St. Louis Blues: The Race for Team Captain
The St. Louis Blues are one of the more storied franchises in the NHL. However, they find themselves at a crossroads this summer. After missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season due in large part to injuries to key players, as well as being put up for sale by an owner that can no longer afford the team, there are some serious questions surrounding the Boys in Blue. The one question outside of "Who will buy the team?" and "I wonder what could've been?" isn't about who will be here next year, but rather who the next team captain will be.
As a native St. Louisan, I know what we look for in our hockey player: grittiness, finesse, skill, and a "never back down" mentality. We demand this of all of our players, and specifically our captain. That's why people loved Dallas Drake, Chris Pronger, and other former captains that weren't afraid to fight for their teammates.
With all of that in mind, let's take a look at just who on this roster could be sporting the "C" on his chest next season.
A concussion robbed Perron of nearly the entire season (courtesy of San Jose's Joe Thorton), and things aren't looking to be much improved. Perron is said to still be suffering from concussion-like symptoms, though he's recently been quoted as saying he's optimistic about being ready for training camp. While a gifted goal scorer and a fan favorite, Perron doesn't seem to posses the physical toughness that Blues fans demand from their captains.Make no mistake, his loss was felt hardest by the Blues this year, but I doubt he's ready to lead this team when he returns (if at all).
Berglund's career so far has been one of highs and lows. From an impressive rookie season, to the dreaded "sophmore slump," to an unbalanced junior year, no one seems to know who the real Patrick Berglund is. He's shown over the past couple of years that he's at his best when he's playing on a line with T.J. Oshie, and Oshie's absence only highlighted that fact. For much of the first half of the season, fans and media alike often criticized Bergy for being "soft," or afraid to take a hit, something only emphasized by his lack of offensive production. However, when Oshie did return, Berglund's play picked up dramatically and he entered what Blues fans called "Beast Mode." He became a much more physical presence on the ice, and his production ratcheted up accordingly. Still, the team needs a leader who will give that effort on a nightly basis, regardless of who is on the ice with him.
For an offensive-minded defenseman, Colaiacovo sure did have a down year. With only six goals (although he did have 20 assists) and a +/- of -4, that was definitely not what the team was expecting. True to form, a series of injuries (some of which were more the results of freak accidents than anything) kept Cola off the ice for extended periods of time. The Blues need a captain that will be in the lineup more.
Alright, I'll admit it that this one is more about humor than anything. While Shatter's a truly gifted kid with great puck sense, you have to admit that it would be a stroke of marketing genius to give him the "C". Can you imagine all of the Captain 'Kirk promotions? If nothing else, it would be a huge sell to Star Trek fans everywhere.
At only 21 years of age, Pietrangelo quickly established himself as the Blues' top defenseman. A quirk in the rules about how many games you can play before losing eligibility for the Rookie of the Year award cost Petro a shot at winning the Calder Trophy, but if it bothered him, he didn't show it. Exciting the fan base with skill and hockey sense well beyond his years, he looked less like a rookie than a ten year veteran. His emergence ultimately made former first-overall draft pick Eric Johnson expendable, as Pietrangelo became everything that Johnson was expected to be.
Petro may seem like a long shot given his age, but his leadership skills are unquestioned. On a team overrunning with youth, St. Louis' second favorite athlete with the initials "A.P." showed no hesitance to speak up in the locker room or on the ice when his team needed it. After the trades of Johnson and Brewer, Pietrangelo was made an alternate captain, which is quite an honor for a kid in only his first full NHL season.
The former Calder Trophy winner as the league's top rookie has had a rough go of it since the lockout. Aside from seemingly constant injuries, the rule changes implemented by the NHL have severely limited Jackman's game. He's no longer able to be the gritty defenseman that would poke, jab, and hack at opponents without fear of drawing penalties. Still, to his credit, Jackman is out there as often as his body allows him to be, doing everything he can to help his team win.
The longest-tenured Blue, it would be interesting to see if Jackman would even want to be captain. He's been quoted in the past as saying that he doesn't need a letter on the front of his jersey to quantify his leadership.
