Tag: Central Division

Ken Hitchcock

Blues join Blackhawks, Rangers atop the NHL


If you look at the St. Louis Blues’ success through Ken Hitchcock’s eyes, it makes perfect sense that his team moved into a tie for first place in the NHL by beating the franchise that brought him his Stanley Cup ring.

The Blues even beat the Dallas Stars in a way that Hitch’s old squad won it all in 1998: by playing skin-tight defense and working hard all game long. St. Louis topped Dallas 1-0 thanks to a T.J. Oshie goal and a 27-save shutout from Jaroslav Halak.

St. Louis now has 60 points, which matches the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks’ marks. Technically speaking, the Rangers are No. 1 since they’ve played two fewer games than the Blues while the Blackhawks trail St. Louis for similar reasons. (Chicago has played in an extra contest.)

As impressive as the chase for the Presidents Trophy might be for a St. Louis squad that’s been nowhere near that discussion for several years, the Central Division race is more important. Just look at how little breathing room there is in what might just be the best division in the league:

source:  (click to enlarge)

I included the goals stats and home/away records for a few reasons. For one thing, it shows how important Hitchcock’s system – and not coincidentally, improved play from Halak and continued output from Brian Elliott – has been for St. Louis’ success. The Blues are obviously doing things differently than the Red Wings and Blackhawks. Excuse me for oversimplifying, but it’s essentially a battle of defense-first and offense-first teams.

(One might even say that the Blues are out-Trotzing Barry Trotz, to abuse the English language a bit.)

Looking at the away records of the top three teams in the Central, one could argue that the Blues and Red Wings need to win their division as much as any team in the NHL. (The Blackhawks are a bit better on the road with a 10-8-3 record, but they’ll fight just as hard for the crown.)

Long story short, both the Blues and Red Wings have reason to celebrate tonight, but they can’t take any nights off in this cutthroat division. Being in the conversation probably isn’t good enough for Hitchcock.

Check out highlights from the Blues’ 1-0 win below.

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Hitchcock, Blues continue to climb standings

Ken Hitchcock
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At this point, you’re probably aware that the St. Louis Blues have been a far better team since Ken Hitchcock took over. Still, it’s pretty stunning to see the Blues ahead of the mighty Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division standings, yet that’s where they are today. The NBC Sports Network gang tackles the somewhat surprising success story in St. Louis.

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The NHL’s best bargain contracts: Central Division

Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne

The hockey world tends to focus on the most regrettable contracts rather than the best ones because let’s face it: it’s more enjoyable to make fun of Brian Campbell‘s deal than to linger on Dustin Brown‘s bargain contract. That being said, clever GMs deserve credit for either finding the right timing to sign a player, judging their value better than most or simply fostering a climate in which a player will take a pay cut. This series of posts will take a look at every team to see which (if any) players deserve to be called bargains.

Notes: entry-level deals don’t count because they have built-in maximum levels. “Loophole” contracts will be considered, but they won’t receive as much consideration because of their inherent salary cap dishonesty. Bought out players will be considered for their current cap hits. I also think $6 million is a reasonable – if arbitrary – cutoff point for a true bargain player.

Chicago Blackhawks – Sure, they lost a lot of talent because of cap moves, but how are they looking after getting rid of Soupy and stashing Cristobal Huet in Europe?

Marian Hossa ($5.25M) – This deal would be even better if it wasn’t a cheater contract, but how many teams are jealous that Chicago signed him to this deal? 28 or 29?

Patrick Sharp ($3.9M) – His cap hit will jump to what might still be a a bargain level of $5.9 million after next season, but he remains at his highway source: Getty Imagesrobbery rate for one more season.

Andrew Brunette ($2M) – I get the feeling he’s going to be a nice fit in the Windy City.

Bryan Bickell ($541K) – Could be useful, but it’s all about his sheer cheapness.

