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East Coast Bias: Did the lockout kill Western Conference chances for NHL Awards?

Greg Wyshynski
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East. Coast. Bias.

John Buccigross once defined it as “the belief that Eastern time zone things, athletes and sports franchises receive more media attention than Western time zone things, athletes and sports franchises.” There are enough examples of it to warrant a Wikipedia page. It’s been blamed for everything from ignorance of Colin Kaepernick’s greatness to inequities in TV schedules to the deification of Derek Jeter.

It’s unavoidable in the NHL, what with League itself headquartered in its two primary media markets, New York and Toronto. It’s real enough where some very smart people have asked for there to be Eastern and Western Conference winners for each award.

But it’s less “east coast” bias in hockey than it is a bias towards the boundaries established by the Original Six – anything west of Chicago is “irrelevant”, according to the braying masses of disgruntled left coasters who somehow missed Henrik Sedin and Corey Perry winning Hart trophies in two of the last three seasons.

Oh, and Joe Thornton winning one in 2006. But that’s because he played for the Boston Bruins that season, obviously.

It’s true that the most of the membership in the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which votes on the majority of the major awards, is located from Detroit to the Northeast. While their attention is obviously on their own beats, these writers get to witness teams from the West when they come to town or when their team travels across the country.

That’s in a typical season. The 2013 NHL season, as you know, is anything but typical – 48 games and none of them between the conferences.

So are teams in the west totally screwed in the NHL Awards voting this season thanks to "East Coast Bias"?

Back in 1995, they might have been.

The last time the NHL had a 48-game, lockout-shortened season was in 1995. The Detroit Red Wings won the Western Conference regular season with 70 points; the Quebec Nordiques won the East with 65 points; and the Philadelphia Flyers roared back from a slow start to win their division thanks to Eric Lindros, who captured the MVP award:

Here are the award winners and finalists in 1995; see if you can detect a theme:

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There are actually two themes. The first is that only one player or coach won an NHL Award in 1995 from the Western Conference: Paul Coffey of the Red Wings, who captured the Norris in an Original Six city. Of the six awards voted on by the media, including the broadcasters with the Jack Adams, 11 of the 18 nominees were from the East.

The other theme, however, was that the voters followed the stats. Lindros tied for the league lead in points. Francis led in assists and plus/minus. Alex Zhamnov, a finalist for the Byng, was third in points. Coffey was second in assists.

So that bodes well for the western stars: Lead the league in something, and then head to Vegas for your award. At least in theory.

That said: Could the unbalanced, intraconference schedule lead to another Detroit-and-to-the-East sweep of major awards?

Kevin Allen, president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is in charge of organizing the voting body for the Calder, Norris, Hart, Selke and Lady Byng.

“I don’t even worry too much about geographic balance when I make up a voting list. At least not too much,” he said on Wednesday.

Allen said East Coast Bias may have crept into the awards voting process in the past, but that technology and media have progressed to the point where writers don’t need an interconference schedule to appreciate the accomplishments of players in the West.

“It existed probably in the 1970s and 80s before the Internet, when you didn’t have any idea what was happening on the West Coast,” he said. “Today, there’s no excuse for anyone not to be a prepared voter.

“It’s a new media age, with the NHL Network and the Center Ice package. Most of us are dedicated to our craft where we know what’s going on in other cities. I don’t see it as an issue.”

So there you go: No East Coast Bias in the awards process.

Now, if I can only get my PHWA colleagues to use advanced stats beyond plus/minus and faceoff percentage to nominate Selke winners …

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