2012-13 was very different because of the NHL lockout. However, it might have been even more different for the St. Louis Blues had today’s playoff rules been in place.
To say that the 2012-13 season was an odd one might be a huge understatement. The St. Louis Blues suddenly had expectations after charging their way into the 2012 playoffs after Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench.
The following year, 2012-13, was supposed to be the team’s first full season under Hitchcock. He would have had an entire offseason to work with them and instill his work ethic and goals and get the team used to his way of doing things.
Instead, we missed out on half a season because of the NHL’s cyclical labor strife. If there is any one thing we have become accustomed to, it’s that the NHL and NHLPA always find a way to screw something up.
However, as far as the league goes, they managed to come up with some good ideas. They have had labor peace for eight years and just signed an extension for several more.
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The NHL instigated a new salary cap.
One of the other changes to come out of that labor strife was a change in the playoff format. The NHL reverted to a more divisional style of playoff rather than a straight-up one vs. eight, two vs. seven seed, and so on.
As we all know now, the top teams in each division got the top two seeds and played the wild card teams based on their seeding, no matter what division they were from. Then, the second and third teams from each division play one another in the divisional round.
Yet, this was prior to the realignment of the league. Winnipeg was still in the Eastern Conference and there were still three divisions in each conference.
If the NHL had gone with today’s playoff rules back then, the outcome for the Blues might have been different.
As things went, the Blues were the fourth seed and had to play the Los Angeles Kings, who were the fifth seed. The year prior, the Kings swept the Blues en route to a Stanley Cup championship. Playing them again offered a chance for revenge, but it was also something St. Louis would have been better off avoiding.
Like the present day Blues, the Kings just bashed the Blues with their heavy style. If the Blues could have avoided that in the very first series, they might have been better off.
If we apply the current-day playoff style to that season, the Blues would have faced the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit was still a threat in that season, but they were starting to age a little. The Blues matched up pretty well against their former rival, going 3-2 against the Red Wings that year and outscoring them 15-13.
15 goals was the most the Blues scored against any opponent that season. The Blues could have taken them.
Next up would have been the Chicago Blackhawks. It is hard to make a case for the Blues knocking off the eventual champions that season, but anything can happen in a rivalry matchup.
St. Louis went 2-3 against Chicago, but most of the games were pretty close. St. Louis was also getting solid performances from guys you would not always expect, like Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart.
If those guys stayed hot, the Blues might have done well against Chicago. Additionally, the Blues were a heavier team than the Blackhawks, overall, so perhaps they could be the aggressor instead of getting beat up by the Kings.
If you beat the Blackhawks, maybe you still face the Kings. It is certainly not the same Kings team you would have played in the first round, though.
Los Angeles slipped past San Jose in a very tough, seven game series in the conference semifinals. Like the Blues in 2015-16, they lost a lot of gas. With momentum on their side, the Blues would have at least fared better than losing in six games, as they did in reality.
Then again, maybe the Blues don’t even face Los Angeles in that situation. While the Kings were battle tested, under the current playoff rules, they would play the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, with Vancouver having home ice.
The Canucks went 2-0-1 against the Kings that year, outscoring them 8-5 in three games. Vancouver eliminating the Kings just puts everything up in the air with the Western Conference.
If you make the final, you play the Boston Bruins in a rematch six years before it would actually happen. I don’t know that the Blues of that season have it in them to beat that Boston team.
The Bruins were very good, with a great mixture of guys in their prime and up and comers, like a young Dougie Hamilton. Nevertheless, once you get there, anything can happen. The Blues did have more regular season wins than the Bruins that year, even if they had two fewer points.
Additionally, the Blues offense was statistically equal to Boston that year. Their defense only allowed six more goals than Boston too. It would have been an intriguing match.
Maybe Brian Elliott has the form he showed in the 2016 run to the Western Conference Final. If not, perhaps Jaroslav Halak recaptures his Montreal magic and leads the Blues on.
The main point is that you have an opportunity to get to that point. Defeating Detroit would be no easy task, but in hindsight, I’d take my chances with them over the Kings who just owned the Blues for a few years.
Get out of the first round and you can catch fire. If the playoff rules then were like they are now, maybe that happens.
Instead, it was just more playoff bitterness, with a side of early offseason.