Duncan Keith ($5.54M) – Something tells me that Don Meehan won’t mention Keith’s name during Shea Weber’s next contract discussions. This is another cheater deal, but can you blame the Blackhawks?

Sean O’Donnell ($800K) – The Blackhawks made a handful of low-risk, medium-reward signings during this off-season and O’Donnell is one of them.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – two great players, but it just feels weird to call them full-on bargains at $6.3 million per year … so they’re honorable mentions.

Columbus Blue Jackets – They wildly overpaid in some areas this summer, but where do they stand on pure cap hits?

Jeff Carter ($5.27M) – I agree that he’s one-dimensional, but the guy can score goals. Lots of them. So paying him this much isn’t outrageous.

Honorable mentions: Sammy Pahlsson (because Earl Sleek has brainwashed me into thinking he’s a force) and Derick Brassard (he seems talented enough to take advantage of the team’s offensive improvements if he can stay healthy).

source: APDetroit Red Wings – This team is like a steady stream of steals, right?

Johan Franzen ($3.95M) – Franzen is extremely injury-prone, but a terrifying offensive force when healthy.

Daniel Cleary ($2.8M) – Is Cleary the most underrated forward in Detroit?

Tomas Holmstrom ($1.88M) – If the league kept better track of how many goals are scored because of his obstructive butt, his impact would receive its proper due. I was surprised that some other team didn’t at least try to drive up his price during his last free agent window.

Darren Helm ($912K) – He has some flaws, but his speed and versatility are an asset at this bargain basement price.

Niklas Kronwall ($3M) – Injuries have been a worry here and there, but his scary hits and strong offense make him a steal at this price.

Jimmy Howard ($2.25M) – Another enviable steal by the Red Wings; his stats might be hit-or-miss sometimes, but he’s proven himself to be at least the team’s short-term future in net.

source: APHonorable mentions: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom – Again, I’m just trying to keep things reasonable by excluding guys above $6 million. Every team in the NHL would trip over their own feet to pay any one of these three their current salaries, so they absolutely deserve to be mentioned.

Nashville Predators – A salary cap storm is coming to Tennessee, but next season still includes some bargains.

Ryan Suter ($3.5M) – He doesn’t get half the publicity that Shea Weber receives, but he’s either equally important or just a few strides behind his hard-shooting partner in crime.

Pekka Rinne ($3.4M) – In his short time behind the wheel in Nashville, he’s been legitimately elite. Maybe he benefits from the defense in front of him, but he deserves credit for putting together a great run so far.

Honorable mentions: Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist – they aren’t perfect players, but the Predators need them to score on a level that far exceeds their paychecks.

source: APSt. Louis Blues – How many steals can this “sleeper team” produce?

Chris Stewart ($2.88M) – Stewart is a big, reliable goal scorer at a dirt cheap price. He could score even more regularly this season since it will be a contract year.

T.J. Oshie ($2.35M) – His current rate almost seems like a slap on the wrist for his lower moments last season. I expect a very nice year from Oshie in 2011-12.

Patrik Berglund ($2.25M) – Berglund is quietly becoming a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

Honorable mention: If David Perron is healthy, he could be another nice steal on a team that doesn’t have many bad contracts. It would be sad (but not surprising) if his concussion issues continue, though.


Feel free to point out any glaring omissions or faulty inclusions. Again, remember: players on their entry-level deals don’t count, so that’s why you won’t see the Alex Pietrangelos of the world.

Click here for the Atlantic Division version.

Central Division Watch (March 15)

Colorado Avalanche v Nashville Predators

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (March 15 -March 21st)

1. Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8 for 90 pts; 69 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Washington (Wednesday), @ Columbus (Thursday), @ Nashville (Saturday) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Monday).

Thoughts: There isn’t much for the Red Wings to play for, being that the Vancouver Canucks are way ahead of them for the top seed while Detroit holds a comfortable six-point lead over Chicago. At this point, it’s all about finishing strong and healthy.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8 for 84 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Dallas (Thurs) and away vs. Phoenix (Sun).

