“Our expectations this year are high. And that means playoffs,” Blues president John Davidson told The Canadian Press on Thursday. “We don’t see a reason why we can’t make the playoffs.”
The fans seem to be sharing that view. Full season-ticket sales are way up, from 4,755 last year at this time to 8,500 when the Blues hit the ice for the first day of training camp Thursday.
“Things are going in the right direction,” said Davidson, who is in his second year as president.
It starts with Murray, the respected coach who added a third IIHF world championship gold medal to his resume last spring in Moscow. The Blues went 27-18-9 after Murray took over last season, the players responding his no-nonsense approach.
Staying healthy will be key as well. The Blues were hammered with injuries last season.
“We had a large number of guys that were hurt and when that happens, it toys with the chemistry and takes away from what you’re trying to do as a team,” defenceman Jay McKee, one of the many injured last season, said Thursday.
“With getting a guy like Kariya and getting the whole team healthy, I think we can be a darkhorse not just in our division but also in the conference,” added McKee. “One of the most important things is getting off to a good start and if we go from there we can be a dangerous hockey club.”
The Blues need to score more goals. They were ranked 26th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.54, 29th on the power play and didn’t have a single player reach the 60-point plateau.
“There’s no question the offence has to get better,” said Davidson. “Kariya will really help, no question, the health of the players as well.”
Lee Stempniak, Jay McClement, Brad Boyes and David Backes are among the youthful forwards also expected to produce.
There’s no question marks on the blue-line.
“Our defence is the strength of our team,” said Davidson.
McKee is joined by Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman, Christian Backman, Bryce Salvador and highly touted rookie Erik Johnson on a defence corps that is deep and talented if only it can stay healthy.
“Last year was just a nightmare with injuries with Backman, Jackman, Salvador, Brewer and McKee – five guys that spent substantial time either hurt or coming back from injuries,” said Davidson.
Johnson, 19, makes his much-anticipated NHL debut after being selected first overall in the 2006 entry draft.
“There’s going to be pressure on him and I think he’ll handle it,” said Davidson. “He played very, very well in the rookie tournament that was just held. … He’s got a bomb of a shot, he skates like the wind, he’s a big man. But now you’re playing a man’s game. The National Hockey League is a man’s game. So there will be some transition.
“But we’re here to make him be as good as he can be as soon as possible but doing it the right way.”
Wanting his move to the NHL to be as seamless as possible, the Blues smartly have Johnson living this season with legendary defenceman Al MacInnis – the Blues’ vice-president of hockey operations.
“Al’s a Hall of Famer, he’s a tremendous family guy,” said Davidson. “For Erik, it’s about transition, it’s about getting to the next step. And it makes sense, the nutrition will be good, he’ll have things to do. Al has a family so he can hang with the kids. A lot of times when you turn pro and you’re hanging out guys who are 35, it’s tough.
“He’s a kid that’s open to wanting to get better and he asks a lot of questions. Nobody knows that position better than Al. It’s the best way for him to kick off his NHL career.”