The St.Louis Blues are the one team that is probably compared to the New York Islanders the most among the league’s franchises. They are a hard working bunch of lunch pail type players who always seem to bring maximum effort to the rink on a nightly basis.
After finishing with the 3rd most points in the Western conference and jumping out to a two games to none lead in their opening round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, many in the hockey world, and us at Eyes as well, thought an early first round upset was in the making (and I only classify it as an upset due to the Kings defending champ status).
In the end the Blues would go on to drop the next four games in the series and making vacation plans much earlier than they expected or wanted. Finishing 17th in the NHL in goals per game leads some to believe that the Blues off-season priority would be improving the offense but that is a deceiving statistic. Conversely, they were 7th in goals against average, allowing them to win close games without the benefit of a true explosive offensive force to carry them on his own.
This summer, St.Louis resigned its leading scorer Chris Stewart (18-18-36), signed forward Derek Roy to a one year contract as an unrestricted free agent and traded enigmatic David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers for Magnus Paajarvi. What might be most needed is a bounce back offensive season from captain and unquestioned team leader David Backes, who scored only 6 goals in 48 games last year and better health from center T.J. Oshie, who ended up missing 18 games.
Where the storm clouds persist is the still unresolved contract status of restricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo, one of the best young defenseman in the game today and the muddled situation in the goal crease as the re-signing of rookie Jake Allen gives the Blues three competent goaltenders to compete for one starting job (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott). The Blues currently sit with about 8.8mm in cap space (according to capgeek.com) so you can see how giving AP a 6-7mm deal could put them tight to the ceiling in the event any moves are needed during the season. One could only assume a trade is in the works as they try to resolve both issues with one phone call.
In resuming our tour around Fansided, we had the opportunity to chat with the editor of one of the networks top hockey sites, Bleedinblue.com. Alex Hodschayan (who also was promoted to network social media director over the summer) leads his excellent staff as they bring you consistent, quality information regarding the Blues. Here is what he had to say in response to my questions…..
1. What is the Blues biggest off-season need and how do you foresee them filling it?
The Blues really need to find a playmaking center. There is a lot of talk within the organization and among the fans about the need for a natural goal scorer, but in the Blues’ system there is no telling if that would actually help the team. With the addition of a true, number one, playmaking center the Blues would finally have a set up man to use with some of the scorers this team already has. The problem in St. Louis isn’t necessarily finishing but is rather setting up plays.
While many fans would love to see the Blues trade away a couple pieces to get a big name center, I think that the Blues will try to fill the hole within the organization. If they could package a few quality players to obtain a top 10 draft pick, they might make the move, but I can’t see the Blues taking on any additional salary with Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund, and Jake Allen all in need of new contracts, not to mention the many other players looking for a new deal.
2. After scoring only 6 goals in 48 games, what happened to David Backes offensively this season?
This was an off year for Backes, but you have to think it was mainly a hangover from the lockout. While Backes was occasionally on the ice with the team for practice, he spent more time helping to negotiate a new deal for the players as well as rescuing dogs than at the rink. With a full offseason to get back into playing shape, Backes should bounce back next season.
The other big difference this season was the change in role for the captain. He was asked to be even more physical than offensively minded. I know he got a lock of flack this season, but he will be back.
3. Pegged as perennial favorites, how do the Blues get over the playoff hump and fulfill the promise?
To get over the hump the Blues are going to have to do two things; They need to have a true number one goalie and they need to find a set up man. The Blues have relied on scoring fluke goals and leaning on their goalies for far too long. If Brian Elliott would not have found his game at the end of the season the Blues would have likely not been in the playoffs to begin with. Once the goaltending gets solidified, the Blues need to focus on finding a playmaking center that can pair up with some of the young scorers this team has or with guys like Stewart who can find the back of the net.
We would like to thank Alex for his time and please go check out his site when you get a minute and pass it along to anyone you know who might be interested in learning more about the Blues hockey club.