2013-14 Central Division Preview: St. Louis Blues

With training camp approaching in less than a month, we’re looking around the new-look Central Division at the Blackhawks’ opponents this year.

Earlier this week, we started with the Winnipeg Jets preview. Now, let’s look at a familiar Hawks rival: the St. Louis Blues.

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The Blues finished the 2013 regular season on a high note, winning their last three and seven of their last ten games. St. Louis posted 60 points (29-17-2) and were the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

In the first round, they skated against the defending champion LA Kings and, though they won the first two games by identical 2-1 scores, they lost the series in six games. Unfortunately for the Blues, they were only able to score ten goals in the six games, with each game finishing with a one-goal difference on the scoreboard.

Scoring was the story for the Blues the entire season. Only three players on their roster reached double-digits in goals, led by 18 goals from Chris Stewart. Six of Stewart’s goals came on the powerplay, though; the Blues scored only 83 even-strength goals in 48 regular season games, which ranked 20th in the NHL.

Their captain, David Backes, had a rough 2013 season. After scoring 55 goals in his previous two seasons, Backes found the back of the net only six times in 48 regular season games last year. And while Stewart enjoyed scoring success on the powerplay, Backes’ production with the advantage disappeared; after scoring 13 powerplay goals over his previous two seasons, he only tallied one powerplay goal last season.

One player the Blues hope will help boost their offense in a full, 82-game season will be Vladimir Tarasenko. In his rookie season, Tarasenko got off to a blistering start with five goals in his first ten games in the NHL. But a concussion cost him three weeks and he only managed seven points in 21 games after returning. He was a front-runner for the Calder before the concussion, and the Blues are looking to him for big things in a healthy 2013-14 season.

They will also be looking for improvement from Jaden Schwartz, who scored seven goals in 38 games, and TJ Oshie, who also posted seven goals in 30 games. Keeping Tarasenko, Schwartz and Oshie healthy should provide a boost to the offense in St. Louis.

The Blues made a number of moves during the offseason to address their scoring woes, most notably signing free agent center Derek Roy. They also traded David Perron, who ranked third on the team with 10 goals, to Edmonton for Magnus Paajarvi.

Unfortunately, St. Louis lost Andy McDonald to an early retirement because of concussion issues. McDonald was one of their primary powerplay components, ranking second among Blues forwards in ice time per game with an advantage (2:31) behind only Alex Steen (2:33).

Also gone from last year’s lineup will be Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and Andrew Murray. However, those three forwards only combined for one goal and one assist in 35 games, 30 of which were played by Nichol.

Replacing the departed veterans will be a couple new faces. The Blues are hoping for strong rookie performances from a couple of second round picks from the 2011 Draft. Forwards Dmitri Jaskin and Ty Rattie are considered the best bets to make the Blues roster out of training camp.

Also new to the Blues dressing room this year will be Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Bulduc and Maxim Lapierre.

The blue line has been good in St. Louis for a couple of years, and figures to stay the team’s strength for years to come. However, the best player in their deep group of defensemen, Alex Pietrangelo, remains an unsigned restricted free agent. The Blues and Pietrangelo continue talking into the middle of August.

alex pietrangelo

Pietrangelo’s situation has been complicated by deals the Blues have already given to other defensemen. Kevin Shattenkirk will begin a four-year, $17M deal this year, and Jay Bouwmeester received a five-year, $27M contract this summer (that begins in the 2014-15 season). With Bouwmeester, who will turn 30 less than a week before the 2013-14 season begins, owning a cap number of $5.4M, the Blues already have nearly $20M committed to defensemen in 2013-14 and over $18.6M for the 2014-15 season.

The Blues have a number of young defensemen that could push for a spot on the NHL roster this year as well. Joel Edmundson, Jani Hakanpaa and Petteri Lindbohm are all considered close to being NHL-ready, and could make life uncomfortable for Ian Cole and Roman Polak this season.

One handicap the Blues will have to deal with if one of the youngsters earns a promotion are the no-trade clauses owned by Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman. Jordan Leopold begins a two-year deal this season that also has a modified no-trade clause.

The core group of defensemen will try to continue the Blues solid play on penalty kill duty, where St. Louis ranked seventh in the NHL last season (84.7 percent). They also had three short-handed goals, two from Berglund and one from Oshie.

One position the Blues do not have a significant long-term financial commitment made to is between the pipes. Next season is the final year of the contracts of both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, and youngster Jake Allen is signed only through the 2014-15 season.

