How Do the Stars Stack Up Against the Central Right Now?

Spoiler alert: it’s tight.

The Dallas Stars haven’t looked like a bad team. With no boat anchor on the blueline, steady(ish) goaltending, and elite center depth, it’s easy go get lost in the tangible details of Brett Ritchie on the number one power play unit.

Perhaps it’s because Dallas has no room for error. Even at 6-2-2 in their last ten, the parity in the central makes the Stars look like a team with three confirmed Sith kills being asked to kill three more but with greco-roman mud wrestling this time instead of a proper saber. They’re not the MDK division of two seasons ago, but there’s still plenty of blunt force trauma.

Winnipeg Jets (1st) - 8 pts ahead

Vulcanized Rubber Rates (HDCF%): Rank 6th

Expected Goalie Perforation (xGF%): Rank 9th

Gif to Fear: Ehlers can dangle AND snipe like Laine?!

Fear Factor: Pineapple Express high.

The Jets did something really interesting in the offseason - they hired referee Paul Devorski to join training camp to help with their penalty issues that plagued them in seasons prior. They’re quietly becoming the Maple Leafs of last year. Paul Maurice - who deserved some flak for not playing their really awesome overperforming-in-the-A prospects  - now has all the kids (Kyle Connor, and Jack Roslovic, in particular) playing in established roles. Unlike teams who use the phrase “the kids are alright” to give themselves a blue ribbon for not picking a complete bust, Winnipeg’s kids are more than alright.

Their blueline has no real weakness (other than Kulikov’s cap, but who seems to be doing fine paired with Tyler Myers). Their goaltending has stabilized, and somehow, their trios look deep even with Mark Scheifele injured. They also have $6 million in cap to work with at the trade deadline. Sure, Winnipeg is a hard sell as a city to live in, but when you have the kind of screw you money that allows you to buy homes plural - does it really matter?

Nashville Predators (2nd) - 5 pts ahead

Vulcanized Rubber Rates (HDCF%): Rank 24th

Expected Goalie Perforation (xGF%): Rank 23rd

Gif to Fear: Hey Dallas, maybe talent doesn’t care about size.

Fear Factor: Defcon 2.

Nashville might not be “lighting it up” per se, but this is every bit the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals and more. They’ve had Ryan Ellis injured for the first quarter, playing Alexei Emelin in top four minutes. They could have had Samuel Girard but they turned him into Kyle Turris because that’s what good drafting buys you - turning gems into expendable assets. Their center depth is more or less fixed with a top four of Ryan Johansen, Turris, Nick Bonino, and Calle Jarnkrok. If you stuck Paul McLean and his twin’s mustache in a pair of skates, Nashville wouldn’t skip a beat with Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban in the top four. They’re easily the most complete team in the Western Conference, and probably the entire NHL.

If there’s a caveat here it’s that they’re still not truly potent on offense. But that didn’t matter last season when they were Turris-less.

St. Louis Blues (3rd) - 4 pts ahead

Vulcanized Rubber Rates (HDCF%): Rank 15th

Expected Goalie Perforation (xGF%): Rank 23rd

Gif to Fear: They still have a terror tank.

Fear Factor: Ren and Stimpy closeups.

If there’s a paper tiger in the West, it’s probably St. Louis. They’re not an offensively potent team, and that’s doubly true with Robby Fabbri out for the season. They’ve been on a nice run but their blueline didn’t get better, their center depth is only okay, and well - what am I missing?

Perhaps the point here is that even a paper tiger from the Central still has claws. Parayko and Schwartz help support Tarasenko, and on many nights that can be enough.  If there’s a spot Dallas can challenge, it’s the Blues’.

Chicago Blackhawks (8th, last wild card spot) - 3 pts back

Vulcanized Rubber Rates (HDCF%): Rank 23rd

Expected Goalie Perforation (xGF%): Rank 17th

Gif to Fear: Hey Dallas, maybe talent doesn’t care about size - there’s not an echo here is there?

Fear Factor: Waingro.

Waingro was clearly dangerous, even to Robert De Niro’s den of thieves - but in the end, his smug ingestion of pie and luck simply prolonged the inevitable against the true professionals. That didn’t sound too personal did it? I hope not, because I actually don’t care when Blackhawk fans roll into town to watch their team play. Bandwagon fans are how sports are built - and I know this isn’t analysis so much as a soap boxing - and they have three cups to renew their vows. Mock them when they defend Brent Seabrook’s contract; not when they cheer on this great sport.

Chicago’s main issue is that they don’t get enough quality chances, and thus rely on quality goaltending and a lineup whack-a-moles Hartman and Hinostroza in their top six. They have a good chance of making the playoffs but they have a good chance of missing them too. Still, they deserve respect even with unsustainable PDO.

Minnesota Wild (10th in the Conference) - 3 pts back

Vulcanized Rubber Rates (HDCF%): Rank 10th

Expected Goalie Perforation (xGF%): Rank 13th

Gif to Fear: You can never have enough puck movers.

Fear Factor: A spoonful of Tobasco.

I feel like I can save this analysis for every year, and every year after. Part of it is just bad analysis - their defense has been underrated for years, and it seems like nobody ever talks about how unbelievably talented Nino Niederreiter (well, except Dallas, who he routinely violates) and Charlie Coyle are. But they don’t have that pinch of dynamism you must have to be elite. They’re a well rounded bug of a team you have to respect, but who you can ignore as long as you have no severe allergies.

Colorado Avalanche (11th in the Conference) - 4 pts back

Vulcanized Rubber Rates (HDCF%): Rank 10th

Expected Goalie Perforation (xGF%): Rank 26th

Gif to Fear: The only team justified passing on Seth Jones is still not Colorado, but hey - Nate makes a great argument.

Fear Factor: a coffee cup of Tobasco.

Of all the teams consistently spat on, and verbally beat down, the Avs have gotten the worst of it, and yet their spot out of a wild card spot feels tenuous. They now have a blueline that can boast Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Patrik Nemeth (ummm), Nikita Zadorov (when he’s not making completely absent minded penalties or given a top pairing role), and the wonderful Girard. Alexander Kerfoot has come out of nowhere (I think they call this process “drafting”), Nail Yakupov was a worthy flyer to take, and well - they’re suddenly the dynamic team they used to be during Patrick Roy’s one successful season, minus some key pieces, but still dangerous.

Final Analysis?

You know who ranks above every other team in high danger corsi for, and expected goals and not just in the Central but beyond? Dallas. Pretty cool, huh?

Still, it’s easy to see why Dallas can’t rest on their regular season fancy stat laurels. Winnipeg has strong offensive numbers, and even stronger offensive players, which means they can underperform as a team and still get by thanks to their raw talent. Nashville is the yin to the Jets yang; strong play has a higher probability of yielding strong results because their blueline can attack in all three zones.

I would argue that Dallas is more or less where I predicted them to be - a well balanced team. What does that say about a potential playoff run, though?