ST. LOUIS BLUES
2008-09: 41-31-10 (6th in the West - Eliminated in Conference Quarterfinal by Canucks)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 12th
General Manager: Larry Pleau (13th Season)
Head Coach: Andy Murray (4th Season)
What They Did In The Off-Season:
The Blues took care of most of their housekeeping prior to the opening of free agent season, locking up veterans Keith Tkachuk, Jay McClement, Mike Weaver and Brad Winchester, buying out Jay McKee and letting Jeff Woywitka leave via free agency. Ty Conklin was brought in for some additional insurance in net and the Blues also took a chance on blueliner Brendan Bell.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
After a season that started off disastrously and ended with the team's first playoff appearance since the lockout, what do the Blues do for an encore?
Prior to last season, many pundits picked the 'Baby Blues' to finish dead last in the Western Conference and suggested that head coach Andy Murray would be the first one put on the chopping block. The Blues then went through a series of mishaps that would have made Inspector Clouseau blush. Prior to training camp, defensive stud Erik Johnson was lost for the season in a freak golf cart accident.
The absurdity didn't stop there as starting netminder Manny Legace injured himself after tripping over a red carpet laid out for a pre-game ceremony involving American Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. When the team suffered devastating injuries to Andy MacDonald and Paul Kariya, it appeared that the writing was on the wall. But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Blues took another path. They took their game to another level.
Murray willed every ounce of effort from every man on the roster, as his club climbed the Western Conference standings to finish sixth and earn a playoff berth. While they were swept away in four games by the Vancouver Canucks, hockey fans in the Gateway City had something to be optimistic about for the first time in a long time.
In a strange way, losing in four straight games might have been the best thing that could happen to the Blues in the sense that it showed some of the team's promising youngsters what it takes to win in this league. With Johnson, Patrik Berglund, B.J. Crombeen, T.J. Oshie and David Perron already in the lineup and Lars Eller and Alex Pietrangelo on the way, the Blues have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young talent.
The problem with young talent is that they often start believing in their own hype. A four game walkover at the hands of the Canucks should serve as a wake up call for a group that could have become complacent with what they have already achieved. Murray will face a big challenge this season in keeping his team focused on the ultimate goal.
Player to watch:
Some eyebrows were raised when centre Andy MacDonald received an invite to Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August. He initially seemed an odd choice, but when you analyze the situation you can see the thinking of Team Canada's brass. MacDonald is a solid playmaker and power play specialist with great wheels. And he was a point-per-game performer when he was healthy. He also has a championship resume, as he helped the Anaheim Ducks capture the Stanley Cup in 2007.
While MacDonald remains a long shot to make the Olympic squad, he now has added motivation to put up a big season with the Blues. A full campaign of riding shotgun to Brad Boyes and David Backes means that the Strathroy, Ontario native has a real chance to post the best statistical season of his career. He will also be looked at as one of the leaders in a very young Blues dressing room. The young legs may carry this club, but the veteran experience will make sure that they are pointed in the right direction.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
A young team on the rise, with a dash of veteran savvy to lead the way, the St. Louis Blues will be a team to watch in 2009-2010, both for increased expectations on the ice and, not coincidentally, improved fantasy value for their individual players.
An offensive leader for the Blues, 27-year-old Brad Boyes has tallied 76 goals while playing every game over the last two seasons. The 27-year-old is in his prime, so that kind of production ought to continue, but his value would increase if he was significantly better than last year's minus-20.