The NHL reorganized the division alignment before the 2013-2014 season. There were several reason for the change. Not the least of which was the geographical buffoonery that had the Dallas Stars in the Pacific Division, playing a lot of those awesome 9:30 p.m. Central Time starts. The NHL's intentions were to create a new and exciting playoff format that was simple, and to create some proximity rivalries.
What they did not intend was to create the division of death. They accidentally made the #JustMDKthings Division of last man standing. Every year the system has been in place, there have been five Central Division teams in the playoffs. The poor Pacific Division is left in shambles. All bow to the first Galactic Empire.
That hasn't changed this year. If anything, it's only gotten more pronounced. Entering play on Thursday, the Central Division is a combined 43-19-6 against the rest of the league. They have ruled the league with an Iron Fist.
Unfortunately the Stars are in the Central Division. Today we are going to take a look at the Stars' rivals and see how their season is going. Spoiler Alert: pretty good.
We will go in order from worst to best:
Record: 4-8-1 9 Points
Playoff Position: No
No one could have predicted this. The Avalanche have struggled so far this year, but somehow they managed to smash the Dallas Stars. Some things never change.
Colorado had a miracle run two years ago winning close games while getting badly out shot. It seems that chicken has finally come home to roost. The Avs had a bit of a roster overhaul this offseason with few/none of those acquisitions coming to fruition.
The Avalanche have only been outscored by three goals so far. Which, normally would be a good sign, but this squad just looks like a bad hockey team. Every player on the Colorado roster has a negative Corsi, and that translates to losing.
Colorado has hope for a bright future with a young core of players like Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, and Erik Johnson but the results aren't there yet. The only question left about this team is: Will Joe Sakic fire Patrick Roy?
Record: 7-5-1 15 Points
Playoff Position: No
Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves - the Blackhawks have been the class of the league since 2010. Their consistent ability to rehabilitate a cap-strapped roster has been masterful.
This year's version of the team looks to be a slightly above average squad. Just about every statistical category is right at or slightly above league average. They are plus-1 in goal differential, slightly above league average on the power play, and have been getting exactly league average net minding.
Turns out, Patrick Kane and a bunch of ex-Bluejackets can be a pretty good hockey team. Kane is nipping at the heels of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin with 18 points (8G 10A), and has practically carried the team on his back. The team's second leading goal scorer? Brent Seabrook with four.
Duncan Keith is the best defenseman in hockey, and his prolonged absence will continue to sting every night. You simply can't replace a guy like Keith. He was placed on Long Term Injured Reserve on October 21st.
The Hawks are still a good hockey team. But league average is not going to cut it in the Central this year. They will have to #compete every night to stay relevant. Despite the great start by Kane, they still have Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. This looks like a fringe playoff team if they can survive the absence of Keith.
Record: 7-3-2 16 Points
Playoff Position: Second Wildcard
The Wild signed last year's savior Devan Dubnyk to a lucrative deal this offseason. Say what you will about Dubnyk, but he was awesome last season. The question heading into this season was, "can he do it again?"
So far, the answer is no. Dubnyk is sporting a save percentage of 0.898 and has looked human in more than one start this year. The Wild were always going to be a team built on stout defending and timely offense. The Wild look like a team that is trying to find last season's success.
According to preseason predictions, the Wild have played a pretty tough schedule and have come out in a playoff spot. Overall this looks like a team poised to tighten the screws and continue to improve. They should have picked the Stars for their Stadium Series game, because it looks like that would be more intriguing than the sixth place Blackhawks.
Record: 8-4-2 18 Points
Playoff Position: First Wildcard
The Jets have a healthy but not mind-blowing goal differential of plus-5 so far this year. The team has quality wins against the Boston Bruins, the Minnesota Wild, and the New York Rangers. They also got blown out by the Los Angeles Kings and the Montreal Canadiens.
Winnipeg has been good on the power play converting at a solid 21.62 percent. This was never going to be the most skilled team in the league, but they sure play a heavy game.
In order to compete, the Jets will have to continue to manufacture offense and get acceptable goal tending (SV% .921). Everyone keeps waiting for Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec to fold like cheap chairs but it hasn't happened yet.
Record: 8-2-2 18 Points
Playoff Position: 3rd in the Central
I will admit, I thought this team would regress. But it turns out that lights-out defending and opportunistic offense can float a lot of boats. James Neal has scored seven goals, and Roman Josi is a Norris candidate.
The Predators continue to prove that defense travels, and they have only allowed 25 goals in 12 games. Pekka Rinne has been good in net with a save percentage above league average at .925 giving up less than two goals per game.
Even strength offense has been a bit of a concern, but with a good power play at 21.62 percent the Preds have scored enough goals to be a good team. Nashville is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and should be in the mix all year.
Record: 9-3-1 19 Points
Playoff Position: 2nd in the Central
All of the Vladimir Tarasenko are belong to them. The Blues are off to almost as good a start as the Dallas Stars. They are convincing in possession and have been getting strong goaltending from Jake Allen (SV% .935).
The Blues have looked overwhelming at times this season and have taken care of business. They have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat and lost to the Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, and the Los Angeles Kings. The records against the top flight of the league has been disappointing so far, but there is always something to be said for taking care of business.
With the regular season success the Blues have enjoyed over the past several years, their real proving ground will be in late April and May. This team is exactly what everyone thought they would be so far, but the biggest questions can't be answered until later in the year.
The Dallas Stars sit atop the Central for the time being, but with the Blackhawks only a few points behind, this will be a marathon. Competition is tough and the division is unforgiving. Hang on tight.