Put this one in the "Not Too Likely" column. While a true catalyst on the ice that helped reinvigorate an anemic post-lockout fan base with his electrifying style of play, Oshie is not ready for the responsibility. Known in St. Louis just as much for his highlight reel hits on Rick Nash as his partying ways, Oshie will have to prove to quite a lot of people that he's moved beyond any immature ways. Much has been documented here in St. Louis about Oshie having an unexcused absence from a team practice near the end of the season that resulted in him being a healthy scratch from two games, and the common joke was that he'd had too good a time over on the East Side the night before.
Still, if Oshie can prove to his teammates and coaches that he's matured, and is ready to be the hockey player that fans see glimpses of, then look out! We saw how defeated this team looked when he went down for 30 games with a broken ankle, and how revitalized they were when he came back earlier than expected. If he can rally the troops around him, then there's an outside chance that Oshie could be just what the doctor ordered.
Just like Oshie, Andy McDonald is what you would call a "spark plug" when he's on the ice. Acquired during the 2007-2008 season for fan favorite Doug Weight, A-Mac has brought the Blues a versatile forward with soft hands and great speed. Like many Blues players this season, McDonald spent time on Injured Reserve courtesy of a concussion. However, once he recovered, his presence and leadership both on and off the ice was immediately felt. For a solid stretch of games, he seemingly carried the team on his back, racking up goals and assists seemingly every night. In fact, despite only playing 58 games, he still managed 20 goals, 30 assists, and a +/- of +26. Not too shabby.
The only downside of giving the well-deserving McDonald the "C" would be that he's already 33, and the team needs to be looking at a long-term answer.
Acquired in the blockbuster trade with Colorado that also brought in Shattenkirk, Stewart quickly made his presence known for his new team and fans. His physical play won over fans, and his willingness to crash the net and get the ugly goals revitalized a stagnant offense. In 26 games after being traded from Colorado, Stewart posted fifteen goals and eight assists, which left fans and the media salivating over what he might do throughout the course of a full season wearing the Bluenote.
Not much has been reported about Stewart's locker room dynamics, but if the team is looking for a lead-by-example type of captain, the Stewie would be an excellent choice.
Acquired back in 2008 from Toronto, Steen had quite a year again for the Blues. Despite missing a little time with various ailments, Steen still managed 21 goals. True to what we saw during the 2009-2010 season, Steen always seemed to come up big for his team when they needed it, and he was rewarded by being made an alternate captain.
Steen may be another of the lead-by-example guys, as he never seems to be too vocal on the ice. Still, his teammates respect him and trust him, which is an important quality for any leader to have.
This one may be a bit of a surprise to many, but there's some logic behind it, I promise. Acquired relatively quietly from Montreal, D'Agostini made the most of his opportunities in his first full season in St. Louis. At the beginning of the year, most people figured that he would be a fourth line winger at best. However, due to the injury tidal wave that annihilated much of the Blues' roster, Dags got more shots with the top lines, and had a breakout year, netting a career-high 21 goals and proving that he could hang with the big boys on opposing teams.
True, this year may have been an anomaly for him, but D'Agostini showed what he was capable of when given a shot. You have to believe that his teammates were at least a bit inspired by the fact that a guy whom people expected so little from stepped up so big when they needed it most. Leadership by example, people...
I'm pretty sure this picture says it all in regards to what the Blues organization and fans think of #42. In what could arguably be the defining year of his career thus far, the former Olympic hero and first-time All-Star became a beacon of light for the fan base. After his annual slow start, Backes signed a whopping five year deal to remain with the Blues and then went on a tear, netting 31 goals, 31 assists, and an incredible +/- of +32 while playing in all 82 games. How he didn't land a Selke nomination is beyond me, but that's a topic for a different discussion.
Speak to anyone that has even casually followed the Blues, and you'll soon find out that Backes has basically been lined up for the captaincy for quite a while now. He has an uncanny ability to create havoc on the ice with his physical style of play, often crashing the net (much like Stewart) and banging in the ugly goals. Add to that his vocal presence on the ice, his willingness to stand up for teammates, and his habit of speaking frankly to the media after both wins and losses, and you can see just why St. Louis was so inclined a few years ago to match Vancouver's offer sheet when Backes was a restricted free agent.