Could veteran leadership put the Blues back in the playoffs?

The St. Louis Blues added some much needed veteran leadership to their organization when they signed Jason Arnott and Jaime Langenbrunner to 1-year deals on Wednesday. The veteran pair join a team that finished 11th in the Western Conference in 2010-11; their final standings would have been worse if it weren’t for a strong finish to their season. But even though the Blues were the Central Division’s 4th place team a season ago, there’s reason to hope the Blues will be a much improved team next season.

The most important trait that Arnott and Langenbrunner bring to the table is unquestionably their veteran leadership—both players have been around the block a few times. They’ve both been through the rigors of the Stanley Cup playoffs and both know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.

It’s a perfect fit from the team’s point of view. The Blues are a team filled with young players with plenty of potential, but there’s very little veteran leadership to show the kids the correct way to play and handle themselves off the ice. That’s where the new acquisitions will come into play for GM Doug Armstrong.

Since this is the NHL, the newest members of the Blues will be expected to bring more than the sage wisdom of respected elders. Langenbrunner and Arnott may be on the downside of their respective careers, but both players are still capable of playing in secondary roles in the NHL. Jeremy Rutherford thinks the lines will look something like this on opening night:

With David Perron:

McDonald-Backes-Perron
Oshie-Berglund-Stewart
Steen-Arnott-D’Agostini
Sobotka-Nichol-Langenbrunner/Crombeen

Without David Perron:

McDonald-Backes-D’Agostini
Oshie-Berglund-Stewart
Steen-Arnott-Langenbrunner
Sobotka-Nichol-Crombeen

Rutherford isn’t the only one throwing out roster projections either. Any way you cut it, the Blues have plenty of forward depth for the first time in years. Players like Evgeny Grachev, B.J. Crombeen, and Scott Nichol will have to fight for their spot on the roster instead of having it handed to them in training camp. Remember, this is a team that only two seasons ago looked like one of the good, up-and-coming young teams in the NHL. The majority of the foundation is still in place—now they just have some veterans to point them in the right direction.

Andy Strickland gets to the heart of the matter in a roundtable over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“It’s hard to argue both players won’t be welcome additions on and off the ice. The Blues didn’t bring them on board to babysit and watch over the Oshies, Berglunds, and Perrons. They obviously bring a ton of experience and I think their game will benefit from playing in a youthful, enthusiastic environment. Doug Armstrong wouldn’t have signed either player unless he honestly believed they could upgrade the roster. Are they the players they once were? No, but they can still contribute and complement a core of offensive players lacking winning experience. They aren’t signed to eight-year deals and therefore won’t be fully ingrained in the Blues organization, but for one year they can certainly give some much needed direction. Signing these types of players is long overdue.”

Just as important as their play on the ice (or leadership in the locker room) is the symbolic nature of the veteran signings. Over the last few years, Blues ownership was either unwilling or unable to pull the trigger on veterans with higher price tags. They’d claim that they were in the midst of a rebuild—but sooner or later veterans needed to be brought in to augment the youthful exuberance. For a team that was consistently in the bottom third of payroll, fiscally responsible excuses were wearing thin for a hungry fanbase. As Jeff Quirin explained on Blue Note Zone, the credit for acquiring the proven veterans should be shared between the general manager and ownership:

“In Armstrong’s tenure the handling of personnel decisions has turned 180 degrees from his predecessor. With the rebuild complete, the next step was to convert all the Pleau era stockpiled potential in to results. Moving assets in and out is required once needs are identified. With the Halak and Stewart trades a willingness to gamble on transactions have been proven. Not just by the man brokering the deal, but the one who ultimately gives his blessing to make it happen.”

For the first time in a while, the Blues have put their money where their mouth is. They have young pieces in place through great work at the draft table. With Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Shattenkirk, they’ve been able to add even more young talent to their strong prospect pool within the last calendar year. They’ve spent years putting together a finely-tuned machine of young players with the potential to compete with any stable of youngsters around the league.

Now with Arnott and Langenbrunner, they have someone behind the wheel.

The Buzzer: McElhinney with the McShutout, Schenn scores again

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Players of the Night: 

Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs:

McElhinney turned aside all 41 shots that came his way as the Leafs shutout the Edmonton Oilers 1-0. The Leafs backup improved to 3-2-0 on the season and his save percentage jumped from .900 to 9.25. Toronto has now won three straight and six of their past 10.

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues:

Schenn notched his sixth goal in his past four games and extended his goal-scoring streak to four games with a goal 40 seconds into the game. The Blues are now winners of four straight and six of their past 10.

Eric Stall, Minnesota Wild & Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: 

Both scored twice for their respective teams in an entertaining 4-3 win for the Wild in overtime.

Highlight of the Night: 

Vladimir Tarasenko catches the Sabres defense sleeping in overtime, scoring his first non-empty net goal in nine games:

Factoid of the Night: 

Patrick Kane didn’t score, but his two assists were instrumental in giving the Chicago Blackhawks a victory on Sunday.

Scores: 

Blackhawks 3, Coyotes 1

Blues 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Maple Leafs 1, Oilers 0

Wild 4, Sharks 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Alex Burrows fined $5,000 for roughing

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Alex Burrows won’t be on Dylan DeMelo‘s Christmas card list this year.

Not after Burrows swiped DeMelo in the face with the butt-end of his stick on Saturday night.

Burrows got slapped with a $5,000 fine for roughing on Sunday night, the maximum permissible under the CBA. The money is one thing, but Burrows and the Senators have bigger issues at the moment.

It didn’t help the little incident happened in the third period and the game all but over for the Senators. Here’s the slow-mo shot of the infraction:

DeMelo suffered a scratch cornea and narrowly missed a major eye injury, according to Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. 

DeMelo was in the lineup for the Sharks on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild.

Burrows’ $5,000 goes to the player’s Emergency Assistance Fund.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.