Tag: Jaime Langenbrunner

David Backes, Alexander Steen, Brad Boyes

Blues hoping to pick new captain in training camp

1 Comment

The Blues and their fans have a few new things to look forward to coming into next season. They’ll have new expectations as they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season; and their first playoff win since 2004. They’ll have new veterans on the team to help bring success back to the Gateway City. They’ll even have a new slogan.

Most importantly from a leadership perspective, they’ll have a new captain leading them onto the ice.

There has been a vacancy at captain ever since the Blues traded away Eric Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning in middle of last season. They finished the season with three alternate captains sharing the leadership responsibilities—Alex Steen, Barret Jackman, and David Backes. Interestingly enough, the Blues aren’t sure if they’re going to pick one traditional captain or if they’re going to go with a group of rotating captains. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford spoke to Blues GM Doug Armstrong about the captain situation for next season:

“We want to get the input of some of the other people in our organization – the coaches, some people in our management staff – and we’ll have that decision by the first day of training camp… whether we go with a group of players that will make up a leadership group or we name a captain.

“We’re further ahead that we were at the end of the season, but we’re not at the point where we’ve solidified what we want to do, and that’s something that we’ll spend the next three weeks discussing.”

Earlier this offseason, we here at Pro Hockey Talk looked at the Blues captaincy situation and explained that promoting David Backes seems like a no-brainer. But if the Blues were to go with a rotating situation similar to the Minnesota Wild under Jacques Lemaire, the list of candidates gets a little murkier. Would they want to go with the current group of leaders (Jackman, Steen, Backes) who have been with the Blues for a longer period of time? Would they want to go with newcomers who look like they could be future cornerstones like Alex Pietrangelo or Chris Stewart? Would they want to give the “C” to a veteran, free agent acquisition like Jason Arnott or Jaime Langenbrunner? Any one of those guys is capable of wearing the “A” over the course of the season—and each is capable of wearing the “C” for a period of time as well.

It gets into a much deeper debate about the role of a captain on an NHL team. Most coaches and general managers will tell you that they expect leadership from every member of the team—they don’t need a letter on their jersey to set a good example. From that standpoint, rotating captains puts the responsibility on the team as a whole to hold their teammates accountable. In theory, it makes sense.

On the other hand, there are those who think a team needs a strong leader who is the acknowledged leader in the locker room. He’s the guy who, whether the team has given him the captaincy or not, has the undeniable respect of his teammates. It’s more of a “buck stops here” attitude—a player who will face his teammates and the media when things aren’t going well. A player who can approach the coach and management when things aren’t going well and some sort of change needs to be made. In short: an undisputed leader.

The Blues will use the rest of the offseason to figure out their captaincy situation. What do you think would be better for St. Louis? Should they make a guy like David Backes the permanent captain or should they go with rotating captains?

Davis Payne looks to lead Blues in final year of contract

St. Louis Blues v Los Angeles Kings

Each season there are teams with expectations; with coaches who are asked to deliver upon those expectations. Last season, Davis Payne was expected to lead the St. Louis Blues and build upon their 2009 playoff appearance after a frustrating 2009-10 season. Instead, the Blues had enough injuries to fill a steamboat on the Mississippi and the season that started with so much optimism ended with feelings of “what if?” What if T.J. Oshie was healthy all season? What if David Perron didn’t run into Joe Thornton’s elbow? What if Andy McDonald was able to play an entire season? The list goes on and on.

Payne was largely given a free-pass in his first full season behind the bench. To be honest, nothing really stuck out in his first year. They were in the middle of the pack in both goals scored and goals against. Their special teams weren’t all that special with an average power play and penalty kill. On the positive side, team defense was actually pretty good on the whole allowing only 27.7 shots per game—so the coach must have been doing something right. Unfortunately, they were terrible at holding the league as they were one of the worst teams in the league at holding the lead after scoring first period. The Blues may have been prepared, but they didn’t always play the full 60 minutes.

During his “Blues Chat,” Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch in St. Louis addressed Payne and his immediate future with the team:

“This is the last year of Payne’s two-year deal. I’ve written in the past that I think he’s done an admirable job considering his lack of NHL experience and also considering the Blues’ injuries and ownership issues. With that said, there is some heat on Payne this year to get the most out of this club. If healthy, they should be a playoff team. If they can contend, I don’t see any reason the Blues wouldn’t retain Payne. But if the club falls short, there will definitely be questions about whether he’ll be extended.