After a dominant 2011-12 season, Elliott and Halak came back to Earth last season. They combined for six shutouts, but struggled through rough stretches and health issues that led to Allen seeing significant playing time down the stretch.

Allen won nine of 13 games last year and posted a .905 save percentage with one shutout. Between Feb. 13 and March 16, Allen won eight of nine and pushed himself into the conversation for the starting job this season. Because of the two veterans under contract, Allen might be forced start the year in the AHL again.

The Blues combination of goaltenders finished the year ranked seventh in the NHL, allowing only 2.38 goals per game.

The Blues have a couple young goalies coming up behind Allen that could factor into their future. Jordan Binnington, a third round pick in 2011, was the best netminder in the OHL last year with Owen Sound. And Niklas Lundstrom, a fifth round pick in 2011, started for the silver medal-winning Swedish squad at the World Juniors and played 15 games for AIK of the Swedish Elite League last year.

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16 Responses to 2013-14 Central Division Preview: St. Louis Blues

  1. Tim G says:

    Im expecting a slight regression out of the Blues… but that being said, no one will want to play them, and they will give pretty much EVERYONE fits. Tarasenko is the real deal. I am excited to see how he develops. Just stinks he will be in the Central for the the foreseeable future.

    This is the one team none one will want in the first round of the playoffs. They will give you 6-7 draining games that will make the next round seem even worse!

  2. Phil says:

    The Blues remain slow on skates. This is why these guys don’t win. Their pack it in around the goalie mentality means they don’t score lots of goals unless they counter. I like some of their guys. Other guys I can’t stand, and that refers to the cheap shot brigade led by Jackman, Stewart, Backes to name just a few. I see they added Lapierre to this torpedo squad. They have some talent with Oshie, Terasenko, and some of their d men. Hitchcock though runs these guys through tough practices and the Blues play rock em sock em hockey, which eventually wears THEIR players down by seasons end. If their keepers play fantastic they are hard to play against, but then again that applies to all teams. If the Blues would settle down and play hockey instead of trying to put other teams through the boards they would win more games. They also need a new Capt. Backes is a complete hack/cheap shot artist. The apple never falls far from the tree. I always find myself rooting against this team, and that goes back to the Norris division games. They will come a runnin for us again this year so expect some lively games with these clowns as per usual.

  3. Peter says:

    Just to add on: Is there any team built better than to consistently compete for the 5,6,7 seed than the St. Louis Blues. However, I think Phil’s points get to the issue. They play such a draining style that they may never dominate a regular season. They are built to reach the playoffs and then their style kind of sucks the life out of opposing teams…except for the Kings who play the Blues’ style better with more skilled offensive weapons.

    I think the Blues could use a new captain too…the Blues and Kings have a tough decision coming up where I think each probably would like to change captains, but keep the players on the roster…that is very tough to do in the NHL.

  4. EbonyRaptor says:

    I love the picture of Backes on his knees in pain. I hope to see a lot more of that.

    The Blues have to be the team easiest to hate and that got even easier after they added Lapierre. Taking nothing away from the douchebaggery of Vancouver, because they are very hateworthy too, but when the team captain of the Blues leads the team in “intent to injure” episodes, they rightfully deserve the dubious title. At least in my opinion.

    I think the Blues fortunes rise or fall based on two things – goaltending and Tarasenko. Goaltending is obvious and the Blues need the 2011/12 Jennings Trophy twins to re-appear. But as Tab pointed out in the preview, the Blues struggle to score and they really don’t have an offensive go-to guy. It may be a lot to ask of a sophomore player who only played only 38 regular season games and 1 playoff game to be the go-to guy, but there’s really no one else on the roster to “go to”. Tarasenko needs to be past his post-concussion tentativeness and get back to sticking his nose in there and scoring some highlight reel goals.

    With the Blues d-corps they will still be a tough team to beat but unless they get more dynamic offensively and better consistency between the pipes, they will remain “just” a tough team to beat.

  5. Sr. Brad says:

    An outstanding overview by Tab and then great, great comments by eveyone else. Not much to add, as I agree with it all…can’t stand Backes and how he plays the game…the one thing I would say is that Tarasenko is NOT a lock coming off of that concussion…he simply wasn’t the same player, and may not be able the confidence he displayed in his first few games.

    Goaltending took a major step backwards last year, and without stellar goalie play, St. Louis is a glorified .500 hockey team…middle of the pack this year IMO.