Thoughts: Is there a single team in the West that wants to deal with the Blackhawks? They’re looking like a serious threat to the other contenders, as they showed by beating the San Jose Sharks handily last night. To contrast my previous point about Detroit, Chicago could actually make up some ground against the Red Wings being that they have three games left in the season.

3. Nashville Predators (35-24-10 for 80 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Los Angeles (Tues), vs. Boston (Thurs) and vs. Detroit (Sat) and one road game against Buffalo (Sun).

Thoughts: The Predators have 10 of their next 13 games at home, so they have a fantastic chance of making it into the top eight in the West by the end of the season. As you can see, those games won’t all be cakewalks, though. All four of the teams they play could very well make the playoffs too in 2010-11.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-9 for 73 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Tues), home vs. Detroit (Thurs), @ Minnesota (Sat) and home vs. New Jersey (Sun).

Thoughts: The Blue Jackets seem like they’re on the borderline between still being in the playoff picture and being out of it. Much like Nashville’s week, Columbus will face four potential playoff teams going forward. It’ll be interesting to see if they have a real chance by next week.

5. St. Louis Blues (31-29-9 for 71 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Anaheim (Wed), Los Angeles (Thurs) and San Jose (Sat).

Thoughts: The Blues won three of their last four games, but any final glimmer of hope should probably be gone after this week. The Ducks, Kings and Sharks are all likely to beat St. Louis – and they need to – so it’s likely they won’t end up with much more than 71 pts next week.

Central Division Watch (March 8)

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (March 8 -March 14th)

1. Detroit Red Wings (39-19-8 for 86 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Los Angeles (Wednesday), home vs. Edmonton (Friday) and @ St. Louis (Saturday).

Thoughts: For any Red Wings fans who might fear the concept of the Blackhawks taking the Central Division against high odds, look on the bright side: Detroit’s been better on the road this season. The veteran squad currently has a 22-9-4 record in away games, probably aided in some way by the fact that the team tends to draw their own fans during most – if not all – road games.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (37-23-6 for 80 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: Eight wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Florida (Tues), Tampa Bay (Wed) and Washington (Sun) plus one home game against San Jose (Mon).

Thoughts: So, could the Blackhawks actually take the Central? Probably not, but they do have one big thing going for them: three more games against the Red Wings this season. If they could pull off the unlikely feat of beating Detroit those three times in regulation, that would bridge the six point gap between the two teams in a vacuum. Again, it’s tough to imagine that happening, but it’s possible.

3. Nashville Predators (33-24-9 for 75 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Away vs. San Jose (Tues), home vs. Minnesota (Thurs), home vs. Colorado (Sat).

Thoughts: The Predators are stumbling badly right now, going 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They are still in the chase for a lower seed spot though, but every loss is going to hurt (especially if they fall in regulation). Thursday’s game against the Wild is the biggest of the week, but every game is big for Barry Trotz’s gang going forward.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (31-26-8 for 70 pts; 65 GP)

Current streak: Five straight losses.

Week ahead: Home vs. St. Louis (Wed), home vs. Los Angeles (Fri) and @ Carolina (Sat).

Thoughts: While the Predators still have an excellent chance to make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets are fading quickly. They’ve lost five games in a row after an impressive 8-1-1 run. There are going to be some disappointed teams once the West bubble bursts and it’s looking more and more like the Jackets will be one of them.

5. St. Louis Blues (29-28-9 for 67 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Columbus (Wed), home vs. Montreal (Thurs) and home vs. Detroit (Sat).

Thoughts: With all the quality teams in front of them, it’s almost certain that the Blues should be thinking about the draft more than the playoffs right now. Sure, a comeback might be mathematically possible, but it’s hard to imagine them even getting in the top 10 (let alone the playoff eight).