NHL coaches have a shorter shelf-life than ever these days. After taking over for Andy Murray after New Year’s Day 2010, Payne has a 61-48-15 record in 124 career NHL games. More importantly, he is 0-2 in the playoff department—as in zero playoff appearances. The first season wasn’t necessarily his fault since he only coached half the season and the second season was marred by injuries, but sooner or later the coach will be asked to overcome adversity or find a new job. This may be the season where push comes to shove for Payne.

Adding to Payne’s pressure is the way the Blues started last season. After twelve games, they were sitting on top of the league with a 9-1-2 record. Not only were they winning games—they were beating teams that were destined for the playoffs like the Flyers, Ducks, Penguins, Predators, and Blackhawks. Payne admitted that the quick start may have set expectations to an impossibly high standard:

“9-1-2, I don’t know if anyone finished at that pace. Was it realistic that you were going to carry (that pace) through 82 (games)? Probably not. It was a good start. It was what we needed to do to build that assurance as to how we were going to play and the way we were going to play was going to create success.

“If everybody’s whole and intact the entire year, I see no reason for that type of success, maybe not at quite that level, to continue. … We felt as we finished, there’s teams that are starting (the playoffs Wednesday) that we could go head-to-head with and feel pretty good about it.”

Payne and the Blues will hope to get off to another quick this start—only they’ll hope they learned from last year’s mistakes and play with more consistency. The organization expects veteran additions like Jaime Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to help the team right the ship during any rough spots and a new captain should give the team strong leadership. This is a team that has shown potential over the last few years—but it’s time for the players to start filling the potential with their play on the ice.

If not, the players and coaches alike could be looking for a new start in a new city.

Looking for leadership: Who is the next St Louis Blues Captain?

Colorado Avalanche v St. Louis Blues

Trading a captain away used to be a mortal sin for an organization. If players tended to stay with the same organization for the duration of their careers, the captains would stay part of the organization for the rest of their lives. Can anyone imagine Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau or Bob Gainey wearing anything other than the bleu blanc et rouge? Would the Red Wings ever trade Alex Delvecchio or even Steve Yzerman? Would the Boston Bruins ever trade Raymond Bou… nevermind.

Like many other things around the NHL, time brings change.

Over the course of the offseason, the New York Rangers have let their captain Chris Drury walk away and the Philadelphia Flyers have traded Mike Richards to the Kings. Adam Foote has retired in Colorado and Doug Weight has done the same in Long Island. But even more surprising, the Sabres, Devils, and Blues all traded their captains in the middle of the season last year. Craig Rivet was sitting in the press box by the time he was traded from the Sabres and Jaime Langenbrunner was fighting with Jacques Lemaire by the time he was sent out of town. But for the Blues, sending Captain Eric Brewer to the Lightning was a move that truly sent their leader to a new team.

As important as offseason acquisitions are for the Blues, perhaps the most important decision in shaping the team this offseason will be selecting the next captain of the proud franchise.

Returning to the team this season are all three alternate captains: Alex Steen, Barret Jackman, and David Backes. Elsewhere on the roster, Andy McDonald has provided leadership over the last four seasons and star-in-the-making Alex Pietrangelo wore the “A” for Team Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championships. The team has also welcomed veteran leaders and former NHL captains Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner to the team via free agency. For a team that traded away their leader at the deadline last season, the Blues certainly have their share of candidates to replace Brewer as captain for next season.

For our money, it’s hard to imagine a better captain for the Blues than David Backes. He’s the heart and soul of their young core combining skill, grit, and leadership in one powerful package. The 27-year-old is a two-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL and has only missed three games over the last three seasons. He’s represented the United States in the World Championships three times, was a member of Team USA’s silver medal winning team in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was an all-star for the first time in his career last season. But more important than any stats that show up on his resume, it’s the way Backes plays the game that makes him the ideal leader for the Blues. He’s the type of player that would do anything for his team—whether its spark his teammates with a body check, an important goal, or even a fight. David Rogers from the Blues blog FrozenNotes.com agrees:

“Backes leads by example. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice and has no fear throwing his body around. Quite often, his physical play helps create scoring chances in the first place, by disrupting the other team’s flow of play. If he needs to stand up for his teammates, he will. If he needs to scrap, he will – and boy has he, just ask Team Canada.

Backes leads the Blues in plenty of offensive categories, but it is his overall play through the intangibles that will likely result in him leading the Blues as the team’s captain in the not too distant future.”

Last season, he signed a 5-year contract extension worth $22.5 million meaning he should be in town until at least 2016. Assuming the Blues don’t trade him after signing him to a long-term extension (see: Philadelphia Flyers), Backes would be an ideal candidate to lead the young team for the foreseeable future.

Could veteran leadership put the Blues back in the playoffs?

Kevin Shattenkirk, David Backes

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:


Without David Perron:


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.