2014/15 Season Preview – St. Louis Blues
2013/14 Season Record – 3rd in Western Conference, 2nd in Central Division
2013/14 Season Recap
Last season started with high hopes for the Blues, with them being unanimously named as the heavy favourite to bring home the Stanley Cup. After an enormous misstep by general manager, Doug Armstrong, the Blues quickly faltered and then crumbled. The trade for Ryan Miller was the demise of the team and they experienced an ungraceful and embarrassing first round exit during the playoffs.
|Alexander Steen||David Backes||TJ Oshie|
|Chris Porter||Patrik Berglund||Vladimir Tarasenko|
|Magnus Paajarvi||Maxim LaPierre||Ryan Reaves|
|Jaden Schwartz||Paul Stastny||Dmitrij Jaskin|
|Jay Bouwmeester||Alex Pietrangelo|
|Carl Gunnarsson||Kevin Shattenkirk|
|Ian Cole||Barret Jackman|
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Paul Statsny – Many feel that Statsny is the one player who will bring home the Cup for St. Louis. He is the one who has been missing from the equation. I am optimistic with a hint of pessimism added in. I cannot help but remember Miller supposed to be the missing link and we all know how that turned out!
Jeri Lehtera is also thought to be a key addition to the line-up. He is bringing his experiences from the KHL with him and should add some much needed depth to team.
The loss of Vladimir Sobotka will be felt for much of the season and the forwards that have been brought in will be compared to him and his tenacity and propensity for making excellent plays. When Sobotka defected to the KHL it looked like the Blues were going to have to scramble to make up for the loss; with the addition of Statsny though, they may be able to fill the void.
The trade of Roman Polak is also going to hurt the Blues this season. He may have been categorized as a “stay-at-home” defenseman, but he was a solid player who showed up for work each day and gave 100% no matter what. In return the Blues gained Carl Gunnarsson who has bad hips and will not be as solid as Polak. With his hip problems, he may be spending more time on the bench than on the ice.
The forwards look strong and are certainly capable of taking the team far. There are additions that could have ego clashes with hometown heroes. There will need to be definitive leaders emerge among the forwards to take control and give a steady presence on the ice and in the locker room. Alexander Steen and David Backes have the ability to be strong leaders, but emotions and expectations could break them and cause the team to stumble.
The focus last season for the defensemen was to move up into the play and make things happen. Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo really excelled at this style of play. Barret Jackman along with Kevin Shattenkirk also impacted plays when they were on the ice. It will be interesting to watch them find their groove and learn how to work together this season.
With Ryan Miller getting the boot and Brian Elliott being handed the number one job, there will need to be major adjustments made. Elliott has been back-up for too many years to be fully able to take the reigns from the start. It is going to take him some time to settle in. Jake Allen has been steady when called upon by the Blues and he should provide excellent support for Elliott. If the Blues are patient and give Elliott time to get his feet under him, he could perform well for them as will Allen throughout the season.
There are actually two key players for the Blues: David Backes and Brian Elliott. Backes has the ability to be the leader that the players desperately need. He can tend to be an emotional player though and that feeds the team’s insecurities and need for retribution when they feel slighted. A level head is the best way to lead or you will be taking your team down a disastrous path. Backes’ growth over the off-season will be paramount to the ability of the team to be successful.
Elliott will have the biggest challenge. He is moving from a back-up goalie into the top spot. He has been working through the off-season to get his body into shape for this challenge, but the hardest part will be the mental test that he will have to face game after game. His team will have to show him that they have trust in him and in turn he has to give them a reason to believe in him.
The 2014/2015 season is a season of rebuilding – it is also a do or die season head coach for Ken Hitchcock. Everyone expected him to bring the Stanley Cup home when he was hired. We are now three seasons under his tutelage with no Cup and very disappointing playoff runs.
I think that the Blues will have a good year with many bumps along the way as players get used to each other and learn each other’s style. I can see them making the playoffs and making teams sit up and take notice but I do not see them making a big splash. Their ability to go far in the playoffs will be dependent on the strong leadership that will emerge on and off the ice.
With an inexperienced goalie and another goalie that is not used to the vigor of the number one spot, it will be interesting to see how their teammates adjust to help their goalies through the season. The dynamics of the team will evolve as the goalies become more comfortable within their new roles.
The first month or so of the season will be a “getting to know you” time for the players and coaches. As the team rebuilds, I look for many missteps and also some flashes of home. As they learn more about each other, they should be able to come together as a team, especially with Hitch at the helm.
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