No one is sitting here saying the St. Louis Blues weren’t a great story last year. They started out just 6-7-0 under Davis Payne, due to a number of issues, and hired Ken Hitchcock instead. After losing seven of the first 13 games they played, they went on to lose just 15 more over the course of the season, allowing the fewest goals ever in an 82-game campaign, tying for second in the league and winning the division traditionally dominated by the Chicagos and Detroits of the world.

But what you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, then take from all that success — and there was a lot of it, at least until they were gutted by the Kings in the second round — is a belief that because of the team’s previous extraordinary, improbable winning, it will be able to improve to become the best in the West. That is, of course, what the Hockey News thinks is going to happen. The Blues, No. 1 in the Western Conference. Ahead of Vancouver, ahead of Los Angeles. Yes, predictions of pretty much any kind are stupid, but it takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to posit that this team will actually go out and win the West given a number of factors. (All this assumes, by the way, that we’ll play an 82-game season in 2012-13, which I know we absolutely will not, so you can go ahead and just hang onto those comments.)

The first is also the most obvious: They didn’t win the West last season despite literally being the best defensive team of all time. The NHL record for goals against in a season is jointly held by the 1954-55 Maple Leafs and 1955-56 Canadiens at 131. Of course, they also only played 70 games a year back then. Nonetheless, the Blues’ full-season total was just 155 — 35(!) of which were scored in 13 games before Hitchcock took over — which is a crazy number, at just 1.89 per game.

Let’s look at that more closely. We can all agree that Jaroslav Halak is a good goaltender. Is he a lock to go 1.97/.926 again next season? No, because no one ever is. Recall how bad Tim Thomas made the league’s shooters look in 2010-11, and recall his steep decline back from all-time-great numbers to those that were merely very good. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility to suppose that Halak can keep his numbers above league average for much of next season. Brian Elliott, on the other hand? He posted ludicrous numbers: 1.56/.940. And you might say small sample size, but no, he did that across THIRTY-EIGHT GAMES. It’s an amazing feat, and one that exceeds his career averages by absurd amounts. His GAA last year is more than a goal lower than his all-time number. If you think Brian Elliott can come even remotely close to putting up those kinds of stats again this season, well, you need to reassess everything you think you know about hockey, because the amount you actually know is zilch.

To be fair, these guys are backed up by an excellent defensive system with some very, very good young blue liners. And hey look, even if they tack 30 goals onto their total next season — an increase of a little less than 20 percent — they’re still top five in the league.

But what separates the teams that would have finished ahead of them, teams like the Canucks and the Rangers and the Kings and the Coyotes, is that many at least had good offenses. Yeah, LA finished 29th in goals for last season, but we all know that after Darryl Sutter took over, and then when Jeff Carter came aboard, the goals per game that team scored ballooned to north of 3.00 (only three teams in the league scored more than three goals per game last season). So St. Louis and Phoenix are more or less the outliers here, and I don’t think anyone would dare pick the Coyotes to win that division again.

The Blues, simply put, don’t have much offense to speak of, and even if they keep goals out of the net better than the bottom 85 percent of the league, that still eats away at the potential point totals they’ll be enjoying at the end of next season.

“Ah, but isn’t the Central Division appreciably worse today than it was last year, when the Blues rampaged through it for 109 points?” Sure. The Blackhawks are still backed by Corey Crawford for some reason, the Red Wings are going to be calling you to help out on their blue line any day now, the Predators lost offense and obviously Ryan Suter, and Columbus is, well, it’s Columbus. This is, to be sure, a definitively mediocre division. The Blues are going to win it, and could do so in a relatively easy walk. But your clearinghouse for all things “Great Team Beating Up a Terrible Division” begins and ends where it has the last two seasons: Vancouver, British Columbia.

By the Hockey News’ own predictions, the Central will produce four playoff teams (guess which one is sitting on the sidelines). Even if you don’t buy that, and you shouldn’t, it’s pretty easy to see the stratification here. By contrast, it says the Northwest will produce two playoff teams at most — the other is Minnesota, which ain’t there yet, dawgs — and those teams get the benefit of playing teams Nos. 12-14 six times a season. Unless everyone in the Central instantly becomes worse than everyone in the Northwest, which will never ever happen, then it’s pretty impossible to see how a team that doesn’t score and needed an all-time great defensive showing to finish second in the West last year improves on that performance.

None of this, by the way, even gets into how good the Kings can be next season which, you’ll again note, is “very good indeed.”

Again, I’m not saying the Blues are going to be bad next year, or even that they won’t be good. Last year’s team was a great one, but its performance wasn’t something you can replicate. So no, of course they’re not going to win the West, or probably even come close.

Comments (18)

  1. Then who is going to win the West, Mr. Know-It-All?

  2. So, the Blues absolutely will not replicate a season-long demonstration of being very good, but you hint knowingly at “how good the Kings can be next season” based on a historically torrid end of season and playoff run? And of course the Blues’ offense won’t be helped by the fact that 3 of their best offensive players were out for 20+ games last season?

