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Greg Wyshynski

NHL 2010-11 Season Preview: Wrestling with St. Louis Blues

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene ...

Last Season (40-32-10, 90 points; fourth in the Central; ninth in the Western Conference)

The St. Louis Blues' finish in the West was, on paper, not all that bad. Until you realize they were a playoff team the previous season and that their putrid play, especially on home ice, cost coach Andy Murray his job.

It was a season of significant injuries, underwhelming performances and a missed opportunity to build on the previous season's success. That led to a summer of change: Veterans who departed, a coach who became permanent and a trade for a potential franchise goalie.

Can the Blues get back to the postseason?

Key Subtractions

The Blues saw a generational shift this offseason: Gone were Paul Kariya(notes), who was unsigned and then announced he'd miss the season with post-concussion symptoms, and Keith Tkachuk(notes), who retired.

Free-agent goalie Chris Mason(notes) moved on after the Blues traded for Jaroslav Halak(notes), going to the Thrashers for two years and $3.7 million. Key special teams player Mike Weaver(notes) signed with the Florida Panthers.

New Additions

The Canadiens' choice was the Blues' gain: Jaroslav Halak, acquired for 2007 first-round pick Lars Eller(notes) and Ian Schultz(notes), immediately elevated the Blues' goaltending into one of the best in the West.

Vladimir Sobotka(notes) arrived via trade with the Bruins, a victim of their numbers game at center. TJ Hensick(notes) came over from Colorado after failing to meet expectations with the Avs.

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Wrestler That Best Personifies the Team

The Miz. Found some success ahead of schedule, but now the world waits to see if he's just a young brash talent or someone with championship potential.

Forwards

There's undeniable talent at this position. It's just a matter of this generation finding its stride on the score sheet.

David Perron(notes) is a perfect example of that. He scored 20 goals last season for the first time, skating with center Andy McDonald(notes), who led the Blues with 57 points. Can Perron go higher than 20, or is that the cap?

T.J. Oshie(notes) scored 48 points last season. Alex Steen(notes) had a breakout year with 47. How high can they go? In the cases of David Backes(notes) (31 goals down to 17), Brad Boyes(notes) (33 goals to 14) and Patrick Berglund (73 points), they're all coming off years of offensive decline.

Jay McClement(notes) and BJ Crombeen(notes) are essential grunts and great on the kill. Vladimir Sobotka could be an X-factor down the lineup.

Cam Janssen(notes) is your resident pugilist, and has vowed to never make a match over Twitter again.

Defense

Barret Jackman(notes) led the Blues in ice time (22:40), finishing with 17 points and a plus-3. His primary partner was Roman Polak(notes), who is neither Italian nor Polish (discuss.)

Erik Johnson(notes) rebounded from the knee surgery he needed after that dastardly golf cart attack to post 39 points in 79 games. He was pretty muchthe only defenseman worth a damn on the power play (15 points.) Eric Brewer(notes) was a minus-17 and was limited to 59 games, but what a leader.

Carlo Colaiacovo(notes) was solid last season, scoring 32 points in 67 games and giving the Blues a good puck-mover on the blue line. Alex Pietrangelo(notes) will make a serious push for NHL ice time this season, and Ian Cole(notes) is one of the franchise's top defensive prospects.

Goaltending

Jaroslav Halak's playoff run with the Montreal Canadiens earned him comparisons to Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy until the hockey world simultaneously realized those guys actually played for a Cup. And hey, they won them, too!

Still, Halak showed he can carry a team when needed in a postseason tournament, following up a regular season in which he posted a 2.40 GAA, five shutouts and outplayed Chosen One Carey Price(notes). His 43 starts were a career high, and having Ty Conklin(notes) to help shoulder the load will prevent Halak from getting overwhelmed by the regular-season grind. Provided he isn't overwhelmed by his newfound fame and the expectations of his contract.

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Match We'd Pay To Watch

Inglorious Backes vs. Team Canada. American Hero David Backes gets a chance to finish what he started by taking on the rest of the gold medal winners.

Breakout Player

Patrik Berglund(notes) had 47 points as a rookie, then plummeted to 26 last season. Coach Davis Payne says Berglund is "bigger, faster, stronger getting into training camp. He's a guy that based on the numbers last year we should see improvement from."

Potential Flop

We'll turn the mic over to Jeff Gordon of the Post Dispatch:

Alex Pietrangelo, D: The Blues won't go anywhere until they plug in their power play and generate more offense from the blue line. The team drafted Pietrangelo to serve those purposes, but he spent the last two seasons floating between the NHL and junior hockey. He wasted a lot of time watching games. Now it's time to play. Will Alex get after it or will he lope around? Will he adapt quickly to the pro game or will he need a full season at Peoria?

If he earns the chance, he could solve more than a few problems for the Blues. He has impressed at times in the preseason. But there's still a chance he could end up in the AHL, now or during the season.

Finishing Move

If took forever to collect the Islanders' clothes off the ice after Perron undressed them.

Special Teams

The Blues were No. 1 in the NHL on the kill (86.8 percent) but lost their top penalty killer in ice time (3:59) in Mike Weaver. Jackman was second with 3:47, and Jay McClement was the leader at forward (3:44). The Blues were 20th on the power play at 16.9 percent, one year after finishing seventh. And that's how Andy Murrays get fired.

Coach/GM

Davis Payne had a 23-15-4 record after being named interim coach and earned the full-time gig because of it. Everyone praises him for paying extraordinarily close attention to detail, which is a polite way of saying "anal retentive," we suppose. His system also directs most of the action toward the opposing net, which the Blues hope results in a few more goals this season.

GM Doug Armstrong got aggressive in trading for Halak, but remained committed to team president John Davidson's dogma of meticulously building the Blues' success with their young players. Perhaps some of the ownership issues facing the franchise prevented additional moves to add some pop up front and one more quality veteran defenseman on the blue line.

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: C+
Defense: B-
Goaltending: B
Special Teams: B
Coaching: B
Management: B-

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

Halak should be an upgrade in goal, but that wasn't necessarily the Blues' problem last season. Offense was, however, so their success will hinge on whether a slew of players like Brad Boyes, Patrik Berglung, T.J. Oshie and David Backes can find the back of the net more often. The power play needs to be better; the home-ice record needs to be a hell of a lot better. But in the Western Conference, the Blues are part of a group of about 10 teams that could jump over the playoff bubble or finish in the lottery. Something tells us the Blues are more likely to be a playoff team than an also-ran.

Entrance Music for 2010-11 Season

If it's the Blues you want, then why not go big: The plodding, stanky blues theme of The Big Show ... who, like St. Louis, is always making his opponents look more impressive than they are.

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