By Mike Meyer
St. Louis Blues Writer
Dallas Stars Writer
Edmonton Oilers Writer
Off-season Recaps. For some fan bases, this involves a look back on what great moves were made at the trade deadline and during the off-season, and a chance to say, “we’re gonna repeat and win again!”. For others, a chance to fully realize a loss and just how close they had gotten and to come away with nothing. No shiny objects, no parade down Market, no Captain. A loss of players, fan favorites, personnel, and a time to hold on to what bit of hope they might have left. Hope that a step back will not have to be taken when you had finally come so close.
Subtractions: (Captain) David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott, (AHC) Brad Shaw, (AHC) Kirk Muller
Additions: David Perron, Carter Hutton, Vladimir Sobotka , Ville Husso, Jordan Kyrou, (AHC / HC) Mike Yeo
Resigns / Extensions: Jaden Schwartz, Dmitrij Jaskin, Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall, Magnus Paajarvi, Jake Allen, Pheonix Copley, Ty Rattie, Chris Butler, Luke Opilka, Brad Hunt, Jordan Binnington, Danny Kristo, Jordan Caron
Blues fans, this can certainly be a proving season. A “coming of age” tale for some, or a straw that broke the camel’s back that can ultimately cause the Blues to take misstep in their quest for the Cup. The losses of David Backes and Troy Brouwer could prove to be monumental down the stretch in the regular season and in the playoffs. Let’s face it, their tenacity and “grind it out” style of play is something that Blues fans have grown accustomed to watching over the last few years. But it’s also a style that some fan bases are craving for on a regular basis. Though the style of play is still loved and admired by many, Blues fans also had to endure the amount of penalty minutes and controversy that this particular style of play would inevitably cause. Combined this past season, the two big-bodied power forwards, Backes and Brouwer, managed to rack up 145 penalty minutes, which in turn, would rank them first and fourth on the team, respectively. 145 total minutes that the Captain of the Blues and newcomer Troy Brouwer would be unable to help kill off. 145 minutes of fans sitting on edge while a one goal deficit could have grown to two, a tie could have been broken, or a one goal lead could have been tied and forced Overtime. And this only due to two of St. Louis’ key players.
St. Louis had a lot to be proud of this year. They reached the Western Conference Championship for the first time in 15 years. Second Place in the Central Division and Western Conference, despite the injuries at times to key players such as Steen, Schwartz, Allen and Elliott. The club finally earned and announced that a Winter Classic will be held at Busch Stadium on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Blackhawks. They made NHL history as the 11th team to post a four game shutout streak and only the fourth to do so since 1967. The team’s defense shined on as it ranked 4th in the NHL with only 201 Goals Against this past season and the team ranked 15th overall with 224 Total Goals Scored. Special Teams were able to do their job and stayed above the NHL average. St. Louis scored 51 total Power Play goals out of a possible 237 opportunities. The NHL average was 48 PP Goals and 255 Opportunities. The Blues this past season allowed only 41 total Power Play Goals Against out of a possible 276 Opportunities Against, while the rest of the League averaged 48 PP Goals Allowed and 255 Opportunities Against. Doing the math, the Blues managed a 21.52% Power Play conversion rate beating out an 18.56% League Average and achieved an 85.14% Penalty Kill throughout the season, while the rest of the League looked on at an average of 81.34%. St. Louis, you have a lot to be proud of from this team. Though they did not manage that parade down Market, a lot was accomplished from this squad. Hold your heads high.
With already having gone into depth of what Jake Allen taking over as the full-time starting goaltender in a previous article, let’s look at what the loss of impact players such as Brouwer and Backes could mean for this Blues team going forward and what will need replaced.
This one was a little bit tougher for me to understand after seeing what he signed for in Calgary. Troy Brouwer will be joining Brian Elliott as two of the newest members of the Calgary Flames for the 2016-17 season, after signing a four-year, $18 million contract. This breaks down to $4.5 million per season, and includes a full No Trade Clause for the first two seasons, and a Modified No Trade Clause for the final two seasons of his contract, of which he can choose up to 15 teams that he cannot be traded to.
Troy was hoped by many in St. Louis to be a threat to the opposition for at least the next several years to come after being traded from the Washington Capitals in a deal that sent T.J. Oshie the other way. After seeing his determination, frustration, and desire to have the puck in the back of the net throughout the playoffs, Brouwer was hoped by many to stay. This was something that fans in St. Louis were not used to seeing from Oshie, as he typically faded during the postseason. He helped inspire others on his team to keep the level of play up and to keep battling. A true playoff leader to this squad.