  6. Sr. Brad says:

    I like the new Central division for the Hawks…we fignured out how to beat Nashville last year (separate Weber and Suter) and are too fast for the rest of the division, with the noted exception of Colorado…they have been a difficult opponent for the Hawks and with their goaltending I don’t see that changing.

    I think the Canuckleheads are going to have a hard time of it with LA, PHO and ANA adding to their regular mix…no more 15 games a year with CGY and EDM. I love our chances to come out of the West, and with BOS broken up, no one scares me in the East.

    The key for Hawks next year is to use lots of players to stay fresh over an 82 game season…when the playoffs start if guys like Hossa, Handzus, Rozy, Seabs, Keith, and Crawford are all fresh, I see us going all the way again.

    With our cap situation and the 2 way contracts with Rockford, I see us using a lot of players this season and staying fresh…at this stage of his career Hossa doesn’t need another 80 point season…stats and games played are no longer as meaningful…I would love to see the Hawks transistion Hossa into more of a specialist/situation player at this stage of his career…as we are deep enough to afford less contributions from him over the regular season…but his leadership and production in the playoffs are invaluable…the same for both Handzus and Rozy…all 3 are such good teachers, and leaders that the young guys can learn from.

    Right now, unless we transition Saad into the 2nd line Centre, there isn’t a space for him in the Top 6, and that really shouldn’t happen…as valuable as he would be on the 3rd line, he’s already proven (as a rookie) that he deserves to be a top 6 forward. Transitioning Hossa into our “Specialist” and playing 60 games, gives Saad opportunities to shine in the top 6. Having said that, a 3rd line of Shaw centring Saad and Jeremy Morin gives me lots of smiles….that’s a puck control/banging line.

  7. SSHM says:

    It sounds like I am on the other side of the fence when it comes to these guys then most. I think the Blues will rebound and have a strong season(top 3 in the West). Although I’m not sure trading Perron from a Blues perspective was a smart idea. As a Hawks fan its nice to see him leave. I like the Blues, legit goaltending, strong blueline, and good(not great) top 6. The Blues lack true game breakers besides Tarasenko. Tarasenko was fantastic in my fantasy league and is an elite scorer. STL has ALOT of minor league talent that is arriving. They have a top 5 minor league system and will continue to be one of the Hawks biggest competition. However they haven’t shown they can beat the Hawks on a regular basis which is fine by me!

  8. SSHM says:

    Tab will you be previewing all Western Conf teams or only those in the Hawks division? As you can see I follow many teams besides the Hawks because I am an avid fantasy hockey player. Also if anyone is interested in joining a fantasy hockey league either for fun or $$ please reach out to me. markmack117@yahoo.com

  9. wall says:

    I know it will not happen – unless Bickell gets into Q’s doghouse…
    but I am liking/thinking balancing lines with younger/unproven players…
    But I would not be opposed to a 3rd line of 29/Shaw/Morin or Saad…

    Saad/Smith/19/81
    10/Zus/88– (Rotating Pirri or Saad in / resting Zus)
    29/65/Morin/Saad ( Morin and Smith could be flipped)
    Hayes or 52/16/Pirri or Zus

    I can think of 4 Million reasons this will not start this way… But Balanced lines… and a Wicked 3rd line would be the result. Plus the luxury of resting Hoss, Zus, and injuries.

    Of course when Playoffs start… it would/could change depending on needs.

  10. EbonyRaptor says:

    @wall, I’m kinda with you. It’s the same reason I would rather have Pirri play 2C than Saad – so the younguns would be spread throughout the lineup. Plus I really prefer the 19-81 line over the 19-88 line.

    Having said that, there’s no argument that the 29-19-88 line turned the tide in the playoffs and there’s no denying that 19 and 88 have a great and productive chemistry.

    Then there’s the consideration of where Bickell plays. We’re all hoping that the “playoff Bickell” is here to stay and that he doesn’t take a step back into inconsistency. So is playing Bickell on the top line the right move to parlay the confidence he gained by his playoff performance or to put the question the other way – would playing him with lesser linemates cause some regression?

    Another consideration is if 19 and 81 play together moving 88 down to play with 10, then would Pirri be a good choice to center the second line? The biggest concern with Pirri is his defensive ability/committment, and while Kane has improved on the defensive side, he’s still not consistently good at it.

    Lot’s to think about but since this is the Blues preview I’ll rein it back in and say that Q can pull names out of a hat to construct the lineup and the Hawks will still beat the stinkin Blues.

