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But fans heard this claim last season and saw the team suffer another early exit in the postseason.
The Blues roster will look a lot different heading into this season than it did heading into last season. That is something that every Blues fan already knows.
What you may not know is how exactly the new signings stack up player-for-player to last season’s opening roster. Since last October, the Blues have made a lot of changes that some of us may have forgotten about.
Let’s explore these changes in a different view, shall we?
Each signing wasn’t made just to get the fans excited. These were signings, for the most part, that were made to plug-in holes that were left from previous trades or from players leaving via free-agency. Here is what I figure to be those holes that the Blues filled with each signing made.
2010-11: Eric Brewer
2011-12: Kent Huskins
Eric Brewer, the Blues’ team captain until the day he was traded, was relied upon to be the top defenseman for the Blues all season long. Obviously, things change when the club is outside of the playoff picture looking in.
Brewer was counted on mostly for veteran leadership; after all, it was a team vote that made him team captain in February 2008. With Brewer gone, the Blues’ defense continued to struggle in front of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. While each defenseman was strong in his own right, it was obvious that the team needed another veteran who could step in and help the young guys develop.
Enter Kent Huskins. At 32, Huskins has played in five NHL seasons, including many seasons as a top-pairing guy in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage, Manitoba Moose and the Portland Pirates. While he does not have the NHL experience of Brewer, Huskins is a steady defenseman who will get the job done when called upon. The Blues did not need another time-eater; they will be relying on Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole and Nikita Nikitin to step in and make a difference every night.
2010-11: Ty Conklin
2011-12: Brian Elliott
Coming off a strong 2009-10 campaign in which Conklin posted a 10-10-2 record with a 2.48 GAA and .921 save percentage, Conklin was believed to be one of the most solid backups in the league. Things can change in just one summer.
Conklin finished the 2010-11 season with an 8-8-4 record, posting a 3.22 GAA and a .881 save percentage. While those are not horrible numbers for a backup goaltender, the real story is told in overtime. Going 0-2 in the shootout, Conklin did not record a save in seven shot attempts. Those are not solid numbers for a goalie in any stretch of the imagination.
Letting Conklin hit the open market, Blues GM Doug Armstrong went out and signed former NHL starting goalie Brian Elliott to a two-way contract. Why is this an upgrade? Not only does Elliott provide a veteran presence in the backup role, but it challenges youngster Ben Bishop to work harder to be the backup. If Bishop can step up and take the job from Elliott, the Blues will not have to worry about waivers with Elliott when they send him to Peoria. The Blues will always have a solid back-up goaltender no matter what the situation turns out to be.
Checking line center
2010-11: Jay McClement
2011-12: Scott Nichol
Especially at LetsGoBlues.com, we all remember the campaign started by Blues fans to get McClement consideration for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, an award handed out to the best defensive forward in the league. “Silent Jay” was a fan-favorite that did his job as a defensive center so well that hardly anyone noticed when he was on the ice. Yes, that is a good thing.
McClement was shipped off weeks before the trade deadline in the Chris Stewart deal with the Avalanche. It was obvious that there was a hole in the bottom two lines after the trade, despite Phil McRae’s marvelous efforts to jump in and be an instant replacement for McClement.
The Blues decided that a yet another veteran may be the way to go to fill McClement’s role. Scott Nichol, 36, was the fourth line center for the San Jose Sharks last season. Nichol was first in face-off percentage amongst his teammates who had taken over 450 face-offs (59.4%). He also ranked third amongst Sharks forwards in shorthanded time-on-ice, just behind Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski (1:46 avg/game).
Nichol lacks foot-speed when compared with McClement, but he brings a feisty style of play to the checking line that was lacking last season when Cam Janssen was left out of the lineup.
2010-11: Dave Scatchard
2011-12: Jason Arnott
While Scatchard was not technically on the opening day roster last season (he started the season in Peoria), he was utilized as a veteran presence when injuries took place throughout the Blues’ lineup. He added just one assist in eight games last season while wearing a Bluenote.
The Blues have found quite the upgrade from Scatchard; Arnott, 6’5” 220 lbs, is a veteran forward who possesses the knowhow to play a sound defensive game who also has the ability to poke a few goals in when in front of the opposing net. At the age of 36, Arnott has lost a step in the goal scoring department (just 17 goals in 73 games last season), but he adds a different mix to the third line than the Blues saw last season. If placed on a line with wingers that can score and back-check, Arnott could be a force yet again in his 18th NHL season.
Second / third line winger
2010-11: Brad Boyes / Brad Winchester
2011-12: Jamie Langenbrunner
Boyes, a one-time 40-goal scorer and two-time 30-goal scorer, has faced quite the drop off in just a few short NHL seasons. After scoring 33 goals in 2008-09, Boyes has mustered just 31 total goals in the past two seasons. However, he did find a way to get points on the board last season. Boyes was the set-up man, compiling 29 assists in 62 games for the Blues. He was traded on February 27th to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2011 second-round pick.
Brad Winchester, traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2011 third-round pick just a few hours after Boyes was dealt, scored nine goals in 57 games as a Blue last season. He was mostly used as a checking line forward that could fill in holes on the top two lines when needed.
Jamie Langenbrunner more than fills both of these roles. Even though he scored just nine goals in 70 games last season as a member of both the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars, Langenbrunner really adds to the Blues’ depth on the wings. With Langenbrunner in the mix, the Blues can feel free to move Vladimir Sobotka or Matt D’Agostini into a scoring role and let Langenbrunner be the defensive stalwart on the bottom lines. A four-time 20-goal scorer, Langenbrunner, 36, can also chip in on the scoring lines if injuries become a problem.
The most important thing to remember when looking at these signings is that the Blues have an entirely new dynamic. Langenbrunner and Arnott can play on any of the four lines, which gives Head Coach Davis Payne more of a balanced attack. Nichol fills the fourth line center position, ending the shuffling of who can be the shut-down center to play against opposing top lines. Huskins can be a solid sixth defenseman who will fill in on the penalty-kill when needed. Elliott makes the battle in net a lot more interesting in training camp.
Blues management may want to consider a new playoff-promotion this season. It seems the team is destined to still be playing well into April.