Season Preview: St Louis Blues
An already impressive St Louis line up got event stronger this summer, as the Blues captured one of the biggest free agents available.
The window of opportunity is wide open for the Missouri franchise, but can they overcome their Conference rivals to capture the clubs first Stanley Cup?
The Blues signed coveted free agent Paul Stastny to a 4-year, $28m deal – giving the club an even more formidable spearhead.
With the former Avs centre on board, St Louis has the option to keep Captain David Backes at centre (setting up a heck of a 1-2-3 down the middle with Stastny and Patrick Berglund), or move the hulking Team USA forward to the wing.
The idea of partnering Backes and Stastny on a line with Alexander Steen, who is coming off the back of a 33 goal campaign, is a mouthwatering one for fans – especially when you consider the clubs depth at forward.
General Manager Doug Armstrong came to a deal with RFA Jaden Schwartz last week, Vladimir Tarasenko is healthy again and T.J. Oshie had a career best 21 goals and 60 points last year.
Veteran Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre provide plenty of ‘sandpaper’ and can both be underrated in terms of puck skills at times; but a better return from Magnus Paajarvi, who is entering the last year of his present deal, would be welcome. Despite a bright start to his NHL career, the former Edmonton winger has failed to kick on and had just 6 goals and 12 points in 55 games last year.
The loss of winger Vladimir Sobotka to the KHL is a blow however. The 27-year old had 33 points in 61 games, and helped provide even greater depth for an already impressive offence.
At The Back
With the second best record in the Western Conference (third best overall), the Blues excellent defensive game is the foundation for their success.
Alex Pietrangelo has developed in to one of the games elite defencemen, while Kevin Shattenkirk is becoming one of the best puck movers around.
Supported by veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman, and with the addition of Carl Gunnarsson, it makes from an impressive unit. 25-year old Ian Cole still has some questions to answer, but if he can find form, and if 34-year old Jordan Leopold can get healthy again, the Blues defensive corps could perhaps be considered the best in the league.
Between The Pipes
St Louis head in to the new season with veteran Brian Elliott and youngster Jake Allen vying for the #1 job.
Former Ottawa and Colorado puck stopper Elliott has found his groove again in Missouri, while 24-year old Allen is considered to be the clubs long term solution in net.
In some respects it is a gamble to go from ‘play-off rental’ Ryan Miller to a tandem of perhaps questionable experience (Elliott did not exactly fair well as Colorado’s #1); but the Blues play a tight defensive system that suits Elliott’s game, and one Allen has ‘grown up around’, which they club hopes will help form strong chemistry between their goaltenders and the blue line.
Behind The Bench
The vastly experienced Ken Hitchcock begins his third full season as Blues Head Coach.
The addition of Kirk Muller as an Assistant, and Hall of Famer Bob Gainey as a Consultant, adds additional depth to the clubs ‘brain trust’ in a bid to overcome those post season jitters.
Biggest Addition – Paul Stastny
In Stastny, St Louis has a top tier centre who can play in all situations.
Carrying a large contract on a sub par Avs team often led to unfair scrutiny of the 28-year old, but a 25 goal, 60 point effort last season was followed up with 5 goals and 10 points in the Avalanche first round loss to Minnesota.
Now with a chance to partner some great wingers, the Team USA forward should excel in St Louis.
Biggest Loss – Ryan Miller
The Blues vastly different defensive style to that which Miller had become used to in Buffalo made for a difficult transition; but the veteran stopper is none the less one of the games top goaltenders.
Whilst Allen and Elliott may be serviceable, and the former may become a top NHL netminder one day, it still feels like a step down from Miller.
The caveat of all this is that, had Miller been re-signed, St Louis wouldn’t have been able to afford Stastny.
Key Man – Alex Pietrangelo
Already the cornerstone of the clubs defence, Pietrangelo is now an integral part of the teams entire setup.
Averaging more than 25 minutes per night last year, the 24-year old is set to have a long and distinguished career and could be a good outside bet for the Norris Trophy this year.
This Seasons Chances…
A Divisional title would not be out of the question – perhaps even first place in the Conference. Maybe another Presidents Trophy will come to St Louis.
Simply put, the Blues line up is strong enough to dominate the regular season – but it’s the post season where the club has struggled to catch a break.
Two epic series with Los Angeles, followed by a disappointing loss to Chicago last year, have showed the Blues are on the right track – they just need to find a way to get past their Conference rivals in order to take a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.