    I’ll play the stereotypical Lambert snark card here and say, Oh yeah, that makes perfect sense.

    I agree that it’s unlikely the Blues replicate their defensive performance of last year. But the offense almost can’t help but step up a notch this year. It wouldn’t take much — one or two players recovering from sub-career-average years and the fact that nearly all of their important players are nearing (but still on the ascending side of) peak age.

    I don’t think they’re a lock to win the West, and I don’t underestimate the Kings or Canucks — but the “requires a suspension of disbelief” crap is unnecessary.

    What requires a suspension of disbelief is that I still bother reading your articles.

    • I wanted to say basically this. But that was such an expertly-crafted, brilliantly-articulated comment, I will merely state that I concur and well done, sir.

  3. Not that St Louis will be an offensive juggernaut by any means, but they were without 3 top 6 forwards for extended amounts of time last year. Being healthy and adding Tarasenko will increase their offensive production. They probably won’t be able to replicate the defensive stats from last year, but they won’t need to as they will score more.
    I find it funny you neglected to mention any of the reasons why their offense lagged last year and will improve in 2012-2013 but only listed reasons their defense can’t repeat last years stats, very shoddy writing but I guess you have to ignore things in order to try and prove you point.

  4. As a blues fan, I really want them to go out an prove you wrong. Also as a Blues fan, I know that either the season will be cancelled, Backes will get injured, in addition to Perron, McDonald, and Steen like last year, Pietrangelo will get injured, or Halak and Elliot will be injured at the same time. Most likely all the injuries will occur after the season gets shortened so there is no time for them to recover from their injuries.

    I think the Hockey News figured that the Pacific and Northwest would be more competitive than the Central thus decreasing the “easy” points the Kings and Canucks would get. They just made the mistake of having 4 of the Central teams in the playoffs which goes against that idea. I also do not see 4 teams in the Central making it.

  5. Blues = Overrated.

    Don’t get me wrong, they’re a good team with some potential…a playoff team for sure, but certainly not elite.

  6. What’s funny though is that most of the Blues losses came against the teams in the Central. So if the Central got worse, the Blues should do better overall.

    2-2-2 against Nashville
    2-3-1 against Detroit
    2-3-1 against Chicago

    Plus, there should be added offense if McDonald, Perron, and Steen can play close to a full season. Also, Tarasenko is projected to do well. No real way for the offense to get worse.

  7. Elliott was already regressing against the Kings last year, so I don’t think that it’s much of a stretch to say that he’s going to continue to revert to form in a new season.

    They’ll probably give up… 30 more goals? That doesn’t do wonders for a projected winning percentage.

    • Elliott also did not have Halak there to help out when he was struggling. Elliott had not played more than 4 games in a row before that series. All season the goalies were rotating so that when one looked like they were not as sharp, the other goalie went in. As soon as that went away, Elliott was shaky.

      Also, I can see them giving up 30 more goals, but I also see them scoring 45 more goals. 3 top forwards missed half the season each. When McDonald got back, the team scoring increased by a goal per game. While I do not expect that pace this upcoming season, I project at least 10 more goals for Perron, McDonald, Stewart, and most likely Steen. I also see Tarasenko scoring at least 45 goals. I think it will all even out to about the same winning percentage.

      • Huh? You see Tarasenko scoring 45 goals?? Last rookie to score 45 goals was Ovechkin; if you think Tarasenko is in the same offensive realm as Ovechkin… you need help.

        • Totally meant to write 5 to add to the 10 each for the other 4 mentioned forwards to add up to the 45 that I had stated earlier. Wow, that completely changed the point of that statement.

          Realistically, I see Tarasenko scoring 20 goals. That was the average the last group of rookie Blues forwards scored.

  8. Lol alright, that makes more sense. Sorry about the harsh reaction… it just didn’t make sense to me.
    20 is hopeful but I’ll agree that he could make it, the kid is incredibly talented and has been playing in the 2nd best league in the world for a while.

    • Was meant as a reply to Colleen of course… The Score really needs to get an edit function sometime!

    • Actually Tarasenko has posted better numbers in khl then the great ovechkin. At younger age, even playing in a more compete khl.

      Author should study more about saint Louis they great Team with best rookie next year.

      • Steen – Backes – Oshie
        Perron – McDonald – Tarasenko
        Schwartz – Berglund – Stewart
        Sobotka – Nichol – D’Agostini/Langenbrunner

        Looks like one of the deeper forward corps in the Western Conference to me… goals shouldn’t be too hard to come by, even with all the Hitchcockian attention to defense.

        As others have mentioned, Tarasenko put up gaudy numbers without much help on a very bad team in a very defensive (clutch & grab) league… the equivalency numbers bode well for Calder Trophy-worthy debut.

  9. Where is the Penguins aren’t going to win the east story? I can make a stronger case against them winning the east than against the Blues winning the west.

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