The St. Louis Blues get their season started Saturday night which means we have just enough time to preview the coming season ahead before it officially begins. Coming off a disappointing 2010-11 that saw the Blues watch the playoffs from the outside looking in, expectations are significantly higher for 2011-12.
Here are just a handful of the many stories that are sure to develop as this newest season unfolds.
Sale of the Franchise
Potentially the biggest story on everyone’s mind, the sale of the St. Louis Blues and their assets is a topic that doesn’t even involve the players or action on the ice. Since it was announced that the Blues were for sale late last season, there’s been little solid news to report. Dave Checketts set a deadline for all formal offers to be in but fans saw the deadline pass with little coming out of it. Frustration has grown and still, outside of speculation, there really hasn’t been any hard news to emerge from the organization.
When news finally broke, it was a story that the Blues allegedly turned down an offer that was believed to be around $167 million. The organization was apparently seeking a number in the neighborhood of $190 million – a number most believe is far too steep. Frustrations grew further and the belief that a sale of the Blues could be finalized prior to the season starting was thrown out.
Most recently, news “broke” that Matthew Hulsizer, a name that’s been connected to the Blues since the team stated they were for sale, had reached a verbal agreement to become the new majority owner. Note the air quotes as the report is about as far from official as can be at this time. Whether or not Hulsizer does indeed by the Blues is a matter that will be answered in the coming days and weeks, but at this time we can take away that his intent to be an owner/investor with the Blues is a serious one.
Hopefully this matter gets resolved sooner than later so the attention can shift back to the action on the ice.
No one can predict what the Blues will get out of Jaroslav Halak in 2011-12 with any degree of certainty. Sure, we have our guesses but to date, Halak has been consistently inconsistent as a member of the St. Louis Blues. Last season Halak was average at best and left a lot to be desired in the minds of most fans.
If you examine Halak’s statistics from 2010-11, you’ll see he went 27-21-7 with a 2.48 GAA and a save percentage of .910. If these numbers are all you know about Halak’s year you might be a bit puzzled as to what all the fuss is about. The numbers really aren’t that bad but as is sometimes the case, the numbers really only tell a small portion of the story. Halak often looked lost in his own net, unsure of his positioning and unsure how to approach each and every save, regardless of difficulty. Sometimes he’d look a bit too lackadaisical, like he was only expelling a fraction of his concentration or focus. It was these times that caused fans (myself included) to grow irritated with Halak as he made similar mental and physical errors over and over and over again. Then, the following night, he’d look like a changed man capable of blanking even the hottest of offenses.
To be blunt, the whole ordeal left even the best prognosticators guessing and gave the Magic 8-ball quite a workout. This unreliability didn’t match the billing Halak arrived with as a true number one goaltender.
When Jaroslav Halak won he typically won in dominating fashion. When he lost, he typically lost in a big way.
1.25 GAA, .954 SV% and seven shutouts
3.69 GAA, .869 SV%
Often Halak was brilliant in his victories only to look like a completely different goaltender in his defeats. There was never any consistency aside from a stretch in January where Halak allowed four goals in seven of the 10 games he appeared in that month – not exactly the most positive of trends. This sporadic goaltending was not what the Blues were hoping to receive when they made the deal to pry him away from Montreal.
In his second year of his four-year deal, Halak faces arguably the toughest test of his fairly young career. He needs to act like the number one goaltender everyone hopes he can be or before you know, we are halfway through his contract and all that the Blues and Halak have to show for it are two disappointing seasons.
David Backes & Chris Stewart
If healthy (knock on wood), the Blues could be in for a very fun and exciting year from David Backes and Chris Stewart.
For the first time in recent memory (Brad Boyes doesn’t count), the Blues have a young and exciting skater in Chris Stewart that theoretically could notch 40+ goals, assuming the injury bug remains at bay. Upon his arrival in St. Louis Stewart made a big name for himself by scoring 15 times in 26 games, leaving fans salivating at what he might produce in St. Louis over a full 82-game season.
Meanwhile, David Backes has been the true core of the Blues for the past several years and was finally recognized for his efforts by being named the newest captain of the team. Last season, Backes shouldered the offensive load and lit the lamp 31 times as he went on to score a career-high 62 points. Now with Stewart and key additions Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, Backes doesn’t have to carry the same amount of weight that he has in past years which might free him up for bigger and greater things offensively.
Alex Pietrangelo & Kevin Shattenkirk
Arguably two of the best young defenseman in the league last season, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk come into 2011-12 with some pretty high expectations attached to their names.
In his first full season in the NHL, Pietrangelo appeared to be an experienced veteran on the ice. He knew where to position himself and how to handle himself in every offensive and defensive situation thrown his way. He ended the year with 43 points and held his own when it came to his defensive responsibilities. When he carried the puck, you could visibly tell that his teammates on the ice were completely comfortable as if it was a 10-year veteran rather than the rather inexperienced skater with only a handful of games to his name.
Now, with one full year under his belt, the expectation is that Pietrangelo will continue to improve and grow into his talent – a task that one notable former Blue struggled with (Erik Johnson).
Kevin Shattenkirk came over to St. Louis with Chris Stewart and though his surroundings changed tremendously, Shattenkirk’s overall game remained constant. He finished his rookie campaign with 43 points spread across two different cities and gave fans in St. Louis a whole lot to get excited about. Is a sophomore slump looming ahead for Shattenkirk or will he brush such a notion aside and turn in an even bigger season? Time will tell.
Recently, David Perron returned to the St. Louis Blues and was cleared to resume his training. Perron, who hasn’t played since November of 2010, has plenty of rust to work through and plenty of hurdles ahead of him as he battles back from post-concussion syndrome.
Currently, there’s no timetable hooked to Perron but you can bet he’d add quite a spark to the lineup when he is able to return to action.
A Complete 60
Last season was maddening at times. The Blues would have a slim lead heading into the final stages of a game just to see it get plucked away as the opposition tied things up. Or, in other cases, the Blues would emerge flat and allow countless chances before coming to life in the second period.
Regardless of the finer details of the scenario, often the Blues would turn in a 40 to 50 minute effort, leaving the other 10 to 20 minutes up for their opponent. The team would power down during this time and too many times it came back to bite them and cost them two valuable points.
If the Blues are going to make a trip to the playoffs in 2011-12 they’ll need to learn how to turn in a complete effort each and every time they take the ice.
Let’s Go Blues!
With that, bring on the 2011-12 campaign. There’s plenty of fun and interesting stories to follow this year (I only covered a few) but you can bet all of us here at The Hockey Writers will have all of the latest analysis on each and every story as it develops.
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