  11. Sr. Brad says:

    ER, you know Q, so at some point we will likely see all of those variations. However, as you know, Bowman didn’t pay Bickell $4 million to play on the 3rd line, so you have a top 6 mix of Toews, Bickell, Hossa, Kane, Sharp, Saad, and Pirri…

    The key is Pirri…the Hawks want him to make it as their 2nd line centre as it helps them on so many levels…so if we go forward on the basis that Pirri is in the top 6, Q’s hands are tied a little with Saad (a kid he likes very much). That’s why I think Q said what did at the convention, to give himself (and Saad) some wiggle room for the new season…as I said above “demoting” Saad to the 3rd line is kind of unfair to a kid that earned the nickname “Mini Hoss” on the 1st line as a rookie. But if Pirri is that 2nd line Centre then the lines become obvious IMO…

    Bickell-Toews-Kane (Bickell gives Kane space and is strong defensively)
    Sharp-Pirri-Hossa/Saad (Sharp is Pirri’s sniper and Hoss is responsible defensively)
    Saad-Shaw-Morin (Crazy good, puck possession, take the body line)
    Smith-Kruger-Hayes/Bollig (no 4th line, but another 3rd line & Smith is no rookie)

    I will make this point again, Ben Smith shouldn’t be considered some kind of rookie experiment He would have made this team 2 years ago if not for injuries…Q turned to him as Hoss’ replacement WITH NO ADVANCE WARNING in arguably the biggest game in Hawks history…he will be Frolik’s replacement on the Hawks…Kruger’s linemate on the checking line, and the PK specialist…Smith is also very good on the PP. So for Wall and others that are concerned about a line with 2 rookies on it, that wouldn’t be the case with the 4th line…Smith is a mature, sound 25 year old who is ready to plug in and play…plus Bollig will get lots of games as well.

    Now, if Pirri does not grab that 2nd centre spot during TC and Saad becomes that guy (which I have no problem with), then the lines will change quite a bit for Q…

    Bickell-Toews-Kane (because you are paying Bicks $4 million to be a top 6 forward)
    Sharp-Saad-Hossa (that would be like another 1st line IMO)
    Smith-Kruger-Shaw (Kruger=Smith, to ensure continuity and a sure shut down line)
    Morin-Pirri-Bollig/Hayes (with obvious concerns for everyone to see)

    The first variation above means that we have 4 killer lines that roll all game long, keeping all players fresh…this would very much look and feel a lot like 2010 where game in and game out we just wore out teams with speed and talent on all 4 lines. This keeps us the freshest for the playoffs as well. So, while I am not opposed to Saad being given the 2nd centre spot, the team is MUCH stronger with him on the 3rd line.

  12. wall says:

    Once again… I understand $4M for 29… but Happy to see him w/ Shaw for incredible chemistry and balancing of lines w/ Youth… and throw 29 on the PP and he will get his 18-19 minutes… against speed teams – You could even 10-19-88 ,20-37-81 , this gives Pirri two stud defensive forwards…

    And if Kane is getting choked by D type teams… You throw 29 back on line with him like in Playoffs.

  13. Sr. Brad says:

    Believe me Wall, I am with you on this…I agree that Bickell on the 3rd line probably makes us a better hockey team, but Bowman/Q (more likely Bowman) would feel pressure to have Bickell played on a top 6 line…that may even have been discussed as part of his deal in Chicago…who knows. But I do know the following lineup makes us very, very difficult to beat…

    Saad-Toews-Hossa
    Sharp-Pirri-Kane
    Bickell-Shaw-Morin
    Smith-Kruger-Bollig/Hayes

    Obviously, we could both argue about Pirri’s linemates (and I like your line with Saad, Pirri and Hossa), but that chemistry between Toews, Hoss and Saad should probably be kept together…

  14. Tab Bamford says:

    Just throwing a potential lineup out there…

    Sharp-Toews-Kane
    Bickell-Pirri-Hossa
    Morin-Shaw-Saad
    Smith-Handzus-Kruger
    Bollig/Hayes

  15. Sr. Brad says:

    That’s an outstanding lineup too Tab…I especially like Pirri in between Bickell and Hossa…

    I kept Handzus out of my other lineups because I see Zues more of a rotational player that can and will fill in everywhere, potentially on all 4 lines…very, very valuable player to have in a repeat year…

  16. wall says:

    Tab, I like that lineup too… Q could flip Saad/Morin/Smith in place of 29 on 2nd line…
    and keep 29 on 3rd line where there is proven chemistry w/ Shaw…

    although Morin has to earn the “responsibility” to help cover Pirri’s lack of D/Strength.

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