How Ken Hitchcock’s Firing Impacts the Central Division

The St. Louis Blues Recently Relieved Ken Hitchcock of His Coaching Duties and sent Hitchcock Packing. Hitchcock’s Firing is Bound to Have an Impact on the Blues but This Impact Will Touch the Central Division Also. It All Begins Where the Blues Stand.

Yesterday, the St. Louis Blues fired long term head coach Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock was serving a one-year contract and was coaching with expected replacement Mike Yeo, who will replace Hitch behind the bench.

The Blues are still in a playoff spot, so this move should be unexpected. But this was widely known to be Hitchcock’s last year, and the one-year contract was something that could be repealed easily.

But that playoff spot means the Hitchcock firing could be impactful not only on the Blues but on the Central division.

The Blues are only three points behind the Nashville Predators for the third seed in the Central. Mike Yeo has been in St. Louis all year, but it could take some adjustment time for him to take control. That means the Blues will likely lose ground on the Predators.

Oct 25, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Winnipeg Jets right wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) and Dallas Stars center Gemel Smith (46) in action during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Jets 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Winnipeg Jets right wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) and Dallas Stars center Gemel Smith (46) in action during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Jets 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

But the Blues are also two points behind the Calgary Flames and three behind the Los Angeles Kings for wild cards. They have three games in hand for Calgary and one for Los Angeles. But with the adjustment time, they could fall behind them, or just barely catch the Flames.

The Blues, with games in hand, are also just above the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets, each merely a point behind.

St. Louis Blues Central Fate

With this in mind, perhaps the Jets and Stars now have a chance again. The two teams have been more successful of late, with both on two-game win streaks, and the Stars having put up six goals on Toronto, which you can watch here:

The Stars are especially dangerous, because they have only one more game than St. Louis, and will have more rest.

While both teams lack goaltending, it could be available near the deadline, which means either team could trade for a run. For the Stars, this is especially true, because the Stars offense is just a goaltender away from a potentially long Cup run.

I may be kicking out the Blues before they’ve even played a game with new coach Mike Yeo, but we’ve seen this year what happens with a new head coach (with Florida). The Blues are a better team than Florida, but the Panthers have better goaltending.

The Goalie Factor

Ineffective goaltending is what lead to  Ken Hitchcock getting fired. After trading away Brian Elliott in the offseason, the expectations were high for Jake Allen. And, for a lesser extent, Carter Hutton. Neither of them lived up to the hype this year. Jake Allen is posting a 2.86 goals-against average (GAA) and .895 save percentage (SV%). That’s well below league average.

I simply don’t know if Mike Yeo is going to be able to fix that. Yeo had bad goaltending when he was fired in Minnesota before the Wild brought in Devan Dubnyk.

This means that the Blues could very well lose ground, especially if it takes a while for the Blues to form around Yeo’s coaching. This means the Blues must accept the new coach quickly, especially after getting Hitchcock canned.

Playoff Contenders Implications

What this means for teams like the Predators, Blackhawks, and Wild is that they should feel more firm in their playoff aspirations. It is unlikely that the Blackhawks or Wild fall out of the playoffs, and, barring a miraculous recovery around Yeo, the Predators should be contenders down the stretch.

Yeo has an especially tough time coaching against the Blackhawks, especially in the playoffs. In playoff series, Yeo is 0-3 vs. Quenneville and the Hawks. Therefore the one team in the Central that beat the Blackhawks recently is now under a coach who can’t.

But it’s another death toll for the Central division’s wild card aspirations, as the Blues giving up on Hitchcock may signal that the Stars or the Jets are the best hope, and in the end, the Pacific might end up with two wild cards.

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