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The Central sure doesn’t feel like the toughest division in hockey anymore

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Thanks Edmonton

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

What is going on with Conference III? The toughest division in hockey seems to have started to it’s own swoon. Sure, we’re just barely past the midway point of the season, and there is still a lot of hockey to play. Perhaps I’m jumping the shark a little, but the division does not seem to be quite as dominant as it has been in seasons past.

For the previous 3 seasons, ever since the NHL changed the format to 2 divisions per conference, the Central Division has sent 5 team to the playoffs. With 3 teams from each division guaranteed a playoff spot, the Central has occupied both wildcard spots and leaving the Pacific Division to battle for among themselves for just 3 spots in the post-season.

That reality seems to be changing before our very eyes. If the playoffs started as of this blog post, both divisions would be sending 4 teams to the big dance. But nothing is certain, and the pendulum could swing either way.

Western Conference Standings 1-23-2017

Team GP W L OTL Points ROW
Team GP W L OTL Points ROW
*Minnesota 46 30 11 5 65 29
*Chicago 49 30 14 5 65 28
*Anaheim 50 27 14 9 63 25
*San Jose 48 30 16 2 62 28
*Edmonton 49 26 15 8 60 23
*Nashville 47 23 17 7 53 21
*St. Louis 47 23 19 5 51 22
*Calgary 50 24 23 3 51 22
Vancouver 48 22 20 6 50 18
Los Angeles 47 22 21 4 48 21
Winnipeg 50 22 24 4 48 20
Dallas 48 19 20 9 47 19
Arizona 47 15 26 6 36 11
Colorado 45 13 30 2 28 13
* Denotes playoff team

Before we move on, I would just like to congratulate the Colorado Avalanche on their 30th loss of the season last night. Well done!

While at this moment, none of this is much of a concern to the Wild. After all, a weaker division makes an easier path to the playoffs. So what exactly is the deal? Is the division getting weaker? Is the Pacific getting stronger? A combination of the two?

It’s not hard to notice one big difference in the standings this season over previous seasons. It’s the Edmonton Oilers. We’ve grown accustomed to their massive quantities of suckitude over the better part of a decade. Connor McDavid has been a blessing for that organization. Without Edmonton in the picture, the Calgary Flames jump into the 3rd guaranteed spot for the Pacific, and thrust the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, and Dallas Stars into a 4-way battle for one playoff spot, and those teams are just separated by just 3 points, and the Nashville Predators are just 2 points ahead of the Blues.

Getting back to reality, it’s still anyone’s ballgame with the Oilers sitting firmly in playoff position. 6 teams fighting for 2 spots with 3 points being the difference, and no more than 3 games in hand for any of those teams right now. 3 from the Pacific, and 3 from the Central, yet only 2 spots are available.

The Dallas Stars remain an enigma in all this mess. On paper, they look like one of the stronger teams in the West, but this game isn’t played on paper, and the Stars have been struggling despite returning most of their lineup. At this point, it’s tough to say if they will ever find their groove this season and make a push into the playoffs. The offense is there with the Stars, but the major pain point is goals allowed. They have surrendered 151 goals on the season with a -22 goal differential. Only the Jets and the Avalanche have allowed more goals in the Central, with 153 and 154 respectively.

The Winnipeg Jets are also chalked full of talent. A young team on the rise that might be going through some growing pains. They brought in a veteran center in Shawn Matthias who has played in just 24 games and recorded 6 goals with 2 assists. The Jets show a little more promise as a team that has figured out how to put the puck in the net, having scored 142 goals on the season, second to only the Wild within the division.

The St. Louis Blues are a team on the bubble who experienced the biggest roster turnover this offseason in losing Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott, and David Backes . Backes is the biggest loss for the Blues, but all 3 veterans are on the wrong side of 30 and it’s not hard to imagine why the Blues wanted to move on. But not even rising star Vladimir Tarasenko along with the aquisition of winger David Perron can lift the Blues much higher in the standings. Their defensive struggles have weighed them down and unless they can right that ship they may find themselves outside looking in by seasons end. Then again, the Central has to send 3 teams, and they’re right in the thick of that race too.

The Nashville Predators made the biggest move of the offseason when they traded away one long-time defensive juggernaut for another. Shedding Shea Weber from the roster and bringing in P.K. Subban was a blockbuster move this summer, and one that seems to be paying dividends more for the Montreal Canadiens rather than the Predators. Weber has notched 11 goals with 18 assists for the Habs this season, while Subban has missed some time due to injury and only unloaded 10 goals with 17 assists. The assists are what hurt here. In 68 games last season Subban pocketed 45 assists, but in 31 games this year he has just 10.

When you look at the changes across the division, you don’t see a lot of change outside of one big trade and the Blues unloading some age from their roster. The Jets are still trying to figure out who they are and the Stars are wondering what happened to who they were. But the teams are not markedly different, and outside of the Stars falling off a cliff there doesn’t seem to be much else to point at. It makes sense that with the Oilers making the leap to relevancy this season the Central would be taking a hit in the playoff race. Leave it to Edmonton to ruin tradition I guess.