Blues look to sustain late-season play over full 82
Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Bolduc, Maxim Lapierre, Brenden Morrow, Magnus Paajarvi, Derek Roy.
T.J. Hensick, Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy McDonald, Andrew Murray, Scott Nichol, David Perron, Kris Russell, Jeff Woywitka.
Last year: After clinching a Central Division title and a second round playoff appearance in the 2011-2012 campaign, things seemed to be on the upswing for the St. Louis Blues entering last year's shortened season.
The pendulum, however, would swing the other way as the Blues struggled through the majority of the season with injuries to starting netminder Jaroslav Halak, as well as top six forwards Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie. Entering the final month of the regular season, the Blues sat ninth in the Western Conference, one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Needing to make a change, Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong bolstered his already potent blue line, acquiring veterans Jay Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames and Jordan Leopold from the Buffalo Sabres.
The moves appeared to pay immediate dividends as St. Louis lost only three of their final 15 games in the month of April, clinching fourth in the West and earning a date with the defending Stanley Cup champions from Los Angeles… the very same club who sent the Blues packing just a spring ago.
In what proved to be one of the more physical and entertaining playoff rounds in recent memory, St. Louis fell short to the Kings again. The Blues gave up a 2-0 series advantage before bowing out in six games.
This Year: St. Louis' off-season changes started early as McDonald announced his retirement in early June. With a hole in the middle on the second line, the Blues inked creative centre Derek Roy to a one-year deal.
In what could be argued as a cap-friendly move, St. Louis then traded once-prized youngster David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for winger Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second-round draft pick.
The Blues tended to much business this summer (see: On the Books) but the most pressing concern was re-signing RFA defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, who agreed to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal early in training camp.
The team will look to continue scoring by committee, as all but five skaters to wear a Blues' uniform scored a goal with the club last season. That being said, with no standout sniper on the roster, St. Louis only had three players notch double digits in goals, led by Chris Stewart's 18. Stewart's 36 points also led the list of 12 Blues who had 19 or more points last season. The team did add some depth for their bottom two lines with centre Max Lapierre and veteran winger Brenden Morrow.
Can the combination of St. Louis' acquisitions and sophomores off-set the losses of Andy McDonald (21 points) and David Perron (10 goals, 25 points)?
In their first round series loss to the Kings, only five St. Louis forwards chipped in on the ten goals produced.
After Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott combined for 15 shutouts and a Jennings Trophy-win two years ago, the sky was the limit for the Blues in the crease. However, injuries plagued Halak last season, and upon his return was rarely played and sat on the bench during the post season. The Slovakian netminder was not pleased.
In the series against the Kings, cameras caught Halak not preparing as Brian Elliott struggled on the ice with an injury Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported a heated argument outside the Blues locker room between Halak and head coach Ken Hitchcock before Game 4 against Los Angeles.
With both Elliott and Halak becoming UFAs at season's end, will the aforementioned issues be water under the bridge, or will a big move be made? One can only imagine where the tale will turn next.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Blues' performance after a shortened season?
The Blues have a nice balance of youth and age and win games with smart, 200-foot hockey.
They skate hard, but have designed their team to play responsibly and consistently and to sustain that clip over a full season.
Last season presented the Blues with a last-month scramble to make the playoffs. If it had been a full season they could well have been on their way to making up ground on the Chicago Blackhawks.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Blues make to get themselves back in cap shape?
With space in the books, the Blues quickly got to work putting pen to paper with team points leader and restricted free agent Chris Stewart to a two-year deal, extending the newly-acquired Bouwmeester and signing youngsters Paajarvi and goaltender Jake Allen. The Blues would also add unrestricted free agents Maxim Lapierre and Keith Aucoin.
Then, Pietrangelo signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract early in training camp to eliminate the distraction before the regular season starts.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Blues after realignment.
The big change for the Blues is that for the first time since 1981 they will not be in the same division as the Detroit Red Wings. However, considering that the Wings consistently eat up a playoff spot in both the division and the conference, it’s likely they will not be missed by the Blues.
They do have some familiarity with two of their new division mates, however, as both the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets were charter members of the Central Division in 1993.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW - The sturdy scoring winger burst onto the NHL scene as a rookie last season, scoring 10 points in his first eight games before fading into the background with nine points in his next 30 games. He missed some time with a concussion and has even admitted that his conditioning needed work to handle the NHL grind.
Fast forward to his second NHL season and Tarasenko has to battle for ice time, with T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart ahead of him on the depth chart, but for a team that has experienced difficulty putting the puck in the net, a strong winger who knows his way around the net shouldn't have great difficulty finding a regular role.
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Pressing Question: Do the Blues Have Enough Pieces To Be Considered a True Contender?
Entering last season, pundits and prognosticators were declaring the Blues as early Stanley Cup favorites.
Do they have what it takes this year? With division playoff matchups back in play, does St. Louis will have to muster enough to compete with their longtime division rivals (and defending Cup champs) from Chicago.
Can Roy, Pajaarvi, Tarasenko, and Schwartz replace the missed offence and be impact players?
The Blues will Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund improve on their stellar seasonsand hope that a full season with their re-jigged defence corps prepares the team for a deep playoff run.
The Blues were called contenders before, but never have reached the top of the mountain. can they do it now?
- St. Louis Blues Preview by Kris Glen, TSN.ca