The Blues got over a mental hump last season and would like to send Ken Hitchcock out on a high note, but they didn’t get any better in the off-season.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 3rd in Central
Stanley Cup odds: 18-1
Key additions: David Perron, RW; Carter Hutton, G
Key departures: David Backes, C; Brian Elliott, G; Troy Brouwer, RW; Steve Ott, C
-Is Jake Allen ready to be a prime-time goalie? With Brian Elliott’s contract expiring and an expansion draft looming next summer, one netminder had to go. Elliott outperformed Allen last season, but the Blues wisely invested in the younger Allen long term.
Allen’s sample size has grown from 15 to 37 to 47 games in his three seasons, and his save percentage has jumped from .905 to .913 to .920. That’s a great sign. Look for Allen to flirt with 60 starts and become a star in 2016-17.
-Can Ken Hitchcock leave on a high note? ‘Hitch’ needed a deep playoff run to remain the Blues’ coach after he signed a one-year extension last off-season following a third consecutive first-round exit. He succeeded, taking St. Louis to the Western Conference final, and GM Doug Armstrong rewarded him with another one-year pact.
Hitchcock, 64, vows to retire after this season. Can he take the Blues all the way? It helps that they cleared a mental hurdle last spring, winning two playoff series, but they didn’t get better in the off-season. The only major replacement for Backes and Troy Brouwer was David Perron. The Blues might even regress slightly unless their sophomores make major leaps.
-Who replaces David Backes’ leadership? Captain Backes’ departure leaves a void in the Blues’ room. Whose team is this now? Alex Pietrangelo was named captain in July. Vladimir Tarasenko is St. Louis’ face and most talented player, but keep an eye on Robby Fabbri, the dynamic rookie who showed tantalizing talent and moxie in the 2016 playoffs. He looks like a long-term franchise pillar. Young D-man Colton Parayko also leads the Blues’ new generation.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Central division is extremely tough to predict. When the THN staff came together to make the collective predictions for the upcoming season, deciding the top four in the Central was by far the lengthiest and most heated discussion. Game Score thinks that the division is St Louis’ to lose, but it’s so close that any of Dallas, Nashville, or Chicago could reasonably take it, too. On average, there’s only about 2.3 points separating the four of them. That’s about as tight as it gets.
At 98.6 projected points though, the Blues are the lowest for any projected division winner. Part of that is the tougher schedule faced by Central teams, while the other part is that each team atop the Central is flawed in some way that puts them below the other elite teams in the league. Dallas and Nashville have suspect goaltending while Chicago has depth issues. In St. Louis’ case, it’s a bit of both, but not at the same scale.
St Louis’ top nine forward group is exceptional, but the duo of Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves is a real drag. The top ‘D’ are phenomenal, but Carl Gunnarsson’s play has taken a severe hit and Jay Bouwmeester is in way over his head on the top pair. Then in net the team opted for Jake Allen over Brian Elliott which is probably the right decision in the long run, but the wrong one for the present. Goalies are fickle and he can prove otherwise this season, but he hasn’t been anything special in the NHL yet.
Those are the flaws, but the team still has a bevy of strengths that bring them up. The top three D-men are the team’s biggest trump card. Colton Parayko was a revelation as a rookie last season and is the real deal as one of the league’s next best D-men. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo round out one of the best trios of defensemen in the league.
Up front, Vladimir Tarasenko is a superstar, while the team has some extremely capable options for the top three lines at their disposal. This could be a big year for Robby Fabbri who should get a bigger role with the departures of David Backes and Troy Brouwer.
Those two along with Elliott are huge holes to fill, but the Blues are still an extremely talented group that should be able to build on last years Western Conference final loss to San Jose. In the Central division gauntlet though, it’ll be a battle to get there.
Up next: Dallas Stars
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