The St. Louis Blues were really two teams last season. One entered the season following a playoff berth, but struggled under coach Andy Murray; the other improved greatly when Davis Payne took over for the fired Murray.
But even a late surge (St. Louis went 23-15-4 under Payne), couldn’t get the Blues in the playoffs, as they finished with 90 points (just two fewer than the year before), five short of the playoffs and good for fourth in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.
Because of the obvious improvement, the "interim" label was removed from Payne this off-season. Yet, by far the biggest news this offseason was the Blues’ stunning trade for Montreal Canadiens playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak. In exchange, St. Louis parted with a pair of prospects, Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
Halak was 26-13-5 last season and ranked fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.940), and ninth in goals against average (2.40) and tied for fifth with five shutouts. Then he led stunning upsets of the Capitals and Penguins in the playoffs, before fading in the East Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
He’s an upgrade over Chris Mason and Ty Conklin, who shared duties in net last season (with Mason getting the majority of work; Conklin will remain No. 2). Halak should help the Blues improve on an 18-18-5 mark at home last year, which was among the worst in the NHL.
St. Louis needs bounce-back years from David Backes, who went from 31 goals in 2008-09 to just 17 in 2010; Brad Boyes, a former 40-goal scorer who had just 14 last season and Patrik Berglund, who had 47 points as a rookie and just 26 last year. Will David Perron (career-high 20 goals) and Alex Steen (career-high 47 points) keep improving? How much does 33-year-old Andy McDonald, who led the Blues in goals (24) and points (57) last season, have left?
St. Louis does have some of the league’s most impressive young defensemen, including finally-healthy Erik Johnson, and highly-touted former first-round pick Alex Pietrangelo.
St. Louis Blues Offseason Moves
Halak is, of course, the big one. Center Vladimir Sobotka was acquired in a trade with Boston, for David Warsofsky. Mason walked as an unrestricted free agent. Veterans Darryl Sydor and Keith Tkachuk announced their retirements at the end of last season and Paul Kariya will miss the entire season with post-concussion syndrome.
St. Louis Blues Predictions: Outlook
The Blues seem a little like the Blackhawks of about four years ago. They are stockpiling some good young talent, although no one like Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. At least they are moving in the right direction now, especially on defense. Losing those three veterans could mean this team lacks some leadership, however. The Blues need more from the power play, which ranked just 20th in the league last year. Halak should be good for at least a few more wins. The St. Louis Blues schedule begins on October 9th against the defending East champion, the Philadelphia Flyers.
St. Louis Blues Hockey Odds
NHL Predictions for St. Louis Blues
The Blues have the misfortune of playing in the Central, meaning that third place is probably about the best they can hope for, with Chicago and Detroit both certain to finish ahead of them. After having 92 points two seasons ago and 90 last season, a jump of at least four points this season, with Halak, assuming he wasn’t somewhat of a “one-hit wonder”, seems very doable. Take the over here and expect the Blues to return to the playoffs.