The Blues will have a new look this season as there have been many personnel changes. The Blues hope that it is enough to get them back in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Forwards: Jason Arnott, Evgeny Grachev, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol.
Defensemen: Kent Huskins.
Goaltenders: Brian Elliott.
On the outs
Forwards: Nicholas Drazenovic (CBJ), Cam Janssen (NJD), Dave Scatchard (Retired).
Defensemen: Nathan Oystrick (PHO), Tyson Strachan (FLO).
Goaltenders: Ty Conklin (DET).
2010-11 team statistics
NHL standings: 4th in Central Division, 10th in Western Conference, 20th in NHL.
Goals for: 10st in NHL (2.88 GF per game).
Goals against: 17th in NHL (2.78 GA per game).
Power-play: 10th in NHL (18.6%).
Penalty-kill: 18th in NHL (81.7%).
Step Up or Go Home
The 2011-12 season will be one for many players to show whether they are worthy of another contract next summer.
Defenseman Barret Jackman, 30, is an 8-season veteran of the NHL. He has been relied on throughout most of the post-lockout era to be one of the Blues’ top shutdown guys on the roster. Jackman has posted a plus-3 rating in each of the last two seasons, but that is not particularly showing of his play on the ice. Jackman has been very serviceable, but the former Calder Trophy winner has not exactly earned his $3.50 million per year salary. So what is expected of Jackman in the coming months?
The blinding problem with Jackman’s play is his ineffectiveness with the puck. While Jackman has been strong at clearing the puck from his own zone, his inability to send passes to his forwards in the neutral zone is quite apparent. Jackman has faced his fair share of turnovers in his career, but if he can improve in this area he may be asked to rejoin the Blues in 2012-13.
T.J. Oshie, who has become everyone’s favorite player in St. Louis, is on a contract-year as well. Even though he seems to have the fans on his side, Oshie has to find a way to stay healthy and be a consistent offensive force.
Oshie, 24, recently signed a 1-year, $2.35 million contract extension. Last season Oshie suffered a broken ankle after a skirmish with Blue Jackets’ forward Sami Pahlsson then was reprimanded by Blues management late in the season for missing a team practice. He was suspended 2 games by the team.
If Oshie can keep from upsetting his coaching staff, as well as stay healthy, he should have no problem being a top-scorer for the Blues this season. That will surely get him a contract next summer.
Time for Halak to Shine
Was Halak really that awful last season?
Not in my mind. Halak posted a 27-21-7 record with a 2.48 GAA and a .910 save percentage. His team finished 11th in the Western Conference. Miikka Kiprusoff, who played for the 10th place Calgary Flames, posted numbers that were worse than Halak’s (2.63 GAA with a .906 save percentage), yet they finished just three points out of a playoff spot. My point? Halak was not a weakness last season.
We have seen Halak in better form though. I could regale you with tales of Halak in the 2010 playoffs, but I bet everyone remembers that. What you may have blocked out of your head is the start that Halak had last season. Halak started the 2010-11 season with an 8-1-1 record, allowing just 15 goals and recording 3 shutouts in that span.
If Halak can stay healthy and produce numbers close to what he had to start the year, the Blues will be a shoe-in for the playoffs this season.
Injuries? No Problem this Season
Blues fans like to block the start of the 2011 calendar year out of their minds… and with good reason.
In the midst of the Blues’ injury problems, the Blues went 2-8-2 in the month of January, which pretty much put them in a deep hole of which they never fully climbed out. Can you really blame them when key guys like David Perron, Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie are missing for long stretches of time? The Blues were in an ownership crisis (much worse off than they are at the moment), so they could not afford to go out and buy talent to replace the injured forwards.
The problem has been fixed for the time being. Signing forwards Scott Nichol, Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott will help the depth of this team. Consider recent additions Evgeny Grachev (who scored 3 goals in the pre-season) and Jonathon Cheechoo as guys who can sit in the press box as the 13th forward or can be called up from Peoria at any time, and this team has plenty of depth to cover for injuries.
Pietrangelo Gets Better and Better
If you watched any games last season, you know that Alex Pietrangelo is the real deal.
The 21-year old defenseman looks like he has been in the NHL for many years. He is probably the most poised player on the ice for the Blues every single game. As a first-year player in the NHL, Pietrangelo had the best plus/minus of any Blues defenseman last season with a plus-18. He was used in every situation, whether it was on special teams or late in games when the Blues needed to keep the puck out of their net.
Pietrangelo added 11 goals as well, making him the first Blues defenseman to score over 10 goals in one season since Chris Pronger scored 14 goals in 2003-04.
Top Line Could Rival any Line in NHL
We are way passed the Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk era.
The Blues put together a line late last season that put many opposing defenses in awe. Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie seem to have great chemistry together and will likely start the season out as line-mates.
Why does this line work? It really is just a matter of putting three opposite players together and letting them do their own things.
Berglund showed last season that he has become a dynamic passer. Oshie and Stewart are both physical players in their own right. Oshie can grind it out in the corners and find the open man while Stewart plants himself in front of the net and pounds in any passes or rebounds that come his way.
Berglund also looks like he has more of an edge to his game since arriving at training camp. If he continues to bump and grind well, this line will be unstoppable all season long.
Captain Backes Leads This Team to the Playoffs
With the ‘C’ officially displayed on his chest all season long, David Backes will be the determining factor in how this team finishes.
Backes, who scored 31 goals and 62 points last season to lead the Blues in both categories, will be looked to as the driving force of this team. His leadership skills and his ability to put his team on his back and carry them are why this guy was named team captain. He is expected to lead this team to their second playoff berth since the lockout and lead them through the first round of the playoffs.
The big goal for the Blues is to be playing hockey in late April. I would not expect them to be contenders for the Cup… yet. With the core of this roster staying intact, the Blues will be a hard-working team that will not be handing out many Ws to opposing teams.
Look for the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues to be battling for the 5-6 seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs all year long.
Read the rest of the Central Division previews: