Those of us from the Heartland of hockey are enormously proud of our fair city, our Blues, and the nickname that has become synonymous, (The Gateway to the West,). Hell, we even have a 630 ft. tall monument to celebrate the moniker. We celebrate our place in the center of the country along with our place at the confluence of two mighty rivers. As I said, we are the “Heartland of Hockey.”
Then on Wednesday the 9th of December with one simple tweet, NHL insider Pierre LaBrun unknowingly lined up, targeted, and released a 100-megaton bomb right on top of Enterprise center. LeBrun released the below tweet stating that the current realignment would place the St. Louis Blues in a Pacific Division with LA, Anaheim, San Jose, Arizona, Vegas, Colorado, and Dallas.
Judging from my Twitter feed, and the multitude of Facebook groups I am in, the furor of the Blues fan base broke the meter. The key fact to remember here is that this situation is very fluid, so much so that by the time I am finished writing this, it could all be a moot point. Based on some of the comments on posts in a few different Facebook groups, it is clear many fans are not clued into the happenings around the NHL. So, even if this never comes to fruition, we can still explore the reason this change is needed along with the negatives, positives, and a wildcard.
The need for change
This comes down to one word and one word only, COVID. The first thing to understand is that this is a one-off change. Due to current travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, the 14-day mandatory quarantine for people coming from the States to Canada would make it impossible for the Canadian teams to travel to the U.S. Currently, there are 31 teams in the league with seven of them being in the land up north. The seven teams across the border fits in perfectly with the current numbers in the divisions as they sit. Eight teams are in the Metropolitan, the Atlantic, and the Pacific while seven teams are in the central. Take the seven Canadian teams and put them in a division by themselves and we just need to make three groups of eight from the remaining team in the States.
This simple formula is what has caused so much grief in the heartland. Just in the Northeast alone, there are six teams. The Bruins, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Capitals, and Flyers. Just on the fringe, you have the Penguins, Sabers, and Hurricanes, with the Blue Jackets and Red Wings floating just on the outside. That leaves the remaining two Florida teams, the Lighting, and Panthers. So, a quick count gives us 13 teams and we need 16 to make two divisions. Let us look at who is left. Going from east to west there are the Predators, Blackhawks, Blues, Wild, Stars, Avalanche, Coyotes, Golden Knights, Ducks, Kings and to round it out, the Sharks. With five teams out west, let us combine those teams with the Stars and Avalanche, that makes seven.
Thus, we find the quandary that has everyone up in arms. Four teams are left, one is needed for the Pacific, and three to round out the east/south. Putting the Predators and Blackhawks in the central/south makes sense. Great, we now have two teams left, the Wild and the Blues. So, minus those two teams, the divisions look like this.
|Ottawa||Boston||Tampa Bay||San Jose|
|Toronto||New York Rangers||Florida||L. A.|
|Montreal||New York Islanders||Carolina||Anaheim|
|Winnipeg||New Jersey||Columbus||Las Vegas|
Table 1: Division alignment without St. Louis and Minnesota
Now the picture becomes much clearer. What do you do with the Wild and the Blues? The simple answer is to put the Blues in the central and Wild in the west. There you go, wipe your hands clean, we are done.
Wait, you may want to hold the phone, those 6 pm CST start times could conflict with the mighty Cardinals. Now, it was first reported that the Blues and their broadcast partners would prefer the later starts. That has since been walked back and denied by multiple sources. No matter the reason the initial word was, that the Blues would be in the West.
No sooner did LeBrun release this burning take, that my Twitter feed started to go bonkers. “No way should the Blues be in the west” were some of the cries. “No Blackhawks, Predators or Red Wings,” was another. “Switch the Wild and Blues!!!”, was yet one more. “Way too many late games” was the loudest of them all. Upon hearing all these loud voices, it got me thinking what is wrong with the West? What would be some of the issues the Blues would face if this happens?
1. The loss of the rivalries between Chicago and Nashville, along with renewing the one with Detroit.
This, for me, is a very valid complaint. The Blues and Blackhawks rivalry is among one of the best in the league. Not having these two teams play for a year is a big shame. Now the hatred between the Preds and the Blues may be relatively new, it is just as heated and could, be an even bigger loss to the league, considering the quality of both teams now. For me, being able to beat up on Detroit for 8 games is something that would give me great satisfaction. The double-overtime loss to the Wings in 1996, still stings worse than 1000 murder hornets. The Wings are in a major rebuild led by the cause of all my pain, Steve Yzerman. This would mean the Blues should be able to get between 6-8 wins even on a bad day. By not playing these teams is by far the biggest loss for Blues’ fans and the League if the team ends up in the west.
