David Backes, Chris Stewart

Could the St. Louis Blues be a ‘sleeper team’ in the West?


Last off-season, I thought the St. Louis Blues were really onto something. While I’m not a huge proponent of spending big on a goalie with a small resume, I thought that Jaroslav Halak would get enough support from backup Ty Conklin to succeed reasonably well. Adding more talented goaltending to a solid stable of young talent prompted me to pick the Blues to make the playoffs in 2010-11.

Obviously, I was wrong with that one. Halak wasn’t awful, but Conklin certainly was. The Blues dealt with a litany of injuries, with David Perron still in a depressing state of concussion limbo. The team even traded Erik Johnson – the first pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft – although it wasn’t one of those trades in which a team essentially admits defeat by not getting much in return for a top pick (see: James Sheppard with Minnesota, Nikita Filatov and Columbus).

The 2010-11 season had enough lows and such a dearth of highs that it’s almost tough to believe my own gut feelings from last year. Yet if you look at that roster, the Blues have a diverse group of scorers and enough talent that they might have a chance at sneaking up on some people in the Western Conference.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen shares that hypothesis, calling the Blues “the sleeper team” of the West. Allen gives 10 reasons why, but we’ll look at some of the biggest points.

1. They have six returning forwards (David Backes, Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen, Andy McDonald and Matt D’Agostini) who scored 20 or more goals last season. To put that into perspective, the Boston Bruins have four and Vancouver has three.

Allen points out that T.J. Oshie didn’t make that list largely because he missed 33 games with injuries and Perron also deserves a mention since he scored exactly 20 in a healthy 2009-10 season. It could be said that the Blues lack a true superstar forward, but teams have had success with a scoring by committee approach before. Stewart and Backes are the types of big forwards who can score in the rugged Northwest Division.

Allen also points to the free agent acquisitions of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. There are some serious questions about how much each player has left in the tank (Langenbrunner’s game looked especially “off” during his time with the Devils and Stars), but the Blues were wise enough to sign them to one-year deals to reduce their overall risks. If nothing else, those veterans reinforce the impressive depth this team has on offense.

4. Jaroslav Halak, 26, is entering the best years of his career. Last season was his first season as a wire-to-wire No. 1 goalie. You can bet he learned something. Would anyone be surprised if his save percentage was .920 this season?

5. St. Louis’ defense is still a work in progress, but presumably Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk will be more polished this season.

Ultimately, it all rests on Halak even more than last year with the Blues’ backup situation being a considerable question mark. The only problem is that the Blues defense isn’t likely to provide the kind of support Halak enjoyed during some of his better moments with the Montreal Canadiens. The Blues might hope that they’re “just good enough” in their own end.

10. The Blues have players who are hard to play against. Backes had 213 hits last season. It seems as if solid defenseman Barret Jackman has been around forever, but he’s only 30. He plays 20 minutes a game and blocks plenty of shots. Roman Polak is another 20-minute defenseman who will dish out some hits.

Toughness can be a serious asset in a division and conference that rewards grit a bit more than the East (at least it seems).


So what do you think about the Blues? Do they have the offense and just enough goaltending to sneak into the playoffs next season, like the 2009-10 Colorado Avalanche? Will their question marks on defense and lack of a true star on offense doom them next season? Let us know in the comments.

Get set for the Heritage Classic with hot dog facts and more

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 22: Morris Lukowich #12 of the Winnipeg Jets alumni moves the puck in front Steve Staios #24 of the Edmonton Oilers alumni during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic alumni hockey game on October 22, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets host the Edmonton Oilers at the 2016 Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field this afternoon. You can watch it on NHL Network, Sportsnet, TVA Sports 2 or NHL.tv at 3 p.m. ET.

With that in mind, let’s get prepped with super-important stats about unhealthy food, interesting photos and fun facts.

  • Want to get an in-depth look at the rivalry between the Jets and the Oilers? NHL.com and Sportsnet both have some great retrospectives.
  • The CBC notes that there was rain ending in the morning but it’s expected to be cloudy. Overall, sounds like a nice climate for an outdoor hockey game. NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika wonders if the sun’s glare might cause some issues.
  • No doubt about it, the futures of both franchises will be on display, from Connor McDavid to Patrik Laine.
  • The league’s PR department tweeted out some silly facts: 425 lbs. of cheese curds “will top poutine” during the event and 2.5 kilometers (about 1.55 miles) of hot dogs and “smokies” will be consumed.

(Imagines one enormous cheese dog.)

Now that you have important food facts in mind, here are a few fun photos as promised.

Should be a great time.

Oh, and in case you missed it, here is a recap of Saturday’s wonderful alumni game:

Coyotes consider Mike Smith (lower body) week-to-week

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The Arizona Coyotes received (mostly) good news on Sunday: Mike Smith‘s injury isn’t believed to be “severe,” even if he’s considered week-to-week, according to reporters including TSN’s Darren Dreger.

While Louis Domingue and Justin Peters isn’t the sort of goalie duo that will make shooters think twice about firing the puck, they’re both at least fairly experienced netminders.

(Considering Smith’s struggles with injuries and inconsistency, it’s not surprising that Arizona invested in a little insurance in Peters.)

Domingue is slated to start in net for the Coyotes against the New York Rangers on Sunday. It’s been a bumpy start for him so far, but Arizona has at least a theoretical advantage in that the Rangers played on Saturday.

As far as when Smith will be back? Well here’s a slight idea.

Report: Rangers expect Dan Girardi back on Sunday

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13:  Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers in action in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers will have defenseman Dan Girardi back in the lineup against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.

If that holds true, Rosen reports that Girardi will replace Adam Clendening in the Rangers lineup.

The Rangers are 3-2-0 to start the season without Girardi, including a nice 4-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

For plenty of Rangers fans, this is great news, especially since New York could probably use some fresh legs on a back-to-back. He hasn’t played so far this season thanks to a groin injury.

More than a few people wonder if the former All-Star is actually a hindrance to his team, however, so expect some jokes here and there.

These two tweets from earlier this season do a decent job of summarizing the dichotomy:

/Awkward laugh

Panthers’ Harper made a childhood dream come true last night

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 22: Shane Harper #38 celebrates his third period goal with Gregg McKegg #41 of the Florida Panthers against the Colorado Avalanche at the BB&T Center on October 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Avalanche 5-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

“Who is Shane Harper?”

Chances are, plenty of hockey fans – and maybe some members of the Colorado Avalanche – were uttering that question after Saturday night.

Well, we know this about Shane Harper: he scored his first two NHL goals at age 27, helping the Florida Panthers beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.

You can watch both of Harper’s goals in the recap video:

Harper also drew enough ire from the Avalanche to get into a bit of a skirmish following a hit.

So, who is Shane Harper?

For one thing, he’s from Valencia, California and did not go drafted.

His best junior season came in 2009-10, when he scored 42 goals and 80 points for the Everett Silvertips. He’s become quite the seasoned AHL veteran since then, and while his numbers won’t wow you, he did do enough in 2014-15 to maybe turn a head or two. Harper scored 32 goals and 50 points for the Chicago Wolves that season.

You can tell his teammates were happy for him – gentle ribbing and all – when the media asked about his career milestone:

He was modest there, but acknowledged that even playing in the NHL was a dream come true, so scoring a goal must have been even better.