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

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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).

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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.

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

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Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.