes the Stanley Cup finals gap, but really, the conference finals gap is bigger, includes a slightly larger sample size and probably emphasizes the difference in advantage more than anything else.

Either way, both conferences have exposed the somewhat-arbitrary nature of handing a top-three seed to a division winner regardless of the putridity of that given division.*

Sports Club Stats illustrates how close the race is both in terms of who is likely to make the playoffs and win the division.

There are plenty of ways to break down the race for that top spot, then, but a woolly sports writer might want to lean on the old “road goes through” line with the Sharks. San Jose’s final five games are all against Pacific contenders. They’ll face the Stars twice, Coyotes once and then finish the season with a home-and-home against the Kings.

It might take until the end of that duo of matches to find out who ends up with the Pacific crown – and perhaps a marked advantage once the playoffs begin.

* – Personally, it seems like it would be fairer to give the worst division winner at least the fourth seed. It’s unfair to ding up a division winner too much if they’re in an especially competitive group – the Vancouver Canucks’ cakewalk in the Northwest provides a useful counterpoint – but the automatic top-three seed seems to encourage convenient mediocrity.

  1. phillyphever - Mar 29, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    There’s also a disadvantage with the 3rd seed in the West: playing Chicago.

    • bensawesomeness - Mar 29, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      You’d prefer playing Vancouver or St. Louis?

    • dallasstars9 - Mar 29, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      No disadvantage in home ice for the 1st round.

  2. warpstonebc - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    Gah, this demonstrates a horrible grasp of probability and statistical relevance by Brad Weimer.

    Winning the 3rd seed correlates with success. Sure.

    But how much of the historical success rate of the 3rd team is down to division winners that were legitimate? In other words, this year’s #3 spots are particularly bad, so even if win 3rd spot, that doesn’t mean the Sharks/Panthers share the competitive advantages enjoyed by the bulk of previous #3 seeds. It’s like saying you’re okay with taking home the 3rd best looking girl at the party before investigating if the top 3 could be: supermodel; model; heffer. ;)

    Attempts to shoehorn in statistical outliers make for lazy reporting.

  3. kbmorgan1 - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    The Canucks record against the Pacific was 9-5-4, only one regulation loss and you want to put them where? BTW, the NW Division is stronger this year than both the NE and the SE so where does that leave them, if Vancouver had a cakewalk what did Boston and Florida have?

  4. letsgosjsharks - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    Lets Go Sharks!

  5. oside760 - Mar 29, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    KINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALL DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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