Key Offseason Losses: Chris Mason, Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk
Key Offseason Additions: Jaroslav Halak, T.J. Hensick, Vladimir Sobotka
Last Season Ranking: 9th in West
The St. Louis Blues will continue forward this season without two of their greatest veteran leaders from the past few years. Keith Tkachuk played his final NHL game last season, and Paul Kariya will sit out the entire season due to post-concussion syndrome (and remains an unrestricted free agent). While the Blues lose a combined 31 goals and 75 points from those two players, this will provide a great opportunity for the young members of the team to finally break out and prove they can carry the load.
A lot of pressure will be put on Brad Boyes to succeed this season. His 76 goals from 2007-09 have become an afterthought as he was only able to bury 14 last season, despite playing a full 82 games. Playing alongside someone like Andy McDonald or Alex Steen should give him the perfect opportunity to rebound this year, as both are skilled playmakers. McDonald lead the Blues in points last season with 57, including 22 points on the power play. He’s had injury trouble in the past but returned to his old form last season, playing in 79 games. Steen, on the other hand, missed 14 games last season, but still managed to post career highs in goals (24), points (47) and plus/minus (+6). He will surely see some pressure to keep up that pace as well.
Youngsters such as T.J. Oshie, David Perron, and Patrik Berglund will all be expected to improve their game this season. Each player is extremely talented, and with Kariya and Tkachuk out of the picture, each will take on a larger role with the squad. While every one of these guys is capable of having a real break out season this year, I expect the quick and hard hitting T.J. Oshie to really make an impact. He’ll be entering only his 3rd season in the NHL, but should now have a good idea of what his role on the young team will be.
Leading the way on the blue line will be Erik Johnson and former Calder Trophy winner Barret Jackman. These guys will be relied on heavily to shut down the oppositions top weapons, as well as moving the puck quickly to get it into the hands of their skilled forwards. Johnson will surely see time on the power play, along with guys like Carlo Colaiacovo and Erik Brewer. Roman Polak and Alex Pietrangelo will also battle hard to earn lots of playing time, with Polak looking to increase his offensive production.
Taking over in net this season for the Blues will be newcomer Jaroslav Halak. After playing a strong season in Montreal, Halak finished even better in the playoffs. Not only did he help knock off the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals, but he also played well in defeating the former Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This was a terrific signing for the Blues, and he should help the team out significantly. If Halak falters at any point, Ty Conklin will be there to provide a steady back up.
Things are looking up for the St. Louis Blues. The youngsters are hungry for a return trip to the playoffs, after narrowly missing the mark last year. While they will miss the veteran leadership of Kariya and Tkachuk, Andy McDonald will be there to take the reigns. Health will be a big concern, as it typically is, but a few of these guys should step up and have terrific seasons. The Western Conference is always tough to battle in, but with the addition of Halak in net, I think the Blues could have what it takes to grab an 8th seed in the playoffs.