Fresh ice. Sharp skates. Soft hands. You know what that means folks? Hockey is back! 30 teams are ready to take the ice in their respective cities and compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
While 30 teams will compete for the cup, only a handful of teams have a realistic chance of winning the cup. Luckily for those of us who bleed blue, our boys in the note have a real shot at being a cup contender this coming season.
After two straight playoff defeats at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, there is no denying the Blues’ hunger to bring a cup back with them to old St. Lou at season’s end. This team has a serious desire to reward the loyal fan base with the first cup in franchise history.
With few subtractions from last years’ team and a couple of solid additions, the teams’ stock is on the rise heading into opening night.
The team lost David Perron, Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Scott Nichol up front along with Kris Russel on the back end. Outside of Perron and McDonald, these players were not major contributors to the team’s success last season due to either injuries or the sheer depth at their respective positions in the organization.
The loss of Perron set off lots of fans, but Magnus Paajarvi, whom the Blues received in the trade, possesses the skills to be a great player. He is a former top ten pick who got lost in Edmonton’s arsenal of skilled, young forwards.
Many Blues fans adored Perron, but he simply was not a fit under the teams’ current system. Paajarvi plays a more solid two-way game than Perron. Paajarvi will mesh well with his new team when it is all said and done.
The loss of McDonald opens up more opportunities for young, skilled wingers like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. It also allowed the team to go out and get more depth at the center position this offseason.
The team went out and signed a legitimate playmaker in Derek Roy this past summer. Roy brings an impressive resume to St. Louis this season.
He posted 81 points in 78 games back in the 2007-2008 season. He followed that up by posting almost 70 points in back-to-back seasons. He then kicked off the 2010-2011 on a torrid pace by posting 35 points in his first 35 games, but a torn quad would end his season.
Roy struggled coming back from the injury in 2011 and was traded that following offseason to Dallas. He looked great to kick of the season in Dallas, posting 22 points in 30 games for the Stars. He was dealt to the Canucks at the trade deadline and mustered six points in 12 games on a team he could never really find his groove on.
There are some worries with Roy, there is no denying that. However, when he’s on his game, he is one of the better playmakers in the league. Getting him on a one year deal at a cheap price could end up being a steal for the Blues.
Roy was not the only center the Blues snagged from Vancouver as well. They signed a very pesky player in Maxim Lapierre as well.
Lapierre is your classic pest out there on the ice. Just ask Coach Ken Hitchcock who described Lappy as, “A guy you love to have on your team, but hate to play against as the opposition.” Lapierre has typically been a third line center, but the depth of the Blues up front will relegate him to one of the best fourth lines in hokey.
Lastly, the Blues brought in veteran Brendan Morrow during training camp. Morrow is a former captain and a great leader. He plays a scrappy game but also has the ability to put up some points. You really could not find a player who fit Coach Hitchcock’s system better.
With these acquisitions, the Blues boast one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL. Do they lack an “elite” scorer? Yes. However, they will throw out four lines that can hang with any teams best units.
On the back end of the ice, this team is quite possibly the best in the league. Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo are one of the best defensive pairings in the league. Behind them is two more great pairings featuring Kevin Shattenkirk alongside Jordan Leopold and Roman Polak with Barrett Jackman.
Teams will struggle greatly to even be able to get the puck towards the Blues net. If it gets there though, teams will have to beat Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott.
Halak was plagued by injuries in 2013, but he is poised to have a big breakout. He stayed in St. Louis this past summer to train. Jaro has cut a lot of body fat and is in the best shape of his life. There is some risk with him, but he just may have a huge season for the team.
Elliott on the other hand is an extremely solid backup. When he is forced into the spotlight, Ells has struggled mightily. However, when in a tandem role with Halak, he is superb. That tandem yield a NHL record .940 save percentage for Elliott is 2011-2012. Despite his struggles early last season, he was excellent down the stretch for the team, helping them go from a team on the bubble to the number four seed in the conference.
If one of these two falters like last season, youngster Jake Allen will be ready to come up at any time to help the team get back on track. Allen is one of the best goaltending prospects in the league and held more than his own last season with the big boys.
Heading into opening night, all signs are pointing up for this Blues team. They will certainly face challenges, especially from division rival Chicago, but they have all the tools to compete for a cup.
When the puck drops later tonight, a new journey begins for the team, and this new journey can be described with one simple phrase. Stanley Cup or bust.
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