The '04-'05 NHL lockout marked the end of an era for the St. Louis Blues; their remarkable stretch of 24 straight years of playoff hockey come to an end. Unbeknownst to the team at the time, however, was the fact that the lockout would also mark the end of their status as an NHL power.
In the six seasons since, the Blues have failed to win a single postseason series, and, actually, have qualified for the playoffs just once (as the sixth seed in '08-'09). They've fired three coaches, finished last in the league for the first time in franchise history, and accumulated five of their eight total non-playoff seasons over a 44-year club history.
Needless to say, entering the '11-'12 season, St. Louis is in desperate need of a rise out of mediocrity. With the team they've put together lately, though, we don't figure that achieving that goal will be too difficult.
Doug Armstrong took over the general manager position from Larry Pleau a summer ago and has improved the team's roster significantly since then. Armstrong used the 2010 offseason to replace Chris Mason with Jaroslav Halak in goal and add depth at center with Vladimir Sabotka and T.J. Hensick. He added to the Blues' newfound toughness this past July, throwing in an infusion of time-tested, rough-and-tumble strength to a relatively young squad.
St. Louis eventually finished the '10-'11 campaign this past spring in 11th place in the Western Conference, 10 points out of a playoff spot, even after a 6-2-2 run to finish out the year. Next season, conversely, it wouldn't be a surprise to us to see them easily bypass that margin and run away with a top-eight slot in standings...and here's why.
Note: This slideshow is the final installment of a four-part series looking in-depth at a few specific teams who we believe have become new Stanley Cup contenders or new playoff teams with their offseason moves.
Part One, portraying why the Buffalo Sabres will be a Cup contender in '11-12, can be found here. Part Two, explaining why the Florida Panthers will be a playoff team next season, can be read here. Part Three, stating our reasoning behind calling the Los Angeles Kings a Cup contender, is available at this link.