Tag: expectations

Minnesota Wild v St. Louis Blues

Blues playoff chances will hinge on Jaroslav Halak

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The Blues have a new captain. They have new veterans to show the young core the way. They have two of the best young offensive blueliners in the league. They have players that were acquired last season who have had an entire offseason to get comfortable in their new city. Everything looks like it’s in order for the Blues to have a bounce back season this year. Yet still, no matter which way you look at the team, their success still comes back to one vitally important player: Jaroslav Halak.

Expectations were sky-high when he was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. He was coming off of a playoff run where he almost single-handedly led the Habs to the Eastern Conference finals. The Habs chose Carey Price, the Blues chose to obtain his services and sign him for a 4-year deal, and the rest is history.

Or is it?

Last season the Blues were supposed to take the next step in their progression as Western Conference contenders. They finished 6th in the West in 2008-09 and had all the makings of a young team on the rise. The 2009-10 season featured a plethora of injuries that caused a predictable slip in the standings. But last year? Last year, a healthy team was supposed to pick up where they left off in 2009. Long-term injuries to TJ Oshie and David Perron didn’t help—but there was more to it than just injuries.

Aside from the injuries, the Blues were supposed to have an elite goaltender who could help steal games and lead them back to the playoffs. His pedestrian numbers explain that he wasn’t an elite goaltender last year—but it was more than just statistics. David Rogers over on Frozen Notes explains that Halak’s second year in St. Louis will need more consistency:

“The four-year, $15 million question. I think most fans are willing to give Halak a pass on his first season in St. Louis as the number one goaltender. They won’t be able to overlook two consecutive mediocre years. We’ve seen him be outstanding and unbeatable at times yet it’s quite difficult to forget the times he has been out of position and beaten repeatedly from similar angles.”

Halak’s going to need to step up if the Blues want to fill all of their potential. The Canadiens traded him because he wanted to be paid like “the man.” Now it’s time for him to start earning it. If he can put together a season like his last year in Montreal, the Blues are a good bet to sneak into the playoffs next season. But if he’s the inconsistent, average goaltender from a year ago, there’s no way the Blues will be able to reach the postseason in the tough Western Conference.

He’s had a year to get used to his new surroundings. He has a great new mask. Now fans in St. Louis hope he’ll have a great new game to go with the new headgear in the not-so-new city.

Varlamov speaks to media, childhood dream was to play for Avalanche

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals
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One week after the July 1st trade that brought Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche, he was formally introduced to the Denver media. In addition to performing the entire press conference (and subsequent interview session) in English, the 23-year-old Russian netminder surprised most people in attendance by telling everyone that his “childhood dream was to play for the Avalanche.” It shouldn’t be shocking considering the quality of the Avalanche teams during his formative years. None the less, it’s always fun to hear that a player dreamt of playing for a team that was the 2nd worst team in the league last season.

“It’s funny, but its true… my childhood dream was to play for the Avalanche.

And here’s the rationale:

“My favorite NHL player and NHL goalie played here. Patrick Roy. They’ve had lots of good players playing here, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote. They had lots and lots of good players.”

Here’s the entire press conference and highlights from the media scrum afterwards (via the Avalanche’s official site):

It’s good to hear that he’s excited because he has plenty of work ahead of him. After making the playoffs in 2009-10, the Avalanche saw their season fall off of a cliff in 2010-11. An optimist will tell you that they didn’t even finish last in their own division. A realist will point out that only one team finished with a worse record—marking the second time in three seasons they had a top 3 pick in the draft. To make matters worse, they traded John-Michael Liles to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a draft pick and only added Jan Hejda and Chuck Kobasew to the team for next season. Unless Varlamov does his best Craig Anderson circa 2009 impression, it’s hard to see how the Avalanche are going to compete for a playoff spot.

At least Varlamov has a job in the NHL. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post asked Varlamov if there was a chance that he was going to go to the KHL:

“Uh, no. I don’t want to talk about that right now. It’s none of my business. I just want to talk about the Avalanche.”

Ignoring the ridiculous “it’s none of my business” part of the quote, he’s making a concerted effort to move onto his future with the Avs. Within the interview package, Varlamov said that he plans on staying in North America for another month, will head to Russia to visit family for a couple of weeks, and then return in mid-August to get ready for the season. For a man who was rumored to be heading to the KHL, he’ll be seeing much more of North America in the coming year than his native Russia.

Varlamov said that he has no idea who’s going to be the number one goalie, but it’s safe to assume that he’ll be given every opportunity to earn the starting job in training camp. JS Giguere and he both want the #1 spot, but the Avalanche didn’t give up a 1st and 2nd round pick for Varlamov just so he could sit on the bench.

The Avalanche think they have their franchise netminder for the future. Now it’s just time for him to prove it.