Last year we picked the St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup, but while we’re not going to take that leap again, we still think this team can take down the Central Division in the regular season. They have depth and they have defense – can the goaltenders hold up?
2013-14 record: 52-23-7
Acquisitions: Colin Fraser, Peter Mueller, Jeremy Welsh, Nate Prosser, Chris Butler, Benn Ferriero, John McCarthy, Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarsson
Departures: Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Taylor Chorney, Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller, Roman Polak, Keith Aucoin, Vladimir Sobotka
Top five fantasy players: Alex Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Blues are as talented and well rounded as any team in the NHL on paper. They roll an excellent top-nine forward group, with two lines good enough to be first lines, whatever combinations emerge between Alexander Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and freshly signed Paul Stastny.
Their D-corps was already enviable with Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman as a top four, and the Carl Gunnarsson acquisition gives the Blues a mobile defensive defenseman. He’s a poor man’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
While Brian Elliott and Jake Allen aren’t proven as workhorse No. 1 goalies, both are more than capable performers, and the sum of their parts will make for quality netminding. Allen, the goalie of the future, has potential to run with the job and elevate the Blues to juggernaut status. Even if he doesn’t, St. Louis has the size, skill and defensive responsibility to contend for a Stanley Cup.
Bust: The egos at THN remain bruised after we picked St. Louis to win the Stanley Cup only to watch them blow a 2-0 series lead and lose in the first round for the second straight season. The Blues lack experienced playoff performers, and none of their projected starters has a Stanley Cup ring. There’s an invisible wall holding them back and threatening to make them the new San Jose Sharks, perennially falling short of high expectations.
If Allen doesn’t reward the confidence GM Doug Armstrong showed in him by letting Ryan Miller go, St. Louis doesn’t have enough in goal to win a championship. Elliott surprises year-in, year-out, but has never handled a full No. 1’s workload.
Although Stastny helps the offense, he doesn’t give it the goal-scoring threat needed against Chicago last spring. Tarasenko must continue his ascension, and it will help if youngsters Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie make the team. Otherwise, the Blues will look a lot like the same group that keeps flopping in the post-season.
Bottom Line: This is arguably the NHL’s deepest team, and it should be a serious Stanley Cup contender. However, until the Blues prove they can get out of the Central and past the first couple playoff rounds, we can’t mention them in the same breath as Los Angeles, Chicago and Anaheim in the West. Those powerhouses have five Stanley Cups between them since 2007, whereas the Blues haven’t even reached a conference final since 2001.
Prospect To Watch: It’s time for Allen to make an impression at the NHL level. A second round pick (34th overall) in 2008, Allen has been excellent in the AHL and won the “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s top netminder last season. But in 15 NHL games last season, his save percentage was only .905. And he’ll be expected to play in more games this season. Another youngster to watch is Jaskin, a second-rounder from 2011. He scored two points in 18 games for the Blues last season and is likely to be on the opening night roster.
THN’s Prediction: First in Central Division
Contributors: Matt Larkin, Rory Boylen