We’re now something like 40 days out from the start of the NHL season so I figure this is as good a time as any to start doing the season previews. This is mainly for two reasons: 1) I am lazy and there’s no way I’ll do one of these every day, and 2) This is early enough that if I just stop doing them entirely you’ll have forgotten by October anyway. Oh and I guess also to show off my near-infinite knowledge of the National Hockey League. I’ll be previewing the teams in reverse order of finish in the 2007-08 season. Please note, though, that this is the opinion of one man, however smart and handsome he may be.
St. Louis Blues, you’re on the clock.
Just like in this picture, E.J. has very little help around him this year.
Take a quick look at the St. Louis Blues website and you’ll notice something. There’s not a lot of content about being prepared to win again, or about a big-time free agent being excited to be on the team. Instead, it’s a lot of kids’ stuff.
“PROSPECTS HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE,” screams the first headline. Clicking on “Learning the ropes,” brings you to a story about David Perron’s rookie season. Click on either of those and you’ll find a story on the right side of the page about T.J. Oshie being a leading Calder Candidate. Four stories in, there’s finally a story on a veteran, in this case new captain Eric Brewer.
The subtle point of this, of course, is to prepare Blues fans for a tough season. How tough? Their big free agent signing this summer was Andy Wozniewski. That’s how tough. And it’s not as though they didn’t have money to spend. Pending the contracts for Matt Foy and Brad Winchester, they’re still going to be about $7.5 million below the salary cap.
Not that it wasn’t tough last year. Fourth-worst record in the league and only 79 points last year. Brad Boyes and Paul Kariya were the team’s leading scorers, potting just 65 points each. Had Boyes, who popped in 43 goals last year to finish tied for fifth with Henrik Zetterberg (lofty company, that) in league goalscoring, had any type of help on his line, he would have recorded far more than 22 assists. As a result of this, the Blues were 26th in the NHL in goals per game at just 2.46 a night.
Their answer to help the offense this summer was apparently Foy, who had eight points in 28 games for Minnesota last year. He is apparently going to fill the vacuum left by the trade that sent Jamal Mayers to Toronto for a 2008 third-round pick (and boy are they hoping James Livingston works out with that pick). Not that incoming rookies T.J. Oshie or Lars Eller aren’t going to be very good players. They are, and we all saw what a pair of good rookies can do for a team in Chicago last year. But Oshie isn’t his University of North Dakota teammate Jonathan Toews, and Eller for sure isn’t Pat Kane.
Eller may have lit up the Swedish junior league his draft year (55 points in 39 games) and his skills are very, very good, but he only scored two points, both assists, last year playing up with the men of the SEL. How he’ll react to the NHL is up in the air, but my guess is that it won’t be jaw-dropping.
Oshie’s a different story. In the largely defensive world of American college hockey, The Oshie, as UND fans call him, scored 142 points in 128 games. That’s insane.
It doesn’t look like the team’s ability to keep the puck out of the net will improve much either. The Blues traded for former Nashville netminder Chris Mason, but his numbers (2.90, .898) last year were more or less in line with St. Louis’ goalie average last year, if not slightly worse (2.71, .900). Manny Legace, meanwhile, is one year slower. The only other netminder they have that’s anywhere near pro-ready, let alone NHL-ready, is 6-foot-7 rookie Ben Bishop, who had a lackluster final season at the University of Maine. Believe me when I tell you that Bishop needs a lot of AHL seasoning. He’d get lit up like Times Square by some of the scorers in the Central division (Zetterberg and Datsyuk, Kane and Toews, Nash, Radulov).
The defense, apart from adding 20-year-old T.J. Fast (that’s a lot of T.J.s!) from the Kings, is more or less unchanged from last year, and it’s still fairly young for an NHL defense. Its seven current players are an average of 25.4 years old.
None of this, mind you, is meant as a means of passing judgment. I know what they are, the Blues know what they are, and you probably do too. I’m just saying, they improved not-at-all in the course of their rebuilding, apart from whatever growth and improvement their rookies and sophomores make. The future is brightish for St. Louis, but it’s not blinding, and it’s pretty far off as well.
For an only occasionally entertaining club last year that had trouble drawing fans (just 83.9 percent of tickets sold last year, 24th in the league) isn’t going to be much more entertaining this year
More after the jump.
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