There was a time when the phrases "St. Louis Blues" and "playoffs" went hand-in-hand, but now you need to add the term "missing" in between there. The Blues have been golfing in April five of the six seasons since the lockout, and seem to have been in a constant state of rebuilding for the last six years.
We make a lot of jokes around here about the Blues and how their fans constantly over-inflate their importance within the division. It's been a long time since the Blues were contenders in the Central, but there are some who believe that the Blues will make a serious run at a playoff spot this year.
Do the Blues have what it takes to get back to the postseason, or will they be singing that same sad song they've been singning for the last 6 years. Follow the jump to find out.
Last season for St. Louis was marked by a long stretch of mediocrity bookended by a strong start and a frantic finish. At the start of the year, it looked like the Blues' offseason trade of Jaroslav Halak was the most brilliant trade of all time and that he was a shoo-in to win the next 5 Vezina Trophies. Unfortunately, he hadn't played the Wings yet, and this goal broke the bubble and showed that Halak was indeed human after all. A slow descent in the standings precipitated a huge trade in February when they sent Erik Johnson and Jay (Selke) McClement to Colorado for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. They finished the season strong, but it was too little too late.
Key Stats in 2010-11
Points: 87 (20th NHL, 11th West)
Goals For: 236 (10th NHL)
Goals Against: 228 (18th NHL)
Power Play: 18.6% (10th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 81.7% (18th NHL)
Offense: As much as we all laughed at the Blues (except for that one night that we dare not speak of in March) for their struggles, their numbers were not that bad for a team that finished as low as they did in the standings. They were hampered by the losses of Andy MacDonald, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, the latter due to a hit from Joe Thornton that resulted in a 2 game suspension. Their absences hampered an offense that did not have a lot of depth, but the acquisition of Stewart was a huge boost, as he kicked in 23 points in 26 games with the Blues. Potential future captain David Backes was the only 30-goal scorer on the team, but a healthy Oshie, MacDonald and Perron along with a full season of Stewart should make the Blues a better team at the top of their roster.
The arrivals of Arnott and Langenbrunner should give the Blues some depth scoring that was severely lacking, and also indicates that GM Doug Armstrong believes it's still 2003 when both players were still consistently effective. A key player to watch on the Blues is Patrik Berglund, who is only 22 but was the Blues' second leading scorer last year.
On the blueline, rookie Alex Pietrangelo kicked in 43 points in his first full season, and will be looking to take another step forward and establish himself as the Blues' number 1 defenseman. He will likely be paired with Shattenkirk, who besides having a name that sounds like a symptom of eating bad calamari at a Star Trek convention, had 17 points in his 26 games with the team, and established himself immediately as a strong offensive force from the back end.
Defense: The pair of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk (if they play together) will put up a lot of points, but Shattenkirk is known for his offense first and Pietrangelo is still developing his overall game, so it's unlikely that they will see a lot of time against the other team's top lines. The Blues are going to continue to rely on Geico-commercial reject Barret Jackman to shoulder the load defensively for the team, but the arrival of Huskins gives the Blues another big, solid defender to ward off incoming Pavel Datsyuk rushes.
Looking at the Blues' roster, one can't help but notice that the defensemen on the team are all big, Shattenkirk being the only regular that is under 6'1" and 200 lbs. There's not a lot of skill back there, however, and there are injury concerns surrounding Jackman and Carlo Colaiacavo. A serious injury to any of the Blues' top defenders will spell disaster for a team that does not have a lot of depth on the blue line.
Goaltending: After suffering through starting goalies such as Manny Legace, Patrick Lalime, and Chris Mason, the Blues seemed to find the goalie of their dreams when they traded for Halak. For the first month of the season, he was simply unbeatable, posting 3 shutouts in his first 9 games and taking the early lead in the Vezina race. However, in mid-November he gave up 13 goals in 2 games to the Avs and Wings, and he struggled with consistency over the next few months. In February, he sustained a hand injury that put him on the IR, and when he came back he finished the season strong, posting 3 more shutouts in the final month of the season.
It's no coincidence that the Blues' best results came with Halak playing at his absolute best, and anything less than that will mean the Blues are in trouble. The Blues are still waiting for Ben Bishop to show that he's ready to assume the back-up role with the big club, but they signed Brian Elliott as an insurance policy in case Bishop isn't up to the job. However, the team will rise and fall with Halak.
The Skinny: There are a number of people who believe that the Blues are a darkhorse in the West, and while I think they have an opportunity to challenge for a playoff spot, they will finish in the lower half of the conference once again and struggle to play beyond April. The biggest questions surrounding the Blues are the health of their stars, specifically Perron and whether he can return and be a contributor. The additions of Langenbrunner and Arnott are nice, but they are 2 players on the bottom of the down slope of their careers. The defense is not bad, but there are no game-changers there (yet; Pietrangelo is going to be really good), and there's no depth. Halak will once again be expected to carry the bulk of the load for the team.
Besides having a kick-ass new marketing slogan, the Blues are also changing things up by naming a new captain soon. Speculation from fans is that it's going to be David Backes, which will just give me even more reason to laugh at the Blues as I watch their big leader run around the ice trying to run at players and attempt to injure them. Either way, I think the Blues are in for a rough ride this season, and while the playoffs are a possibility, they're probably going to be spending yet another April wondering whether their local courses are open that early in the year.