Throughout the regular season, Troy was not the most offensive of players in the lineup. He managed to register 39 points in 82 games played. Though he has never been the most offensively minded player, Brouwer came within one point of tying his highest single season points total from the 2009-10 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. It would not be until the playoffs that Brouwer really stole St. Louis’ heart where he put up 13 points in 20 games and showed the tenacity of a player who wanted to do whatever it took to win. Though this was all to St. Louis’ favor, the statistic that alarmed and cautioned me about Troy’s future with the Blues, was the fact that Brouwer has now only managed 32 points in 98 career playoff games with Chicago, Washington, and St. Louis combined. Players have certainly had a history of cashing in on their playoff performances in previous seasons to boost their contract values for sure, so how much is he worth at this point. The statistic shows that 40.6% of his playoff points have come from his single postseason as a St. Louis Blue. Again, all of this now was to St. Louis’ favor, but was this just an anomaly or could this be counted on again next season? Was he truly in a better situation in St. Louis to put up more points in the postseason, or was it just a lucky year? The Calgary Flames have to hope for their sake that the performances from the two former Blues can be repeated with their young squad and to help carry them deep in to the playoffs. Without Brouwer to help lead the team this upcoming season, the Blues have learned and experienced what it takes to reach the Conference Championship. Who will be the player to step in to that role that Brouwer paved and put the team on their shoulders when the call comes?
The Captain. Drafted by the St. Louis Blues 62nd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Started his professional career with the Blues AHL affiliate club, the Peoria Rivermen in 2005. He played his first game NHL game on December 19th, 2006 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Scored his first NHL goal against the LA Kings two days later. Backes has been given the opportunity to lead the Blues as Captain since September 2011, represent the Blues in the NHL All-Star Game in 2011, represent the United States on three separate occasions in the World Championships and on two occasions in the Olympics. The 32-year-old has gone on to play 727 NHL career games for the St. Louis Blues, while racking up 969 total penalty minutes. Ten seasons with the Blues, five as their Captain, Backes it all. As his career goes on now in Boston, you can only add more to the legend that is: David Backes.
Boston, however, must be cautious when deploying Mr. Backes. David played a majority of his ice time this season between the second and third lines for the Blues, and registered his lowest shooting percentage (12.5%) in the last three seasons. The contract that the Bruins have for David going forward is front loaded and can in turn be able to help them out, if in the event that they would need to trade him. With the final two-year of his contract only showing a price tag of $4 million, a player like David Backes could be worth the price should they decide to ship him out of Boston. Playing on a hypothetical line that has been drawn up with the likes of Bergeron and Marchand could very well help Backes to reach over 50 points again this upcoming season, and very well challenge him for 60. Falling even down to a 2nd line role with Spooner and Krejci, Backes could very well make fans excited in Bean Town as Backes could very well be the new Lucic.
It’s time to look forward to the future St. Louis. Time to see what the new leaders of St. Louis can bring to this team, and who potentially is running out of room and time to make an impact. There are several players this upcoming season that will have a lot determined from their play. Let’s dive in and take a look at a few notable players that will be watched closely in the 2016-17 season in St. Louis.
The Finnish, 6’2” Center was drafted in 2008 by the Blues, 65th overall. After being drafted, he played only 7 games for the Peoria Rivermen, recorded one assist before he decided to return to the SM-Liiga (Finnish Elite League) playing for Tappara. From the 2008-2009 to the end of the following season, Lehtera would play 115 games for Tappara registering 28 goals and 88 assists. The 69 points in 57 games during the 2009-10 season would ultimately net him the title of MVP. After playing from 2010-2014 in the KHL, Lehtera signed a two year contract with St. Louis and decided to come Stateside. After his first season with the Blues posting 44 points in 75 games, he experienced a regression during his second season, posting only 34 points in 79 games. While chemistry with Tarasenko is essential and certainly helps his case, his ice time will perhaps be limited based off his production alone this upcoming season. Look for Hitchcock and new Head Coach In Waiting, Mike Yeo to try out combinations for that first line to play with Tarasenko and either Steen or Jaden Schwartz. If Lehtera can prove himself to be deserving of the minutes, a few more highlight real passes from Lehtera to Tarasenko just might be in store.
