Despite a 2015-16 season that saw them win 49 games, finish second in the Western Conference, vanquish the rival Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and advance all the way to the Conference Finals, the Blues come into the 2016-17 season with many questions. It all starts at the top with head coach Ken Hitchcock. This is supposed to be his last season behind the bench, not just in St. Louis, but in the NHL.
A succession plan was announced in the offseason and current assistant Mike Yeo has been announced as the coach for the 2017-18 season. However, with this season set to begin, word now is that the plan might have changed. The only thing we know for sure is that for a team hoping to contend for a championship, any type of discord behind the bench is an unwelcome distraction.
The Goalie Conundrum
Unfortunately for the Blues, the questions don’t end once you jump over the wall and hit the ice. Brian Elliott will no longer stand between the pipes, having been traded to Calgary for a second round pick. This might not be cause for concern because his replacement, Jake Allen, put up similar numbers last season — 26 wins to Elliot’s 23, but a slightly higher GAA and lower save percentage — except for the fact that Allen suffered a leg injury during the preseason and his availability to start the season is in question.
Hitchcock says Allen could play soon, if not in the season-opener, but the Blues have also recalled Jordan Binnington from the Chicago Wolves. While fans are concerned, especially since the Blues aren’t saying exactly what Allen’s injury is, if Binnington is pressed into action, his preseason numbers (two games played, 1.18 GAA, .958 save percentage) suggest he’s up to the task.
Whoever starts in net will have a team in front of them getting accustomed to new leadership on the ice. Last year’s captain, David Backes (59 goals in regular and post season) and veteran Troy Brouwer (52 goals in regular and postseason), are both gone. Alex Pietrangelo takes over as captain and the Blues will rely on a young core of players in Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Robby Fabbri to follow his lead. If last year’s stats are any indication — Tarasenko lead the team with 40 goals and Fabbri was a pleasant surprise with 18 goals and 19 assists — the Blues should be in good hands. However, they will be without Schwartz until early November due to an elbow injury he suffered in late September that was thought to keep him out for a month.
Hitting the Nail on the head
Rounding out the questions for the Blues is newcomer Nail Yakupov. The Blues acquired the former first-round pick in a trade with the Oilers, but Yakupov has been far less than stellar during his four-year career. After a decent start in his first season (31 points in 48 games), he is minus 84 over his last three seasons and has only tallied 80 points in 204 games played. Some have labeled him a bust, so the big question will be whether the change of scenery will allow him to achieve his potential.
Despite these questions, the Blues will start the season 12th in the ESPN Power Rankings, with many observers believing they are built for another long playoff run. While that is yet to be determined, one thing is for sure — with the Cardinals season over and the Rams having moved back to L.A., fans are excited about the start of the season and the potential they believe the Blues have.