2. The late starts
The possibility of 16-20 9 PM starts was by far the biggest complaint from the fans of the Blue Note. For me, those 9 PM starts are at 5 PM, so those complaints fall on deaf ears for this writer. But in all fairness, I need to be objective and remember most of the fan base lives in a city where the news is at 10 PM and a normal day is more of the 8-4 than the 9-5. Games typically last just between two and a half to three hours. Games will end close to midnight or later and if you are like me you want to see the post-game show also. This makes watching most of the away games a difficult challenge for many. One thing to remember here is that in a normal season you could play up to 16 games in the later time zone. So, while the number of late games may be the same, the compacted 56-game schedule will make it seem as it they are almost every other night.
3. The weaker central/Southern division
I am one of those fans that love the power rankings. They give me a sense of where each team sets, regardless of the standings. If I were to do a power ranking on each division with the Blues as part of that division it would look like this.
|2||St. Louis||St. Louis|
Table 2: Power Ranking by Author
While I have the Blues in the second position in both polls, the second in the Central is not the same as the second in the West. Both Dallas and Colorado could easily overtake the Note, while in the central the distance between second and third is about the same as the distance between 3rd and 7th. While on paper it appears, the Blues would fare better in the central, on paper a team in last place in points on Jan 2nd should not win the Stanley cup either.
One nice thing about sitting behind a keyboard and allowing my mind and fingers to wander means whether or not this happens I can still talk about some of the things I like about this proposed realignment. I get to look behind the wall of complaints to see why this might be a preferred path. Would it be such a bad thing for the Blues to play out west? Let us see some of the good things about having the Blues in the Western Division.
1. Blues Hockey is Back Baby!!!
Yes, plain, and simple the game we love will be back. The NHL and NHLPA have had a sordid history dating back to 1994. This past summer it looked and felted like some fences had been mended when they agreed to a five-year extension of the Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA). The two sides were singing the same tune, however, the owners went back just a bit and asked for more money to be deferred and more to go into escrow. The players balked at this immediately. They felt as if they had been blindsided and that the league was trying to renegotiate the CBA. After a couple of weeks of behind-closed-door talks, the financial impasse has been rectified. Now all that is left is to figure out the best way to play this season. The proposed start date of January 13th is currently the best guess as to when the Tampa Bay Lighting can defend the cup.
2. Old Time Playoff format.
This is something that excites me the most! Back in the days before expansion, the league had 20 teams. There were 4 divisions of 5 teams and the top four teams in each division would battel it out in the playoffs. The Norris division, also known as the black and blue division, consisted of the Maple Leafs, Red Wings, North Stars (Stars), Blackhawks, and the Blues. These five teams would beat the shit out of each other during the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, so much that during the tenure of the Norris division no team ever won a cup. Possible playoff matchups with the Knights or the Yotes. To have a chance to create more heated rivalries, if even for just a season, send chills down my spine.
3. Setting up for seasons to come.
This one-off realignment will help the Blues, in that they will play a lot of games against Dallas, Colorado, and Arizona. Starting in 2021-22 the Seattle Kraken will enter the league and are slated to play in the Pacific division with Arizona moving to the Central. The four teams from the new west division could arguably be the 4 best teams in the 21-22 Central Division. Nashville, in my opinion, could also sneak in there but we will have to see if they take a step forward or backward this season. By playing the best teams that will be in your division in seasons to come, vice playing teams in a major rebuild like Chicago and Minnesota, this will allow the coaching staff to understand and develop game plans, drafting strategies, and free-agent lists that will allow them to be better built for the long run and cup runs.
1. The Travel.
It is easy to see in the map below that if the Blues are in the west, they will have significantly more travel than if they were in the Central/south. Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote that the Blues would travel a minimum of 8,833 miles one way in the west and only 3,970 miles one way if in the Central. While this is a bit of a hassle for you and me, the team flies in a specially made chartered jet and some of this travel can be mitigated by playing back-to-back games in the same city along with specially designed road trips to limit the chance of a COVID outbreak.
What is amazing is, some of this could happen, all of this could happen, or none of this could happen but by exploring the crater left by this 100-megaton explosion, we get a good look into the workings of the NHL. It also does one more thing that we fans always seem to forget about or not understand, is it gets us talking. Not only did Thomas write about it but also Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic, along with many others. When Fans are talking about the League, watching the NHL Network, and reading all the written content like this. The League wins. Put the Blues in the west, the central/south, or a division that has not been talked about yet, I do not care I just want to see good hockey and soon.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing
Maps credit: Let’s Go Blues Radio