The former Blue, Oiler, Penguin, Duck, and Blue once more, has officially returned. Drafted in 2007 by the St. Louis Blues, the 28 year old Perron hopes to take what he has learned from his experiences with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Getzlaf and help out his former club once more. The 26th overall draft pick, Perron, has found patches of greatness in the last several years. Before his injury on, , David managed 42 points in 57 games. He was well on pace to top his career best 50 points in 81 games that came from his second season with the Blues. He would not return until , when he would play 48 games to finish out the season, managing only 25 points. Looking timid, and a somewhat ghost of his old self, Perron was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Perron spent two seasons with the Oilers. His first season, flashing again signs of what made him a first round draft pick by recording 57 points in 78 games, but recording an uncharacteristic 90 penalty minutes. Before this season, Perron’s highest penalty minute in a single season was marked at 60. He was caught too often taking bad penalty’s in the offensive zone and not playing defense when his team needed him. With a few changes in the offseason, and a mental plan to change and develop his game, David could keep projecting in Edmonton and help the Oilers turn their team around. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Registering only 19 points in 38 games, Perron would be traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He would only suit up for 86 games over the course of the 2014-15 to 2015-16 season, while scoring only 16 goals and 38 points. He was traded once more, to the Anaheim Ducks. It was here in Anaheim that David was given every chance to succeed; and he did. David Perron went on to score 8 goals and 12 assists throughout his 28 games with the Ducks. He was a player to be reckoned with once more. Now, he has a chance to bring what he has learned from the best around the NHL, back to St. Louis. He has a second chance with the Blues organization to prove he is deserving of the opportunity. A chance to play now with a slew of players from veteran and former teammate, Alexander Steen, to up and coming star Robby Fabbri. Perron has a capability to be a 50+ point player this upcoming season. His fate with the Blues, however, that is up to him.
20 years old, 5’10” and 180lbs. Certainly doesn’t seem like that impressive of a stature for a hockey player. Tell that to Robby Fabbri though. Drafted 21st overall in 2014, Fabbri got his first crack at the NHL this season. Averaginng 13:19 Time On Ice per game, posting 18 goals and 37 points, Fabbri certainly flashed signs of brilliance that has Blues fans giddy. It wasn’t until the post season that Fabbri would really take off. Fabbri was given more trust in the playoffs while he was able to prove through his performance. Averaging 14:22 through 20 games, Fabbri was able to take off 15 points in 20 games. This upcomming season will certainly have a lot more focus on Fabbri from the opposition. Certainly with the subtraction of Backes and the addition of Perron, it will certainly be interesting on how Hitchcock and Yeo deploy Fabbri. As the playoffs reflected the increase of his point production, Fabbri will certainly have a lot of supporters and be a cornerstone to build off of for the Blues to come for some time.
Another impressive rookie campaign from a Blues player. The towering 6’6″ Parayko, tied for 10th overall on the team with 33 points and lead the team with an impressive +28 overall rating. As his career continues to flourish, his shot will look to continue to develop. A shot that has many comparing him to Shea Weber and even Fulton Reed (Mighty Ducks reference there for you) is a shot that many in St. Louis are excited to have on their side. In the playoffs, Parayko was a player that would be counted on as the one of the defensemen to help lead the Blues through the postseason and at times partnered up with Alex Pietrangelo. A second year NHL player, Colton Parayko is the player that could push General Manager, Doug Armstrong, to trade away Kevin Shattenkirk as Parayko can emerge in to a Top 4 role for the Blues.
Looked at to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster this upcoming season, Rattie was signed to a 1 year contract in a way that speaks as a “show me what’cha got” season ahead. Rattie spent a majority of his time this past season at the AHL level playing with the Chicago Wolves. In 62 games, Rattie managed 17 goals and 46 points. During his time with the Blues, Rattie was able to more than double his NHL points total. In the two prior season, Rattie played 13 games and totalled 2 assists. In the 13 games that Rattie played this season, averaging only 9:17 TOI, he managed 16 shots, 4 goals and 2 assists. He will certainly have his work cut out for him as he will likley battle a mixture of Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin for playing time.
Drafted 41st overall in 2011, Jaskin was hoped to take a higher role last year and push for a higher role on the Blues. He unfortunately saw a 5 point reduction while playing 11 more games. Playing in 65 games for the Blues and averaging 11:52 TOI, Jaskin was not able to match his 108 shots total from his 2014-15, coming in at 92. For the 2016-17 season, Jaskin will also look to improve on his 4.3% shooting percentage next season. As much as this upcoming season is his to prove what he can really do, Rattie will likely push for playing time. Jaskin once scored 99 points in 51 games during the 2012-13 season in the QMJHL. The Blues will hope that Jaskin is able to find his scoring touch at the NHL level. He too could be another player with a short leash and potentially on thin ice this season.
The St. Louis Blues have a lot to be excited for this upcoming season. The new contract for Jaden Schwartz helps solidify their faith in his role with the team and his leadership. Jake Allen taking over as the starting goaltender can help push him mentally as he trains this offseason knowing he is the guy. The likes of sophomores Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko will likely push for more and more ice time as the season goes on and their careers flourish. The battle that will happen all season long potentially between Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny battling for the 1C spot to center the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen and/or Jaden Schwartz. The return of Vladimir Sobotka from the KHL to prove that he is more than just a 4C and can push for potentially even a spot as high as the second line. A lot of questions and combinations can and will come from this forward group of Blues. The question becomes, will the new “Young Guns” be able to produce and take that next step to lead their Blues to victory.