Fluid and ongoing conversations on the St. Louis Blues division and a possible realignment for 2021 continue amongst NHL brass. Canada’s border edict for COVID-19 travel is likely forcing the NHL to create a seven-team all-Canada division for the upcoming season, leaving league officials left to sort out the American chaos. The prevailing wisdom with how the remaining three eight-team divisions will end up appears to be location, location, and location. For instance, the proposed Metro Division is a tight cluster of Boston, three New York state teams, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and the two Pennsylvania teams.
The Pacific and Central Divisions, however, aren’t a perfect solution. Of the 16 teams remaining, at least two Central Time Zone teams appear destined for the Pacific Division, joining the three California teams, Arizona, Vegas, and Colorado.
St. Louis Blues Division
The latest rumours have the St. Louis Blues ending up in the Pacific Division, joining either Minnesota or Dallas. This creates a less-than-ideal situation of 9 p.m. CT puck drops for games on the West Coast. However, the future of fans at California sporting events remains unclear, and Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic speculates the NHL could adjust West Coast start times an hour or two earlier.
Re: Blues late-night games in the Pacific Division:
If (big IF) they play 28 road games …
– 4 in DAL/MIN. (Central time)
– 4 in COL (Mountain, 1 hour behind CT)
– 4 in AZ (MT until it changes to Pacific in March).
So max of 16 PT games and NHL has discussed some early starts.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) December 11, 2020
While the arguments over the fairness of late starts and losing Central division rivals continue elsewhere, let’s look at which division would be better for the Blues competitively.
For the purposes of this article, we’re looking at the St. Louis Blues records against potential opponents over the last three years. The two main reasons for this:
- Beyond three years, there’s enough roster turnover to make this less of an apples-to-apples argument.
- The Vegas Golden Knights have only been in the NHL for three years.
The first half of the table below are teams in the proposed Pacific Division. The second half of the table are teams in the Central Division, as talks stand now. Here is how the St. Louis Blues division teams have panned out lately.
|Team||Wins||Losses||OT/shootout losses||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal difference|
The Initial Takeaway
You’d be forgiven if you did a double-take when reading the totals. It’s the same number of wins, a +1 goal difference, and just three regulation/OT/shootout losses off. Making the results more surprising is the fact these are the final numbers after 64-to-67 games and hundreds of minutes played. But are these numbers truly close-to-equal?
The Pacific will feature two familiar divisional rivals and five other teams that are in the Western Conference. Every game the past three years matters at least a little bit, especially since games against Colorado and Minnesota are always tough and key when it comes to seeding for the playoffs.
In the Central, five Eastern Conference teams join three familiar divisional foes. The St. Louis Blues have issues with Nashville, Dallas is always a challenge, and Chicago helps pad the win column for the Blues. However, none of the five Eastern Conference teams are considered rivals, at least not recently in the case of Detroit or Columbus.
One might come away with the conclusion that the Pacific games have had more “at stake” than the Central games over the last three years. Let’s break down each division further.
Blues vs. Pacific
Fans over the years have sometimes noted that the Blues seem to play up to tough opponents and sometimes play down to lesser ones. The data from the last three years of games seems to back that argument. Even though Vegas and Colorado are two of the most feared teams in the Western Conference lately, the Blues are a +13 in goals and have a combined 14-4-4 record and have taken 32 of a possible 48 points, or 66%.
For the worst two teams in the West last season, the Blues don’t seem to have a problem there. St. Louis is a combined 10-4-1 against Los Angeles and San Jose and took 21 out of a possible 30 points (70%). A couple of blowouts have the Blues at a +18 in goal differential. Again, no problem.
It’s the middle teams, including one in particular, that is cause for concern. Against Anaheim, Arizona, and Minnesota, the Blues are a combined 13-12-1 and only took 27 out of a possible 52 points (51.9%). Worse yet, they’re a -12 in goal differential against these teams. The main culprit? Arizona. They appear to have the Blues number over the years, highlighted by a 3-5-1 record and a -13 goal differential. The impressive tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta kept the Blues to just four goals total in three games last season. Oh, and if the Blues end up in the Pacific, they won’t escape Arizona as a divisional rival in 2021-22. The Coyotes will move to the Central when the Seattle Kraken join. Get used to them being a thorn in the Bluenotes side.
Blues vs. Central
There really is only one top team in this division, the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The team’s 92 points this past season were 10 better than any other team currently in the Central. And yet, the St. Louis Blues continue to be giant killers because of that 4-2 record. However, the zero goal differential highlights competitive battles that might have been ratcheted up, especially if the Blues and Lightning ended up divisional foes.
Like the Pacific, the Blues also take advantage of the two doormats of the proposed division, Chicago and Detroit. That’s evidenced by a 12-3-3 record, good for 27 out of 36 possible points (75%). A +23 goal differential highlights the Blues’ recent dominance over their historic rivals.
And again like the Pacific, the challenge for the Blues comes in the middle of the standings. 4-1 and 4-1-1 records against 81-point Carolina and Columbus respectively help. But Dallas, Florida, and Nashville drag down the overall win-loss record against these “middle” teams to 17-17-5. Tallying 39 out of a possible 78 (50%) points is concerning, along with a -3 goal differential. This might be an argument that the proposed Central could be highly competitive, especially for the 2-4 playoff seeds.
This chart also highlights a major problem the Blues have had in recent years: the Nashville Predators. The budding rivalry between the two teams has been sparked by the Preds having the Blues number lately, including a 3-0-1 record last season. The Blues could only manage two-goals-per-game in 2019-20 and allowed the Preds to average just over three-per-game. The Blues will both have to figure out how to crack an always-tough Nashville defence AND find a way to stop Filip Forsberg and Co.
If there’s one thing this exercise has taught us, it’s that the St. Louis Blues can match up with the best and worst of each division. It’s also apparent “middle” teams in both divisions would give the Blues trouble if recent performance is an indication. On paper, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference overall.
But consider, the Pacific is entirely made up of Western Conference teams. The Central is a blend of familiar and unfamiliar alike. In a season headed into unfamiliar territory, is the devil you know better than the devil you don’t?