clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2021-2022 Central Division Preview Roundup

Where might the Blues finish in the notoriously tough Central?

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, most hockey pundits picked the Blues to finish either third or fourth in the West Division, and they were right. Many picked that positioning based on the strength of the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights; the Blues still have to deal with one of those two teams this year. The Blues also still have to contend with the Minnesota Wild, who finished third in the West last season and who look to contend for a playoff spot again this year.

The Arizona Coyotes have followed the Blues to the Central Division, but they shouldn’t be the issue that they were last season. However, the Blues have to contend with some familiar foes - specifically the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks, who look a bit stronger this season. The Jets as well should be a difficult opponent to see six times, as always. Finally, there’s the wild card (but not Wild Card) Nashville Predators, who are either in a rebuild and will finish just above Arizona, or they’ll have a decent season and be a legitimate playoff spoiler.

What’s clear, is that the top of the Central boils down to the Avalanche, the Wild, the Jets, and the Blues. In what order? Other than the division being the Avalanche’s to lose, it’s anyone’s game. Let’s take a look at what people who are significantly more expert than I am think about how things shake out.

NESN, who decided to use odds instead of a traditional ranking, believes that the odds are not in the Blues’ favor - they give them +1800 odds to win the division. Lauren Campbell writes:

The Blues adding Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad certainly will help their forwards. But what they really needed to do this offseason was check out the goalie market, and they didn’t. Jordan Binnington hasn’t won a Stanley Cup playoff game since 2019 against the Boston Bruins, and his .910 save percentage was not something to celebrate. Backup netminder Ville Husso also struggled with an .893 save percentage. For whatever reason, St. Louis will continue to roll out the tandem this season. The Blues played a majority of their games last season against teams like the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings and Binnington struggled. With the divisions back to normal, this may make things worse for the goalie.

They still could crack a playoff spot in the division, but it will be no easy task.

Oof. It is worth mentioning the injuries and call-ups that the Blues had to deal with last season, but Binnington’s first year in his 6 year contract deal wasn’t what he or the team wanted to see. He got better down the stretch, and it’s silly to blame the Blues’ playoff loss last season on him. This year, a bounceback year would be beneficial for Binnington and the team.

Adam Proteau at Sports Illustrated has the Blues finishing fourth in the Central, behind Colorado, Winnipeg, and Dallas. He has them finishing with a caveat, though - if the offense clicks, and it should, and if the defense steps it up, they’ll contend for a higher spot in the standings. The Blues should be able to compete with Dallas this season handily, and though the Jets traditionally are a hard team for the Blues to play, they should be able to keep pace with them as well if all of the Blues’ parts click.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope has also picked Colorado as the top of the crop in the division, and admits the rest of the Central is a crapshoot to predict. Surprisingly, they have the Blues finishing above the Blackhawks in fifth with the second wild card berth.

St. Louis has steadily declined since its 2019 Cup title and looks like a true bubble team for 2021-22.

Pavel Buchnevich and — sadly for Hawks fans — Brandon Saad were savvy offensive upgrades, but the defense lacks an elite No. 1 guy and competent depth. It’ll be fascinating to see if Vladimir Tarasenko lasts the whole year in St. Louis. Jordan Binnington will need to keep up with Hellebuyck for the Blues to jump the Jets.

Personally, I don’t know if the last two seasons’ worth of performance is a good way to evaluate any team, and 2019-2020 saw the Blues’ finish first in their division before a Covid-weakened team lost in the first round. I don’t know if that counts as a part of a steady decline.

SportsNet’s Rory Boylen’s power rankings have the Blues at 19th, questioning if the Blues are more a playoff bubble team than a playoff contender. Boylen highlights the team’s veteran leadership as a strength, but the youth movement - especially Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou - as a hidden weapon.

The Sporting News has the Blues finishing sixth in the Central, behind the Stars and Blackhawks in the wild card race. They also offer no explanation of their reasoning here, which is unfortunate, because getting a glimpse into that thought process would’ve been something else.

Everyone on staff at Pro Hockey Talk has the Blues making the postseason, but Sean Leahy picked them to finish second in their division, the highest finish in the predictions that I have come across. PHT’s whole team has Colorado finishing first in the division, which seems to be the common consensus.

ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski ranks the Blues 12th overall in his season preview power rankings, sounding cautiously optimistic about their chances for success. Either they’re typical Blues and have a successful, steady season, or they’re perfectly comulent. If the lineup stays healthy and the players who are expected to contribute really contribute, they make the postseason clear. If the team suffers injuries or underperformance, they sneak in, but have a short postseason.

Here at Game Time, we agreed with the majority of the pundits. There’s no fun in going along with the rest of the group, but in the upper-half of the Central feels about right. Colorado is the hands down favorite, but from between Colorado and Arizona, it good be almost anyone’s guess who makes it into the postseason.