St. Louis Blues: Central Division Not Getting Any Easier

Oct 27, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) makes a save on a shot taken by St. Louis Blues center Robby Fabbri (15) during the third period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 27, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) makes a save on a shot taken by St. Louis Blues center Robby Fabbri (15) during the third period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Blues have their own work cut out for them this summer. An early move proved that they cannot sit still as the division is not going to get any easier.

The St. Louis Blues have never really been able to catch a break regarding their division. With the exception of going against other expansion teams in the infancy of the franchise, the Blues have almost always been up against some of the league’s toughest teams.

The Blues have almost always been up against the Chicago Blackhawks. They were briefly in the division with Edmonton.

St. Louis had to deal with the Minnesota North Stars when they were at their best and also some very tough Toronto teams. That is all without discussing the juggernaut that was the Detroit Red Wings of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

The bottom line is, no matter how good the Blues were, their rivals found a way to be as good or better. Nothing has really changed with the Central Division.

The Blues found a degree of success over the last few years. They had a couple of division championships mixed in with a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

They’ve seen Chicago win multiple Stanley Cups and Dallas won one back at the turn of the century and then had another surge the last few years. Colorado poked its head out before returning to the shadows as well. Winnipeg, who is coming along now, has been the only team the Blues haven’t had to worry about much.

With Nashville making the conference finals and other teams continually improving, the Blues have even more to worry about. They cannot rest on their laurels this offseason.

Continuing to prove that is the Dallas Stars’ new signing. The Stars just inked Ben Bishop to a six-year, almost $30 million deal.

That shows the Stars mean business. Dallas is not about to follow in Colorado’s footsteps by winning a division only to spend years back in the cellar. They have way too much talent for that.

The Stars do have more work to do. They currently have $15.3 million tied up in goaltenders.

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi make up the bulk of that at $10.4 million. Clearly, neither one of those are going to be the starter with Bishop in town.

However, both are at least good enough to bring back a reasonable piece in return. We’re not talking top-six forwards, but depth is what Dallas needs more than more scoring.

Imagine the resurgent possibilities for the Stars next year now. Bishop in net, Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, all that scoring talent, the possibility of someone as talented as Niemi or Lehtonen as a backup. The Stars vault right back to the discussion for division supremacy if they can solidify their defense.

Some Blues fans will scoff at the difference Hitchcock will make given how things ended in St. Louis. Look back to what he did when he took over in St. Louis.

He came in after the team floundered under Davis Payne and led them to a 100 point season. His voice will be fresh in Dallas and that is scary.

If you can get the talent they already have to play a strong, two-way game then look out. They already gave the Blues all they could handle in 2015-16.

Bishop is going to be the icing on the cake. The team knows what is going on in net, as long as Bishop is healthy.

That was part of the Stars’ downfall under Lindy Ruff. Ruff could never settle on either Niemi or Lehtonen for a length of time and the indecision rattled the team.

While Hitchcock has shown an ability to play multiple goaltenders (Elliott/Halak, Elliott/Allen), he does still prefer to trend toward one guy. If Dallas can trade Lehtonen, you have a championship caliber starter with a guy who has won a Cup on the bench.

Chicago is not going anywhere. They just signed Richard Panik to a reasonably low-cost deal.

Nashville is set up to be good for the next few years at the very least before they have to worry about UFA troubles and salary cap issues. Pekka Rinne’s age is the only thing catching up to them.

Winnipeg is starting to gel and will be a tough team to keep out of the playoffs in the coming years. Colorado had some good, young talent, but they may be starting over. That’s about the only chink in the armor.

The Central may have been replaced as the toughest division for a season with the Metropolitan having so many highly touted teams, but it won’t stay that way.

Next: Injuries Played A Big Role In Blues Lack Of Production

Doug Armstrong will earn his money this summer. Normally that is an oversimplification, but the wheels are already in motion and the Blues don’t want to be without a seat when the music stops.

Ben Bishop signing early means the Blues have a long summer ahead of them and they better get to work. Once the offseason really kicks in, none of the division rivals are going to stand pat and neither can the Blues.