The Blues’ disappointing playoff defeat doesn’t do justice to how awesome the regular season was. Last season was highly regarded as one of St. Louis’ most exciting hockey seasons in years. The level of excitement for the Blues was simply through the roof. After the Blues started off at 6-7-0 and Ken Hitchcock took over, they quickly became one of the toughest teams in the league. They posted the second best point total of any Blues team ever at 109, and had a 49-22-11 record. They certainly weren’t the scariest offensive team, but they were first in the league in goals against average at 1.9 GAA per game. They were a dominating defense with a fantastic duo of goalies, and had consistant physical play from their forwards. Though the eventual Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings skated by the Blues in the playoffs, the team had some great closure to the season after winning a handful of awards. Ken Hitchock took the Jack Adams award for Coach of the Year, Doug Armstrong won the General Manager of the Year, and goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed. Captain David Backes was a Selke Award finalist. With nearly every key piece intact, along with some additions, the Blues are primed for a season even better than last year.
It is a truly difficult task to label only a couple of “key players” on this Blues roster. This is because the Blues were one of the most balanced and deep teams last season. Though there are the role players who are differentiated from the top talent on the team, the list of key players is still long. This core group includes David Backes, TJ Oshie, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Andy McDonald, Jaroslav Halak, and Brian Elliot. Ken Hitchock and the team made it clear that this team requires no “superstar” player. Sure, a handful of these players might be worthy of that title on a different team, but in St. Louis they truly play as a single unit. Other second tier players such as Alexander Steen, Roman Polak, and Chris Stewart are also extremely important to keeping the wheels of this team in full gear. Though it may sound like it isn’t fun to not have a “superstar,” Blues fans know how awesome it was to watch this team play at its top level.
St. Louis fans are certainly in the midst of some offseason Blues. Any tiny rumor of a potential signing or trade piques our interest, but as we are all well aware, any big move is probably unnecessary. What is more important is locking down some of the young talent on our team. So far, so good. The Blues were able to sign winger David Perron to a 4-year, $15.2 million deal. Now, the biggest move of the offseason that remains is the signing of TJ Oshie. Talks with Oshie weren’t as easy as fans would hope, and Oshie and the Blues will be entering arbitration, where a one-year deal will be made by a judge. Hopefully the Blues will be able to come to terms with Oshie before he enters unrestricted free agency after next season. Some smaller transactions were made, including the addition of D-man Jeff Woywitka, and the trade of BJ Crombeen for some draft picks. Nothing too major happened, though there were a couple of interesting moves including some Blues prospects. Diminutive-yet-flashy forward Ty Rattie was officially signed by the Blues this summer, along with the much hyped Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko. This was the perfect time to sign both prospects, as they will not be asked to do much other than grow with the organization. It is entirely possible that they will find some small or medium roles this season, while there is little pressure.
UPDATE: With TJ Oshie signed to a 5-year, $21 million contract, the Blues have both Oshie and David Perron signed for at least 4 years. David Perron has the potential who put up huge points, and Oshie can be a completely balanced winger or even center for years to come. Those Oshie had his most productive season, fans expect even more from him and think he can put up large numbers as well. These two signings were the biggest two moves the Blues needed to make, and they delivered. We look forward to watching Oshie’s relentless play-making and Perron’s special scoring ability for the next few years.
2012-2013 Blues Predictions
Strength: Goaltending, Physical Defense, Physical Offense, Offensive Depth, Penalty Kill
Much of the same strengths and weaknesses of last season will remain for St. Louis. I hardly need to discuss the almost certain high level of goaltending that the Blues should have next season. Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak shared playing time nearly equally and were able to pick up each other’s slack when needed. There is no reason both shouldn’t remain solid this season, and it is reassuring to think that at least one of them, if not both, will be reliable. Of course, that beautiful, league leading, 1.9 goals against average wasn’t entirely a product of our two stud goaltenders. The Blues have two wonderful defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. There are other solid options here such as Roman Polak and Barret Jackman, who both have a highly physical presence and great motors. The Blues’ physical defense blends perfectly with their physical offense. Virtually every forward on the roster is a grinder. Center David Backes epitomizes what the Blues offense stands for: a physical front that will score goals by wearing the other team down. There is no forward who is solely relied on to score for this offense, and coach Ken Hitchcock loves to rotate his lines more often then most. He isn’t scared to mix even his front line up, and can expect his players to pick each other up during rough spells. That being said, the physical presence is always expected from each player. Their success on the Penalty Kill went hand in hand with their physical, grinding style of play. The Blues were 7th in the league with a an 85.8 kill percentage.
Weaknesses: Scoring Offense, Power Play, Blue-Line Depth
Though it did not seem that the Blues cared much to have an explosive offense, it is certainly an important weakness. A little more flashiness, explosiveness, or whatever you would like to call it would have been welcomed with open arms during the post-season. This lack of explosive scoring ( the Blues were 21st in the league at 2.5 goals a game) does have some potential, if not this season, then perhaps the near future. David Perron and TJ Oshie are both young, and should be both be able to put up better offensive numbers than last season. Even younger talent such as Jaden Schwartz, Ty Rattie, and Vladimir Tarasenko are all promising young fowards who are not as physical as the current brand, but perhaps more prone to score goals. Again, these players won’t be called on too much this season, unless they find success in the little time they receive, or in the minors. This is not impossible, but it certainly won’t be expected. The Blues’ lack of Power Play success is directly correlated to the lack of scoring in the offense. The Blues were 19th in the league at 16.7%. Though the Blues have enough talent on D, there is indeed a little bit to be nervous about. As we saw at the end of the season, the Blues looked like a different team when Alex Pietrangelo was hurt. The Blues drafted Jordan Schmaltz who looks like he could be a valuable piece on the blue line. Unfortunately he is far from ready and has to develop during his time at North Dakota at the collegiate level first. While I absolutely love Pietrangelo, I am a bit worried that he seems to be the only one able to quarterback the defense. Hopefully Kevin Shattenkirk can step it up a bit more this season.
Simply put, the Blues got a little better without getting any worse. In the Central Division it seems that the other teams are a lot more shook up relative to the Blues. Unless something absolutely terrible shakes up the seemingly rock steady Blues (oh boy am I crossing my fingers), then Bluenote Nation should be having even more fun than last year. Let’s look forward to another wild ride.
52-20-10, 1st in Central Division, 3rd in Western Conference
Be sure to check out the rest of our Central Division Previews: