State of the Franchise: St. Louis Blues
February 23, 2011 Leave a comment
Last Season: 40-32-10 (90 points, missed playoffs)
This being our third week of sports coverage on HFA, we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss a wide-variety of teams. We’ve talked about teams in rebuilding stages (Washington Nationals/Redskins) and teams looking to compete year in and year out (Atlanta Braves/Hawks and this week’s Cardinals).
But, the Blues are our first truly unique situation: remodeling on the fly, in season. Earlier this week, we covered the Erik Johnson/Chris Stewart trade that shifted the direction of the Blues entirely. Erik Johnson had long been considered the foundation for St. Louis success since he was taken first overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Now, the team is looking to move forward with strong play up front complemented by a steady defense.
This season, along with Johnson, the team has also moved their captain, Eric Brewer, as they continue to remodel the product they put on the ice night in and night out. The Blues are a team with strong scoring options, highlighted by centers David Backes (team-leading 22 goals) and Alexander Steen, who leads the team in points (45) and assists (28).
But, most important to the Blues offensive surge is the healthy of fourth-year winger David Perron. A former first round pick, Perron had put up 97 points in his previous two season (35 goals, 62 assists). Perron has been battling injuries all year, but has finally made it back to the ice and is immediately regaining his old form. In his first 10 games this year, Perron has tallied five goals and two assists while posting an impressive +/- rating of +7.
Perron, along with the acquisition of Stewart, who has posted three goals in his first three games with the Blues, plus the continued development of Matt D’Agostini, who has already set career-highs in points (27) and assists (15), the Blues have the necessary offensive pieces to compete in a loaded Western Conference.
While trading Erik Johnson seems like a step backwards for the Blues defensive squad, outsiders must first look at the Blues line-up as a whole before passing judgment. In 2008, the Blues made defenseman Alex Pietrangelo the fourth overall pick in the draft. At age 21, Pietrangelo is getting his first full season of NHL action, and is impressing everybody. He has a +/- rating of +3, along with his 33 points, all while averaging a staggering 21 minutes of ice time a night.
Also, the second player the Blues acquired in the Johnson trade, 22-year old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is fifth among rookie defenders in points (28). Paired with defensive-minded blue-liner, 24-year old Roman Polak, the Blues have maintained a young core that will only get better the more the unit plays together this season.
Between the pipes, the Blues believe they have a long-term solution for the first time in a very long time. After carrying the Montreal Canadiens to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jaroslav Halak found himself in new digs this year, playing for the Blues. In his first season as a number one goalie in St. Louis, Halak has performed well, with a win-loss record of 19-17-6 and a goals against average of 2.63.
But, due to a hand injury, the Blues have been forced to shelf Halak on the Injured Reserve list and play the likes of veteran Ty Conklin and Ben Bishop. It is unclear when Halak will be able to return from this recent injury, and the Blues will look to tread water until he is able to play once again.
For the season, it’s going to be awfully difficult for the Blues to get into the playoff picture. While they sit only five points out of the eight and final playoff seed, there are four teams sitting between them and the Los Angeles Kings. Leap-frogging four teams in the span 22 games is a tall order to ask for.
More importantly to Blues fans, though, is the constant development of this young nucleus. Yes, it is likely they won’t make the playoffs this season. But, this team is remodeling itself as the season progress, and is finally coming together as a cohesive unit with a strong direction in place. St. Louis may be only a year away from listening to some sweet Blues playoff music once again.