The St. Louis Blues followed up a return to the playoffs in 2009 with a disappointing 2010 season. In January they said goodbye to coach Andy Murray, dispatching him in favour of Davis Payne. After going 17-17-6 under Murray, they picked it up and went 23-15-4 under Payne. However, it was too little too late for the Blues as they finished ninth in the Western Conference, five points behind Colorado. This will be Payne’s first full season behind the Blues bench and he’ll be looking for a better outcome this year.
With apologies to the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk, St. Louis made the biggest move of the offseason. They acquired playoff hero Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens for center Lars Eller and right-winger Ian Schultz. Halak will be expected to reprise the role of “Goaltending Jesus” that he played in Montreal and propel the Blues back into the postseason.
In a slightly less analyzed deal, the Blues sent the rights to David Warsofsky to Boston, bringing Vladimir Sobotka to St. Louis.
Veterans Darryl Sydor and Keith Tkachuk announced their retirements at the end of last season and Paul Kariya will miss the entire season with post-concussion syndrome, leaving the Blues with an absence of veteran leadership.
Goaltender Chris Mason was not re-signed in the fallout of the Halak trade and he decided to head to Atlanta as a free agent. Defenseman Mike Weaver will also not be returning as he signed a two-year deal with Florida in August.
One of the veterans to return to the Blues this year is 33-year-old Andy McDonald. He led St. Louis in scoring last season with 57 points and his 24 goals was good enough to tie him with Alex Steen for the team lead. McDonald is expected to return to playing center this season after spending the past two seasons on the wing. Linemate David Backes is expected to return to center in the switch. Backes had a good season with the Blues last year as well, and his 48 points tied him for second on the team behind McDonald.
T.J Oshie, Alex Steen, David Perron and Brad Boyes were all major offensive contributors last season and the same is expected this year. The loss of Tkachuk and Kariya heralds a new day in St. Louis where the spotlight will be on the team’s young talent.
Erik Johnson and Carlo Colaiacovo will be counted on to continue to rack up points from the blue line.
The St. Louis Blues have several young, talented players on defense. The youngest, and perhaps the most talented, is 20-year-old Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo has played 17 career NHL games over the past two years, but he should be given consideration for a full-time NHL job this season.
Erik Johnson is another blue chip defender on St. Louis. The physical defenseman is a force on both ends of the ice and should see significant ice time this season. Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, Roman Polak and captain Eric Brewer round out the Blues defense with the seventh spot up for grabs during training camp.
If you’re wondering if Jaroslav Halak can carry a team on his back, just ask the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins. The question isn’t if Halak can do it, it’s if he can do it again. The Montreal Canadiens found success during last year’s playoffs by playing a simple, structured and disciplined defensive game. In most games they limited the number of quality shots Halak faced and he stopped most of the ones that got to him. St. Louis brought Halak in expecting more of the same from him this year. It will be up to the rest of the team to give him the same support Montreal did.
Ty Conklin will provide a solid back-up to Halak and will be able to step in when/if necessary.
Best Case Scenario
The St. Louis Blues return to the playoffs and they at least win a game this time. The Blues were swept by Vancouver in the first round in 2009, but the team is now more experienced and the organization’s young core is a bit older. The Blues aren’t ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup and, playing in the central division, they will be playing against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and perennial powerhouse Detroit Red Wings on a regular basis. The seventh or eighth spot should be in their grasp however. If Halak once again gets hot in the playoffs, anything is possible.
Worst Case Scenario
Halak was a one hit wonder and the Blues struggle and fail to qualify for the postseason. The team has a lot of inexperience in their line-up and that could negatively effect them when it matters most. The Blues should almost certainly be better than last year, but how much better remains to be seen.
Alex Pietrangelo is the best prospect in the Blues system, but he will more than likely see action in the NHL this year. Ian Cole is another defenseman with serious upside. He is a strong player with decent size and a good shot from the point. St. Louis’ powerplay struggled last season and Cole could be the key to solving that problem in the next few years.
All Eyes On…
Jaroslav Halak was the focus on the entire hockey world during the 2010 playoffs and that will definitely continue this season. Halak was brought in to steal games for the Blues and turn the young team into a contender. If Halak continues his strong play the Blues could find themselves in a potential playoff run this year. If Halak comes back down to earth, St. Louis could miss the postseason once again.
Don’t blow it
Even a little bit
‘Cause now you’re all mine
Don’t you forget it
Time after time
It’s just too much to take
I’ve waited so long
Just to get to this place
And finally it feels like
The lost was found
You got me filled up now
Dont let me down
- No Doubt “Don’t Let Me Down”