Grindliners

Season Preview: The Blues and St. Louis

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The Season Preview will be a running column on questions and thoughts for the upcoming season. Individual teams will be highlighted in each post.  CLICK HERE for the full list of Season Previews.

The Blues are a unique franchise in so many ways.  They’ve had unparalleled success in some respects; They’ve had some of the greatest hockey players ever, the greatest coach, and were a dominant team for several decades.  Problem is (Shark fans, is this your future?), it didn’t ever lead to a cup.  It just came really really close a bunch of times.

hallplante_display_imageHow many other franchises can say that they went to the finals their first three seasons?    Two of their first goalies were frickin’ Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante!   That’d be like Domanik Hasek and Martin Broduer sharing a net.  How crazy is that?

How many franchises can say they had the Great One, and the Golden Brett, and one of the best teams of the late 90s?  It was a great team, with great defense, great offense, everything you need. The problem is, both of their best chances ended in game 7 defeats.  One to the 8 seeded San Jose Sharks, and one to this guy:

I know Blues fans, I get it. It’s probably the last clip you want to see, but the playoffs were your silver bullet.  It felled a great team, kind of like a puck to Pronger’s chest.  What should have amounted to hockey immortality, and Gretzky’s one post-Oilers cup, amounted to a whimper.

How many franchises can say that they had a 25 season playoff streak and didn’t win a single thing (well, the Chicago Blackhawks can too.. but they’ve won since)?  Things went pretty south for a while when that streak ended.

Before the 2004 lockout, the blues had missed the playoffs a total of 3 times since they entered the league in 1967.   Since the 04 lockout?  They’ve missed the playoffs 5 times.   Luckily, the Blues have Ken Hitchcock, who is one of the best coaches in the league, and they’ve rebuilt well too.   The future appears bright again, even if they regressed from their Central division winning season in 2011-12.  A full season, with an infusion of young blood, should bring back the hard nosed, intimidating brand of hockey that the Blues were becoming known for.

They seem poised to be good for a while.  The only question is, how good?  Alex Pietrangelo was on most people’s pre-season picks for Norris trophy.  The Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak was supposed to be the league’s best tandem in net, but Halak was hurt for parts of the season and Elliott didn’t play nearly as well as he did the year before.  But they could all rebound, and the Blues could be even better.  After all, even if some of the roster had off years, there were a lot of good signs too.

Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka both took a bit of a step forward offensively last year.  The Blues got Jay Bouwmeester at the deadline, which if he develops chemistry with Pietrangelo, should make for a very formidable defense.  They’ve also improved their depth with the additions of Keith Aucoin, Derek Roy, and Maxim Lapierre.   It’s a formidable roster, assuming the core rebounds.

The guy that could potentially take this roster over the top?  Vladimir Tarasenko.  If he remained healthy, he would have been your Calder winner.  Hands down.  He was one of the more exciting and dynamic forwards for the first 20 games of the season, and if that’s what the Blues are going to get out of him consistently, he’s going to make them a hell of a team to play again.   Perhaps even good enough to erase the memories of so many seasons being almost good enough.  When this is your second NHL goal ever… yeah, you’re probably going to be alright:

So, while last year looked like a step backwards, it must be acknowledged that we’re dealing with a smaller than normal sample size, with some extenuating circumstances (injuries to key players like Tarasenko and Halak). They will likely be better this season and looking like an improved version of the team they were in 2011-12.

 Optimism rating (out of 5) 3.5

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