St. Louis Blues: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

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OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 27: Louie, the mascot for the St. Louis Blues makes an appearance at the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fair at the Ottawa Convention Center on January 27, 2012 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Louie, The Mascot For The St. Louis Blues Makes Getty Images

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 27: Louie, the mascot for the St. Louis Blues makes an appearance at the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fair at the Ottawa Convention Center on January 27, 2012 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)  

Last Season: 51-24-7, 109 points. First in the Central Division.

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Blues
Blues

Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?

About the same, depending on how you feel about T.J. Oshie and Barret Jackman. The Blues cut ties with Jackman, 34, who spent 13 seasons with St. Louis and signed with the rival Nashville Predators for two seasons. Oshie spent seven years with the Blues and had undeniable chemistry with team captain David Backes. He also showed up in the playoffs about as often as the Florida Panthers do.

Troy Brouwer arrived from the Capitals for Oshie, and his net-front presence and physicality should help in that cattle drive known as the Western Conference.

Other than that, this Blues team is pretty much the same group that participated in the franchise’s annual rite: Great regular season followed by playoff disappointment.

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Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW

The NHL’s latest human highlight reel, the Russian had a star-making season with 37 goals in 77 games, leading the Blues with 73 points. Running mate Jori Lehtera is coming off ankle surgery, so hopefully there’s no hiccup for the duo that powered the Blues offense last season. Especially after signing that franchise deal.

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, D

Speaking of injuries, Shats was limited to 56 games last season but posted 44 points. His pending raise within the Blues’ salary structure and the team’s need to shake up the mix generated trade rumors, but he’s back again this season to help light the lamp.

3. David Backes, C

Backes loses Oshie from his wing and goes UFA next summer. It was a summer of uncertainty for the 31-year-old team captain, coming off 58 points in 80 games last season, especially because the team will face a shakeup if it disappoints again.

4. Jake Allen, G

The 24-year-old goalie played 37 games to Brian Elliott’s 46 games last season, posting somewhat similar numbers. But he struggled in the postseason (.904) during the Blues’ six-game loss to the Minnesota Wild. The Blues hope that was a learning experience, and that Allen can make a significant leap forward this season.

5. Paul Stastny, C

Stansty said he felt more comfortable as the season went on, which hopefully means he’ll be better than 16 goals this season. He’ll never produce numbers to justify his cap hit; he just needs to produce them at the right time. And one goal in six playoff games wasn’t getting it done.

Potentially The Best Thing About This Team

Offensive balance. You get offense from Tarasenko and Lehtera. You get offense from Backes. You get offense from Alex Steen (64 points) and Jaden Schwartz (28 goals) and Stastny (46 points) and Brouwer (21 goals) and Patrik Berglund (12 goals, when healthy) and potentially Dmitrij Jaskin (13 goals in his first full year). Then you get 44 points from Shattenkirk and 46 from Alex Pietrangelo and 13 more from Jay Bouwmeester from the back end. They were fifth in goals scored last season (248) and for good reason.

Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team

That the regular season means nothing if they continue to be a collection of underperformers in the playoffs. The Blues have hit 100 points three times under Ken Hitchcock (and 60 in the 48-game season) and have lost in the first round in three straight seasons. They need more veterans to lead on the scoreboard, and for Allen to be a playoff-quality backstop.

Dream 3-on-3 OT Group

Tarasenko and Lehtera and Shattenkirk. Maybe the Blues should just play for the tie every game and let these guys end it in 40 seconds of overtime.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

Nine. Hitchcock’s status was up in the air for part of the offseason, as the Blues flirted with Mike Babcock and there was talk that Dan Bylsma could end up there as well. But Hitch returns for another season, where his hard-ass style in the regular season has been accused of leading to the team’s postseason duds.

Awkward Old School Video Break

The 1998 Cup Crazy video for the Blues. Just in case you were worried that having crazy talented teams that never won the conference title isn’t a decades-long tradition for the Blues. Joel Quenneville!

Their Best Case Scenario Is …

The Blues get at least five players who haven’t excelled in the playoffs to do so, including Allen. They get a favorable first-round draw and win, building confidence along the way to a conference title and a shot at the Cup.

Their Nightmare Scenario Is …

Hitchcock’s regular-season magic runs out, the Blues are a middling mess and the biggest stories of the season are injuries to key players and where Backes is headed at the deadline.

Prediction

First in the Central, again. This team is just too deep and talented to hit the skids. Hitchcock’s system hasn’t failed to produce a 100-point pace. But the playoffs are a different animal, and this combination of players and coach hasn’t shown it can navigate their way to a Stanley Cup. 

PUCK DADDY 2015-16 NHL PREVIEW

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