James O'Brien

Ken Hitchcock

It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The St. Louis Blues day.

Another strong regular season followed by an early playoff exit. Business as usual for the St. Louis Blues, right?

Well, maybe. You get the sense that the 2015-16 season is an ultimatum, with the T.J. Oshie trade being a warning: this might be the last shot for many, perhaps including head coach Ken Hitchcock.

On paper, there’s still a lot of promise in St. Louis.

Vladimir Tarasenko tore onto the scene as a true elite sniper in 2015-16, and he was paid handsomely for it. Jaden Schwartz lacks some of the sizzle, but he’s a blue chip of his own. There’s some uncertainty for the likes of David Backes, but let’s not forget that St. Louis scored 248 goals last season, more than any other Western Conference playoff squad.

Of course, a Hitch-helmed team is expected to be stout defensively, and the Blues boast two fantastic blueliners in Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo.

The two-headed dragon setup remains in net with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, but hey, at least they like each other.

Off-season recap

As mentioned above, the Blues re-upped with expected cornerstones Allen and Tarasenko. They also parted ways with Oshie and Barret Jackman.

St. Louis actually looks pretty similar heading into 2015-16, but young players could up the ante quite a bit. Could someone like Robby Fabbri and/or Ty Rattie become difference-makers for the Blues? Training camp might help decide that, but their development is one of the more important aspects of this off-season.

If fear isn’t enough of a motivator, there’s also avoiding sights like these in the future:

PHT Morning Skate: Wheeler says don’t put ads on ‘sacred’ jerseys

Blake Wheeler
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Is Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien really a changed man? (Sportsnet)

Speaking of changes, Alex Burmistrov discusses the ones he went through in two years away from Winnipeg. (TSN)

Jacques Lemaire explains why he left the New Jersey Devils. (Newark Star-Ledger)

So, how is the “Shana-plan” going? (Toronto Sun)

Martin Jones’ new lid.

NHL fans aren’t the only people cringing at the thought of advertisements being placed on uniforms. Blake Wheeler isn’t on board with the idea, either:

Speaking of hockey sweaters, check out this clash of two great logos outside of the NHL. (The Hockey News)

Coyotes’ Hanzal puts ‘shooting pain’ in leg behind him

Martin Hanzal, Martin Erat
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If the Arizona Coyotes are going to be successful in 2015-16, it will come down to grinding away wins like they managed to do years ago.

Towering center Martin Hanzal has been a big part of those more successful runs, yet his unyielding style has taken its toll on his body.

Really, his description of the left leg issues that plagued him last season was pretty disturbing, even if his overall message to Fox Sports Arizona was positive.

“I had pain that was shooting down my left leg and there were days where I couldn’t feel my leg,” Hanzal said. “They kind of cut the piece out that was pushing on my nerve and that was the reason I couldn’t feel my leg. Now it’s all good; all healed up.”

Hmm.

The 28-year-old acknowledged his frustration regarding all the time he’s missed over his career. Just look at his games played totals over the years, handing a partial mulligan to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign:

2009-10 (made the playoffs): 81 games played
2010-11 (made): 61 GP
2011-12 (made): 64 GP
2012-13 (missed): 39 GP*
2013-14 (missed): 65 GP
2014-15 (missed): 37 GP

That’s a lot of missed games, and it’s not as if players who historically deal with injury issues consistently become more durable with age.

Head coach Dave Tippett admits those issues are “a concern,” and health problems only seem more frustrating when you consider his praise of Hanzal:

“When you look at the teams in our conference, he can play head-to-head with those big centers and he touches a lot of different situations for us,” Tippett said. “In a hard game, he’s one of those guys that helps you win.”

Of course, he can’t help the Coyotes if he’s unable to suit up, which is an all-too-frequent issue for the powerhouse pivot.

Kruger wants to sign with Chicago, but isn’t panicking (yet)

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
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It’s already mid-August, and Marcus Kruger still lacks a new contract from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The team’s salary cap bind remains, so the restricted free agent is still in limbo. He admitted to ESPN Chicago that he wants to get a deal done soon, yet he’s not agonizing over it.

“I want to have it done. I think that’s for everyone,” Kruger said. “But I don’t feel too stressed out about it, yet at least. We have another month until training camp.”

The 25-year-old has professed his patience and flexibility toward the Blackhawks’ situation more than once, and he stood by that, stating “whatever happens, it’s going to be good for me and them.”

It’s plausible that the Blackhawks may ask a little more from the Swede in 2015-16 after some significant departures in the likes of Brad Richards and Patrick Sharp.

His last contract carried a $1.325 million cap hit, while General Fanager pegs the Blackhawks’ cap space at just $231,540 right now.

As Kruger said, the Blackhawks still have time to figure things out, but it’s also true that the clock is ticking.

Colorado Avalanche ’15-16 Outlook

Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche
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The Colorado Avalanche can be a tough nut to crack.

If you bounce around “Hockey Twitter” at all, the team very much stands as a guinea pig in the “stats vs. tradition” debate (or whatever you’d like to call it). That debate often gets a little weird and then overshadows the team itself.

When you look at the Avalanche, it’s an odd mix of old and new.

You have old ideas and old faces in management with Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic running the ship. They seemingly lean toward signing old veterans from Jarome Iginla to Francois Beauchemin.

The fresh faces make this squad awfully interesting, however. Gabriel Landeskog is still one of the NHL’s youngest captains at 22. With all the pressure on Nathan MacKinnon to make the next step, one might forget that he’s just 19. Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie remain in the meat of their primes at 24.

What if all four of those promising young players make significant strides that often come at such ages, particularly MacKinnon, who may just be scratching the surface of his skill set as people move onto to the next big thing in Connor McDavid? Could the Avalanche see earlier-than-expected results from still-blooming prospects like Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko?

Ryan O’Reilly is a tough player to let go – and he’s also just 24 – but when you look at that group, it’s quite a bit easier to stomach, isn’t it?

Yes, that defense looks pretty shaky beyond a handful of solid players such as Barrie and Erik Johnson, meaning the Avalanche will again lean heavily on Semyon Varlamov.

Still, with the abundance of talent at the forward position in particular, even the most ardent number-crunchers would shudder to dismiss the Avalanche outright.