St. Louis Blues season preview: Same team, new tricks
Plus: St. Louis isn’t broken when it comes to regular-season play — the Blues finished first in the Central last year — and the as the old saying goes, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The Blues made few changes this summer, most notably trading fan favorite T.J. Oshie to Washington in exchange for Troy Brouwer, a versatile winger capable of posting about 40 points per year. The defense is one of the best in the NHL with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk continuing to excel. Rising star Vladimir Tarasenko is back after finishing fifth in the NHL in goals last season with 37 tallies, and there are high hopes for center Paul Stastny in his second year in St. Louis.
Minus: The biggest question about the Blues is whether they will finally break out of their postseason slump. The thing about winning in the postseason, however, is you have to get there first. The Blues are expected to be a playoff team, but with no significant changes to their lineup and a questionable goaltending situation with Jake Allen and Brian Elliot fighting for the No. 1 spot, the Blues could still have a tough go of it in the powerhouse Central Division. The pressure will be on coach Ken Hitchcock, who easily could have lost his job last year due to the lack of postseason success.
X-Factor: Jay Bouwmeester
The defenseman is starting to age, and it showed last season when his assists plummeted from 33 in 2013-14 to 11 in 2014-15. His defensive stats also took a hit, as he tumbled from a plus-26 rating in 2013-14 to a plus-7 last year. Bouwmeester is one of the top three defensemen for the Blues, and as such any struggles immediately take away from the valuable blue line depth that the Blues will need while Elliott and Allen battle for the job in net.
Prediction: St. Louis should finish either first or second in the division thanks to depth in all areas, but it is unclear whether a lack of change will produce a different result once the Blues are in the playoffs.