NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy (See Also Blues Eulogy): Third in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference (41-31-10, 92 points). Expected to be a team on the rise as they developed their youth last season, the Blues became a team to watch as they fought back last place in the Western Conference in mid-February to finishing as the sixth seed. The momentum heading into the playoffs wasn't enough despite the bold prediction of a certain Yahoo! blogger. Meeting up with Vancouver in the first round, the Blues ran out of steam (no thanks to their power-play going 1-for-24) and were swept in a series that saw three of the four games be decided by a goal.
Entering the 2009-10 season with a young core looking to lick their wounds from an early postseason exit, St. Louis will be better with the returns of winger Paul Kariya(notes) and defenseman Erik Johnson(notes) as well as the further development of T.J. Oshie(notes), David Perron(notes), David Backes(notes), and Patrik Berglund(notes).
Team President John Davidson has stuck to his plan of rebuilding the Blues franchise and didn't jump at the chance to throw a large money contract at a prime free agent over the summer. Focused on building from within and picking their spots when pursuing free agents, St. Louis is reaping the benefits of smart drafting and successful talent development.
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): The Blues were quiet on the free agent front, but their biggest addition to the '09-10 lineup will be the return of defenseman Erik Johnson. Sidelined due to a nasty game of golf cart polo. Johnson played 69 games in his rookie year two seasons ago and will look to improve the point production on the St. Louis blue line that scored just 15 goals last year.
Veterans Derek Armstrong(notes) and the recently signed Darryl Sydor(notes) will add a few older faces among a group that could challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins in a poorly grown facial hair contest.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): There will be lots of familiar faces in the Blues lineup for this season thanks to not a lot of turnover. Goaltender Manny Legace(notes) was not offered a contract and now is with the Atlanta Thrashers on a tryout basis. With a deep defense corps at their disposal, St. Louis decide to buy-out Jay McKee(notes) as he entered the final year of his deal. The return of Erik Johnson and the presence of Alex Pietrangelo(notes) made it tough to bring back the shot-blocking specialist.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): He's led the Blues in goals the past two seasons and having David Backes (or maybe Keith Tkachuk) as his pivot and a healthy Paul Kariya on the other wing could really benefit Brad Boyes(notes) as he enters his third full season in St. Louis.
Backes, along with David Perron, Olympic-spot-pursuing Andy MacDonald, and mayoral candidate T.J. Oshie will round out a offensive unit that scored 28 more goals than they did during the '07-08 season, yet was good enough for just 19th in the NHL.
Introducing .... (Potential Breakout Player): One of the fruits of St. Louis' smart drafting is center Patrik Berglund. The 21-year old Swede scored 21 goals and 47 points in his rookie season a year ago. If Andy Murray's mixing of the Blues lines this week sticks, Berglund will find himself next to the Double Down Trent to his Mikey in Oshie as well as Brad Winchester(notes) which could give him a bit more confidence in the shooting department.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Still waiting for Eric Brewer(notes) to return from two surgeries, the addition of Erik Johnson and the possibility of Alex Pietrangelo staying with up, the Blues sport a deep blue line that needs to step up offensively (just 15 goals scored last season) for the team to find its way through the Western Conference yet again.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): Manny Legace had the carpet pulled out from underneath him thanks to a pre-game appearance from then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Legace's injury opened the door for Chris Mason(notes) the chance to grab the reigns of the starting job, which he did admirably (Legace was waived by St. Louis in February). The 33-year old Mason guided the Blues into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons before running out of gas against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round.
Now that Mason will start the season as the No. 1, can he repeat his success from a year ago? General Manager Larry Pleau went out over the summer and brought in a safety plan in the form of Ty Conklin(notes) should Mason falter. With the addition of Conklin, it's still undetermined how the Blues will find themselves involved in this year's Winter Classic.
The Inventor (The Coach): In the span of a few weeks, Andy Murray went from coach on the hot seat to Jack Adams finalist and in typical coach fashion, he gave all the credit to his players.
Now as he enters the final year of his contract, Murray cannot afford any steps backwards in the progression of the Blues without risking an extension. The pressure for the franchise to continue on their upswing is high and if Murray cannot continue to get the most out of his young group, team president John Davidson may not have the patience to handle a step back, even if the team gave him an extension last week.
"The baby Blues shocked the league with an incredible finish to the season that led to an improbable playoff berth and then quick exit from the playoffs. They have the motivation and talent to grow from that experience. If Erik Johnson and Paul Kariya return to form after serious injuries, the Blues could challenge for top four in the tough Western Conference, something that seemed laughable as recently as nine months ago.
"The St. Louis Blues' highly touted core of young players were a huge reason the Blues dominated in the 2nd half of '08-'09. Expect the dark horse Blues to be around the #5 seed this year, and maybe higher if Chris Mason can continue his play from last season."
Don Draper says ...
"Some people think of the future and it upsets them. They see a rocket and they start building a bomb shelter. They see T.J. Oshie, they start building a fallout shelter."
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Forwards: B (Lots of young talent in the midst of blossoming)
Special Teams: B+
Management: B (Building through the draft is beginning to payoff)
Results May Vary (Biggest Issue Facing the Team): The Blues took a large, unexpected step in their development last season -can they build on that? Playing in arguably the toughest division in the NHL, St. Louis will need to find the magic that helped them succeed a year ago and get consistent goaltending if they're to make a return trip to the playoffs. The roster is loaded thanks to being built from the draft. It's time for the youth to take the reigns and help the Blues get to the next level.
Warranty Expires (Prediction): Expecting St. Louis to land as one of the top six teams in the Western Conference again isn't a crazy notion, but it shouldn't be expected. As usual, the West will be competitive and the Blues benefited from the marvelous play of goaltender Chris Mason, but can he repeat his success? This St. Louis team will rely on almost half a dozen players who are 23-years old or younger and mixing them with veterans such as Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk(notes), and Barret Jackman(notes) among others will help the core grow into players that the franchise can continue building around. The opportunity is there for the Blues to find themselves looking for their first post-lockout playoff win, but their success or failure will rest heavily on their goaltending