St. Louis Blues: 5 Storylines to Follow Heading into Training Camp
5 Pressing Issues for the St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues open up training camp next Thursday, and big expectations will be on them to finally have some serious success this year. After making the playoffs the past two years and losing to the Los Angeles Kings both times, Blues fans will be hoping that everything can click this year and the team can make a long playoff run. That would be refreshing for a franchise that has not made it to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1969-70.
For the Blues to have a chance at competing with conference foes such as the Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Vancouver Canucks, they need three things to go right for them: the emergence of a big-time scorer, health across the board, and good performance from their goaltender. All these things are question marks at the moment, yet there is a good possibility that each of these issues will turn out well for the Blues.
As far as scorers, the two players with the best chance to become dominant are 21-year-olds Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Though both players were inconsistent last season, they each flashed great potential at times and have the skill set to score plenty of goals. The Blues also have players such as T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart, who are in the primes of their respective careers and should be good for about 20 goals each if healthy.
Obviously, health is something that the Blues can't control, but it seems that they should have a better chance at team-wide health this year with the subtraction of veteran center Scott Nichol and concussion-prone forwards David Perron and Andy McDonald. Even when Perron and McDonald were healthy, they seemed to play a step slower as to avoid getting hit, so the Blues should be able to move at a quicker pace this season.
Finally, they have to be aggressive in deciding who their best goaltender is. Jaroslav Halak is making a bunch of money and has had success in the past, but he did not look good last season. If he shows more of the same this year, the team can't keep throwing him out there. Brian Elliott was great at the end of the season, and rookie Jake Allen actually experienced the most success out of the bunch, so if either of them are the best goalie, they need to be playing -- even if that means keeping three goaltenders so that Allen has a roster spot.
Here are the five biggest Blues stories to watch as training camp gets underway.
5. Who Will Win the Last Extra Forward Job?
The Blues have 13 forwards on their roster right now who are more or less guaranteed jobs on the NHL roster to start the season. There's a 23-man roster limit, which means that if the Blues carry a full group into the season, their reserves will consist of a man from that group of 13, defenseman Ian Cole and one more extra forward. Among the group competing for the job will be five players who have NHL experience with other teams, most notably former Vancouver Canucks player Max Lapierre (who seems to be the strong favorite considering his $1.1 million salary), as well as prospects Dmitrij Jaskin and Sergey Andronov -- though the Blues likely will want those two to develop in the AHL.
Several of the players in this battle, including Lapierre and fellow center Keith Aucoin, have played in the large majority of their teams' games the past several years, so it is important that whoever wins the job knows how to be a role player and make the most of their opportunities when called upon.
4. Can Vladimir Tarasenko Develop into a Top-Line Player?
During the early part of last season, the 21-year-old Tarasenko looked like he was developing into an elite scorer, tallying four goals over his first four games. However, he cooled off after that point and missed an extended period of time with a concussion during February and March. This year, it would be a big plus for the Blues if Tarasenko was able to play like he did at the beginning of the season through the whole year. He isn't going to score a goal in every game, but if he can become a legitimate scoring option, it would greatly aid their offensive attack.
3. Will Magnus Paajarvi Turn into the Player He Was Expected to Be?
This past summer, the Blues traded David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Paajarvi, who the Oilers selected with the 10th pick back in 2009. Paajarvi had a nice rookie season, scoring 15 goals with 19 assists, but he's struggled since then, having just 11 goals and 13 assists over the past two years. To add onto his trouble, Paajarvi has never had a positive plus-minus rating.
It's not absolutely crucial that the Blues turn around Paajarvi's career considering that the Perron move was more of a salary dump, but if they can make him play near the level that such a high draft pick should, it will end up being another great trade for GM Doug Armstrong.
2. Will Alex Pietrangelo Get a Contract Extension?
The biggest source of drama this offseason has come from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's contract negotiations. The 23-year-old was a restricted free agent this summer, and it was expected that he would be the Blues' highest priority. Instead, the team gave a long-term deal to defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and extended forwards Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund, leaving Pietrangelo is without a deal as camp nears.
It is likely that Pietrangelo will hold out of training camp if he isn't given a deal in the coming days. The two sides are still said to be pretty far apart in negotiations, so the Blues may have to deal without him for a while as they try to find a compromise.
1. Will Jaroslav Halak Prove Himself Worthy of the Starting Goalie Job?
Halak's level of play this year may be the key to how well the Blues perform in 2013-14. It was widely expected that the Blues would let Halak go this offseason and move forward with the goaltending tandem of Elliott and Jake Allen. However, they failed to find a suitor for Halak and he makes too much money for them to easily cut him, so he is back again. He has apparently done extensive conditioning work, and the Blues are willing to give him another shot as the starter, so it will be interesting to see how good he looks during the preseason.