St. Louis Blues
Head Coach: Ken Hitchcock (4th Season in STL)
Arena: Scottrade Center (Capacity: 19,150)
2013-14 Record: 52-23-7 (2nd in Central Division)
Record vs MIN in 2013-14: 4-1-0
2013-14 Corsi For %: 52.7% (6th in NHL)
Top Scorer: Alexander Steen (62 Points, 2.20 P/60)
Top Goaltender: Jaroslav Halak (24-9-4, 2.23 GAA, .917 SV%)
2013-14 Recap: For the first 72 games of the season, the Blues were one of the league's best teams. They were leading the Central Division and were looking like they would have home ice advantage in the Western Conference. Then the bottom fell out for St. Louis in the final 10 games as the lost the top seed in the West, then eventually the division title. They still finished second in the Central, but their late season collapse meant they would play the Blackhawks in the first round of the postseason. The Blues won the first two games against Chicago. It had looked like they put their troubles behind them, and were ready to make a deep playoff run. But again, the bottom fell out and St. Louis lost the next four games, in stunning fashion, to end their season. A season that began with Stanley Cup aspirations ended in the first round. A disappointing season to say the least.
Offseason Additions-C Paul Stastny, C Jori Lehtera, D Carl Gunnarsson, C Peter Mueller: Instead of trading for offense at last years trade deadline, the Blues traded for Ryan Miller. Well, they learned that was the wrong move to make this summer and chose to upgrade their offense by signing hometown boy Paul Stastny to a four year deal. Stastny will slide in on the top line and gives the Blues great depth in their top six. Jori Lehtera, a 2008 draft pick by St. Louis, was finally signed and projects to be the team's third line center. Carl Gunnarsson was brought over in a trade from Toronto and will try and solidify the back end of the Blues blueline after playing in the less than stellar Maple Leafs system.
Offseason Losses-G Ryan Miller, D Roman Polak, F Vladimir Sobotka, LW Brenden Morrow, C Derek Roy: The Bluees lacked confidence in Jaroslav Halak to guide them through the playoffs last year, so they traded him for Ryan Miller. Well, Miller is now gone thanks to free agency and that leaves Brian Elliott to take the net for the Blues. Vladimir Sobotka was a big loss as he departed for the KHL this summer. The cleaning up of the Blues fourth line bagan with letting Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy leave via free agency. Not exactly big losses for St. Louis.
Top Prospects: Playing backup goaltender for the Blues this year is arguably their best prospect, Jake Allen. In 15 games for the Blues last year, Allen went 9-4-1 with a 2.46 GAA and .905 save percentage. Not exactly great numbers, but it was his first taste of the NHL. Allen posted a 2.04 GAA and .928 save percentage in the AHL last year, when he was not with St. Louis. Robby Fabbri was the Blues first round pick in the 2014 draft, and despite his small stature (5'10", 170 lbs), he is a great playmaker with a tremendous work ethic. While Fabbri is still a few seasons away from playing in St. Louis, he will certainly be fun to watch develop in the OHL.
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-TJ Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-Patrik Berglund
Peter Mueller-Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre
Alex Pietrangelo-Jay Bouwmeester
Barrett Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Carl Gunnarsson
(Projected lines courtesy of NHL.com)
Scouting Report: Since Ken Hitchcock came to St. Louis, they have been one of the better teams in hockey. A big strength for this team is their physical play, as they have used that to torment teams like Minnesota the past five seasons. The Blues have a good balance of skilled and physical forwards, but their exception to that might be their fourth line which is very suspect now. Defensively, their top four are as strong as anyone, but their acquisition of Gunnarsson gives them more of a weakness on the third pairing. Brian Elliott enters the season as the number one goaltender after the Blues gave him a vote of confidence this offseason over Ryan Miller. Elliott has been one of the best in the league in the past three seasons, as his five on five save percentage (.936) only trails Tuuka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, and Jimmy Howard during that time (minimum 2000 shots faced, via Progressive Hockey). The Blues will still be a solid team in the 2014-15 season, but finding playoff success remains to be seen.
Check back on Saturday to see where St. Louis finishes this season.
Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell