When it comes to preseason hockey, even the most die-hard fans often groan or shrug their shoulders. This preseason has added significance for the St. Louis Blues as they try to hit the ground running.
When the 2016-17 season ended for the St. Louis Blues, once the dust settled and the disappointment subsided, we had a chance to come to a realization. The 2017-18 team had an interesting opportunity that its predecessor did not.
The 2017-18 Blues have a chance to go into the season with a full preseason with their “new” head coach, Mike Yeo. While that might not sound all that important, just imagine what Yeo could have done with a full year behind him last season as opposed to being thrust into the spotlight mid-season.
Yeo did a fantastic job as is. He took a team in the midst of a terrible slump – one of the worst we’ve seen in many years – and made the Blues a legitimate contender again.
Yeo did all that without the benefit of really being able to implement his own power play systems or zone entry plans. He did it without being able to have detailed plans for every nuance.
Yeo said himself, at the time, that he was going to keep things simple. The team was going to go back to basics and he would tweak what they were already doing.
Now, he has the benefit of having seen what went right and what went wrong, in real time in actual game scenarios. Yeo can now come into this preseason full of ideas and actual ways to change the Blues style without the worry of how slowly it might adapt or how off balance it might make the team.
Make no mistake, the Blues are not going to look like a completely different team. The personnel is largely the same, so we are not going to see a second coming of the 1998 Detroit Red Wings here.
However, a full offseason and preseason with Yeo really gives the Blues a chance to fire out of the gate. While they don’t have the aspect of playing hard for a new coach, they do have the benefit of knowing what they need to change and what he expects of them.
Compare it to the NFL. A second year quarterback will play much better and have a much greater grasp of the playbook once he has the experience behind him and knows what the staff expects of him.
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The same can be said of the Blues now. They know in what ways Yeo is different to Hitchcock. It won’t be like the original plan where Yeo would be the new guy, since they’ve already had a chance to experience his coaching style. They can simply implement his gameplans to full effect.
For his part, Yeo is also glad to have gotten the pleasantries out of the way and be able to focus on a new year. “I remember walking into the locker room the first day last year and you don’t know who the players are,” Yeo told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s a different story when they don’t have their uniforms on, so you’re trying to introduce yourself and figure out who’s who. That was obviously quite the process to go through, to come in and learn a new organization and their personalities.”
“This year is a much different story. I feel much more confident and comfortable with this group, and I feel like we’re ready to hit the ground running,” Yeo continued. Again, there is that theme of hitting the ground running.
The Blues are going to need to do that as well. With so many teams having improved themselves on paper during the offseason, the division looks as tough as ever.
Perhaps most important will be the implementation of a new, or at least enhanced powerplay system. “I’m excited for the start of camp to introduce and add on to what we introduced last year,” Yeo said to the Post. “We started to incorporate some of the way we want to play — pace of play and little more of a speed mentality and the structure of the defensive-zone coverage — last year. Some of those things we brought in last year, but given the way the schedule was toward the end of the year, we didn’t bring in everything.”
Are these things going to make preseason games any more interesting? Unlikely. However, having a full preseason to really have Yeo’s stamp on this team is extremely important.
Yeo can now tweak lineups and get a full view of prospects without having to solely rely on the scouting reports or what his general manager is telling him. Hopefully we’ll get some of those fresh faces into the lineup, but that will work itself out in due course.
This preseason will be exciting for more than just the return of hockey. This one has a little added something as Yeo truly becomes the man in charge and can make it his team.