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It’s not just a three horse race in the West

The new West Division may not be as easy as some fans think.

NHL: FEB 20 Coyotes at Blues

Playing in the new West Division this season might be a boon for the Blues, if not just for the absence of the Nashville Predators. The Preds had the Blues number last season, going 4-0 against them (the Blues managed a loss in bonus hockey) and helping make the push for the top spot in the West a little tighter than it should’ve been between the Blues and Avalanche.

The Blues play the rest of the Western Division teams pretty well, and in most assessments of the new division, they’re part of a three-way competition for the top playoff seed. The Blues, the Avalanche, and the Vegas Golden Knights are the popular consensus teams from most media outlets, regardless of how the Blues flailed about in the playoff bubble. The Blues don’t have to see the Predators, Vegas doesn’t have to deal with the Dallas Stars, and the Avalanche, well, they should be able to feast on the California teams.

Each team plays the other team eight times, for a total of 16 possible points on the line. There’s no cushion of losing points to a team outside of your division, or outside of the conference - if a team loses, their opponent gains ground, full stop. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, especially against teams that the Blues have had a problem with.

If you think that just because Nashville’s in a different division that it’s a clear path for the Blues, think again. Other than the Golden Knights and the Avalanche, the Blues have one other opponent in the West to watch out for: the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes lost Taylor Hall to the Buffalo Sabres this off-season, and they don’t have a phenomenal offense past Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel, but their defense is lead by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson and their goaltending last season was better than anyone expected. Darcy Kuemper finished the season with a 2.22 GAA and a .928 save percentage. Their strong play didn’t continue into the playoffs, but Kuemper and Antti Raanta were both decent-ish enough to bump the Predators off.

No, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t going to be the team that skyrockets to the top of the division, but they may be able to steal enough points from the Blues to prevent St. Louis from capturing the division. The Blues were 1-1-1 last season against the Coyotes, but they have had problems with Arizona going back a bit farther. They were 1-2-0 in 2018-2019, and 1-2-0 the season before. You have to go back to 2016-2017 to see a season where the Blues have beaten the Coyotes more than once. I realize that three or four games a season is a small sample size to work off of, and that each Blues team is different than the team before. In a season where neither team leaves the division and each team plays the other eight times, the points the Blues have let slip away in the past could add up pretty quickly.

The Blues need to bank as many points against as many opponents as possible - that’s just common sense. Fans shouldn’t think that the Blues will only have to try against the Golden Knights and Avalanche, though. There’re eight teams in this division and four playoff spots. It’s presumptuous to think that any of the three early favorites are guaranteed one of those spots, and it’s unfair to forget about the teams who will be motivated to fight for that fourth.