Blues look for improvement from within
BY JEREMY RUTHERFORD • email@example.com
> 314-444-7135 | Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 12:00 am | (11) Comments
The Blues say they’ll look for bounce-back performances from Brad Boyes (left) and David Backes and count on further maturation from T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Patrik Berglund as they search for offensive improvement. (AP file photo)
Like many Blues fans heading into the offseason, forward Brad Boyes was curious to see who the club might add to its crop of forwards.
Boyes, who finished with 14 goals, was part of a struggling offense in 2009-10, which at season's end seemed in need of a goal-scoring threat.
"At first, you want to see what's going to happen," Boyes said. "But the way it's looking now, we're going (to stand pat) and I'm looking forward to that."
The combination of the Blues' budget and the team's philosophy of continuing to grow from within kept the club out of the free-agent market. Instead, the Blues say they'll look for bounce-back performances from Boyes and David Backes and count on further maturation from T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Patrik Berglund as they search for offensive improvement.
"We have players that we believe can perform at a higher level than they did last year," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We also have some players who are going to be asked to take a larger role. When you combine those two things, we feel that we had the depth that was necessary to compete."
As the Blues search to replace their major investor, TowerBrook Capital Partners, the budget has presented some constraints. The payroll for next season is around $40 million — roughly $8 million less than last year — although the Blues still have to re-sign Erik Johnson, Perron and D.J. King.
Armstrong said that budget limitations aside, the Blues aren't wrong to count on more production from their current roster.
"You have to put (the team) together within the economic framework ... but you're going by the history of how they've played," he said.
Boyes and Backes combined for 64 goals in 2008-09, but last season the two tallied 31 goals. Boyes had 43 goals in '07-08 and 33 in '08-09.
"I need to get back to playing with an open mind and being the goal scorer that I know I can be," Boyes said.
Berglund, who scored 21 goals and 47 points as a rookie, regressed last season, netting 13 goals and 26 points.
"Whether he's a No. 2 center or a No. 3 center, he's going to be a player definitely counted on in our group of nine," Armstrong said.
Although Perron reached the 20-goal plateau and Oshie added 18, Blues coach Davis Payne believes there's room for improvement from each young forward.
"They're not waiting in line anymore; they're in front of the line," Payne said. "We feel we have huge growth potential available to us."
The Blues are hoping the trend they ended on last season will continue. The team finished 17th in the NHL in goals scored last season with 2.66 a game. That average climbed to 2.85 in the final 41 games under Payne, after a 2.46 average under ex-coach Andy Murray.
"It was part of the process of playing more of a directed game," Payne said. "We were moving well and putting the puck into certain areas. But most of all, it was a mind-set of playing at people and playing an aggressive style."
The Blues, however, have lost two veterans who combined for 31 goals and 75 points last season. Keith Tkachuk has retired and Paul Kariya is a free agent who won't be re-signed by the club.
Kariya scored 10 of his 18 goals and had 24 of his 43 points in 37 games under Payne.
"Our younger players have maybe played in the shadows of some more experienced players," Armstrong said. "When you have those experienced players around, there's a ... I don't want to say an 'obligation' ... but the coach feels comfortable putting them out there, so other players have to follow in underneath that.
"Right now, we don't have any players on our roster with that deep Hall of Fame résumé, so I think it's a great opportunity for the coach to play the players he believes he can win with on a nightly basis."
Even after Monday's signing of Ilya Kovalchuk by the New Jersey Devils, there remain some decent free-agent options: Alexander Frolov, Lee Stempniak, Alex Ponikarovsky and Eric Belanger to name a few.But the Blues aren't interested.
"We have to find out what level we can take our game to both on and off the ice," Armstrong said. "It's going to be a very interesting training camp and season, finding out which young players can take the next step and which middle-aged players have leadership qualities to lead the team through thick and thin times."
Added Boyes: "I think the biggest thing is, we can only go up from here.