The St. Louis Blues drop the puck on the 2013-14 NHL regular season Thursday. Before the Nashville Predators visit Scottrade Center, let’s examine five questions the Blues must answer during the quest for the Stanley Cup.
1) Halak is the guy. Can he hang?
Jaoslav Halak is clearly the starter despite playing in just 16 games last year. We’ve written plenty about Halak’s return, how he spent the offseason in St. Louis building muscle and losing weight in order to limit the kind of groin injuries that sidelined him last season. All that’s nice, but now it has to pay off.
Halak was less than stellar early in the preseason, but ended on a high note. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored four times on him Sept. 21, the first time Halak played in a live game since April 1. He then let a puck bounce over him and into the net during his one half of play in a Sept. 25 preseason loss to the Minnesota Wild.
“He’s going to have to work at it,” head coach Ken Hitchcock has said of Halak’s return. “It’s not going to come just naturally. He’s going to have to really work at it. He’s going to have to get some games and get grinding.”
Halak started in the Blues’ final preseason game Friday. He held the same Wild team to one score in a 4-1 Blues win. It was the best performance of his preseason by far.
Whether that means he is officially back at full capacity remains to be seen.
2) CPR Line no more. Will Porter’s impact be replaced?
Last season a legion of Blues fans fell in love with the CPR Line, a fourth line featuring Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves. That hard-hitting combination will now be unavailable.
The Blues placed Porter on waivers this week, cutting their roster to the 23-player maximum required by the NHL. If Porter, who had 10 goals and 24 points in 127 games with the Blues, isn’t claimed by another team, he will join the team’s AHL affiliate.
Eyes will be on new additions Maxim Lapierre and Brenden Morrow. They will be expected to be adequate replacements for Porter, even if they stand no chance of forming such a catchy nickname.
3) Will the Perron trade pan out?
Preseason couldn’t end before one of the Blues’ most dramatic offseason moves came into question.
The Blues shipped David Perron to Edmonton in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi and a second-round pick. Already folks are wondering if this was the right thing to do.
Paajarvi hasn’t blown anyone away yet. Meanwhile Perron is off to a great start in Edmonton; he had five goals and an assist in four preseason games.
Paajarvi, 22, will have time to flourish. If he doesn’t and Perron has a breakout season, the trad will not be remembered fondly.
4) Will late-arriving Brenden Morrow be able to carve out a niche?
A few years ago, the Blues adding Brenden Morrow to the roster would have been a big, big deal.
Now it’s just kind of intriguing.
Morrow, 34, spent 13 seasons and some change in Dallas before he was traded to Pittsburgh last year. After 15 games there, he’s a Blue.
He won’t be expected to be a franchise, team-captain type of player like he was for years with the Stars; he scored 20-plus goals there seven times. But the fact the Blues signed him to a one-year contract proves they think he still has some left in the tank.
Ideally for the Blues, Morrow’s health holds up and he brings veteran leadership to a reserve role. If someone goes down in front of him, maybe this chance turns into something more.
5) Is this the season of Schwartz?
Those who tuned in for preseason action have high hopes for Jaden Schwartz. The center seems to be trending upward as he heads into his second full NHL season.
Schwartz, 21, scored three goals in six preseason games.
That pace will lead to a career year if it holds.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.