Get ready for the new Blues, but are they the same as the old Blues? As St. Louis opens training camp today, the team that takes the ice is in many ways the same team who last season won what was arguably the toughest division in the NHL with 109 points but then bowed out early in the post-season. Some long-time Blues are gone and there are new faces in training camp, but much of the squad remains from last Spring’s disappointing playoffs. Did the Blues improve during the off-season? Was it enough?
Changing of the Guard
Long time stalwart of the Scottrade Center blue line, Barret Jackman, left via free agency. Jackman was both a fan favorite and whipping boy and his departure was met with both sadness and relief. Like it or not, the Blues needed the change. While I’m disappointed that if Jackman wins a Stanley Cup he won’t be wearing the Bluenote, but St. Louis was ready to see younger guys step in and prove they belong. Re-enter Robert Bortuzzo and Peterri Lindbohm.
Another fan favorite, forward T.J. Oshie, was traded away. Blues fans can be fickle and from what I’ve been reading on the various Internet hockey forums there’s more displeasure with the return on his trade than with Oshie being sent packing. I would challenge the naysayers to give Troy Brouwer a chance to play a few games with his new team before deciding he’s a bust.
Same Coach, Different Year
You can still read about fans complaining that Ken Hitchcock is back behind the Blues bench after another Blues first round exit, his third in four years. I’ll admit I was ready for different leadership, for the team to take what they learned in Hitch’s four seasons and advance onward under new tutelage. Maybe Kirk Muller was ready to take over. Maybe position coaches like Brad Shaw needed to be replaced too.
The reality is it didn’t happen and it’s time for fans to move past last year’s early exit just as the players have had to. Can we please assume a guy as smart and successful in his career as Hitchcock knows that he can’t possibly come back to the Blues head coaching position and do things the same way expecting different results? Let’s get behind him as he, even in this first day of camp, reveals that he IS taking a new approach.
If Hitchcock has changed then I’m ready to go all-in expecting the results to be different. If the team is essentially the same then we should see another solid regular season result in what is still the toughest division in hockey. With Hitchcock adjusting his approach the Blues should be poised to qualify for the playoffs and finally make a deep run at the Cup.
Healed, Rested, Ready
One of the most glaring problems the Blues experienced last year were injuries to the defensive core. Jay Bouwmeester lost his Iron Man streak and St. Louis subsequently lost one of their best skating defensemen. Bouwmeester was a shadow of his former self when he returned to the ice after missing two and half weeks with a groin injury. Alex Pietrangelo, or whomever Bouwmeester paired with on any given night, had to spend extra energy picking up the slack and team defense suffered. Bouwmeester says he’s ready to compete again.
Added to that debacle was Kevin Shattenkirk’s injury and abdominal surgery which cost him and the team 25 games and effectively ended what was until then a Norris Trophy caliber season. Shattenkirk returned and was still one of the best defensemen on the ice but he’d missed too much time to compete for the award, and the Blues struggled to make up for his power-play production during his absence. Shattenkirk is healed and rested, and should be ready to successfully quarterback the man-advantage again.
Established Blues like Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, David Backes, and Jadwen Schwartz will continue to provide leadership and spark in the new season. Vladimir Tarasenko is ready to wow St. Louis and the entire league with his explosive offensive ability. Other youngsters like Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie, and Robby Fabbri are eager to show everyone they deserve to play in the NHL.
The Blues are basically the same team but is that truly such a bad thing? With just enough change can we give the boys time to get back on the ice, starting today, and create some chemistry, reignite some of the fires that fueled them to 109 points last season, and thrill us with goals, fights, hits and acrobatics? Will it be okay to finish up the same way? Of course not! But this is a new season so let’s not make assumptions as to how things will turn out. Hopefully we won’t get fooled again.