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THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: St. Louis Blues

Jared Clinton
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Vladimir Tarasenko (Mark Buckner/NHL) Author: The Hockey News

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THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: St. Louis Blues

Jared Clinton
By:

The St. Louis Blues’ season isn’t about what they do in the regular season. The Blues are almost certainly bound for the playoffs, and what they do in the post-season will be the true measuring stick of the team’s success. If the Blues suffer another first-round exit and things could get interesting in St. Louis.

2014-15 Record: 51-24-7 (109 pts.) THN’s Prediction: 1st, Central Division What To Expect: The past four campaigns combined, the Blues have a points percentage of .662. Clearly, they've mastered the regular season. But over that same stretch, a 10-17 playoff mark and one series win suggest St. Louis hasn't been built for playoff success. Expectations were that GM Doug Armstrong would tear off a major chunk of the roster and shuffle the core. He did make significant moves but nothing foundation-shaking. T.J. Oshie was dealt to the Capitals for Troy Brouwer, a brawny 20-goal threat and power play net presence. The only other notable changes are the departure of blueline mainstay Barret Jackman and the signing of fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak. Vladimir Tarasenko, who announced his arrival to superstardom with 37 goals, signed an eight-year, $60-million deal. Armstrong sniffed around the coaching market but elected to stick with Ken Hitchcock. On a one-year deal, 'Hitch' can't afford to slip during the season and definitely can't afford to disappoint in another post-season. Playoff failings aside, the Blues return with a sensational roster – fifth in offense, fourth in defense, fourth in power play and eighth in penalty kill. The lineup remains dynamite top to bottom. Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, Paul Stastny and Tarasenko are safe bets for 50 points. Brouwer will replace most of Oshie's offense and adds a needed physical dimension. Expect even more from the brilliant Tarasenko. St. Louis' D-corps will strive to be a better puck-transition group. The talent is there with gifted 50-point threats Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Jay Bouwmeester will rebound after dropping from 37 to 13 points. Jake Allen and Brian Elliott both topped 20 wins, but expect Allen to see more starts. If he doesn't take the reins, the Blues are still set up nicely in goal. The Blues lacked intensity in their opening-round dismissal at the hands of Minnesota. Their character was questioned all summer, and the group should arrive good and angry this October. St. Louis Blues Depth Chart Team Preview Best-Case Scenario: It has been said nearly every season for the past five campaigns, but this could be the year for the Blues. They’ve got all the pieces in place to make a serious run, they simply need to get the right break at the right time to make it happen. Outside of the Brouwer-Oshie trade, the roster hasn’t changed much and the Blues have had the continued regular season success to inspire belief that an extended playoff run will eventually come. Worst-Case Scenario: The Blues are going to make the post-season, but if they suffer another first-round exit, there’s no telling what the result will be. It’s no secret St. Louis is sick of not playing past the first round, especially given the way they’ve fared in arguably the toughest division in hockey. To lose in the first round could mean the roster gets blown up with only a few cornerstone players remaining with the Blues into 2016-17. Who To Watch: Tarasenko has a brand new deal, Brouwer is trying to replace Oshie and Backes is in the final year of his contract with free agency looming, but the most interesting man in St. Louis this season will be Ken Hitchcock. Over the past four seasons, he has led the Blues to a 175-79-27 record — good for a .671 winning percentage — but his inability to guide the team further in the post-season has him on the hot seat. Luckily for Hitchcock, the Blues have a great regular season track record. However, should St. Louis hit a skid early in the year and have an unfavorable record through November, Hitchcock could find himself in a precarious position. What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
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Click here for more detail on these predictions. We’re obviously very high on St. Louis thanks to a proven track record of regular season excellence, but the numbers suggest we might need to exercise some caution. In the league’s toughest division nothing will be easy. The biggest reason for caution will likely be depth (isn’t it always). Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo are elite defenders, but the rest of the mix doesn’t look pretty. Bouwmeester should bounce back from a lacklustre campaign, but he's also in his 30s and it’s possible he’s at the start of a downhill trend. Goaltending is another area of concern, but there’s reason for optimism with Jake Allen. His save percentage on shots in close is among the league’s best, but it’s shots from outside that he seems to have trouble with. The ability to save outside shots is mostly fluky, meaning that Allen could have a great year if he finds his groove on shots from the perimeter. The top end of their forward group is sparkling with elite talent, specifically Tarasenko who has one of the top projected WAR ratings in the league, but it took a bit of a hit in the Oshie-Brouwer swap. While the latter may replace his scoring, his puck possession ability leaves much to be desired. Where St. Louis has issues at forward is their fourth line which is one of the worst in the league. Even in limited minutes, the damage caused by icing Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves is worth about one win in the standings. That’s not nothing. Fortunately, the Blues have potential replacements lined up in Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall who are on professional tryout contracts. If they can take spots from Ott and Reaves the Blues will be in much better shape.
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THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.
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THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: St. Louis Blues