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:

It’s Colorado Avalanche day at PHT

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As the Colorado Avalanche enter their third year of the Joe Sakic-Patrick Roy front office era, they seemingly remain a lab test for the league’s stat debates.

The Avalanche were once again a squad whose possession stats peaked at “really bad, but at least not Buffalo Sabres bad” in 2014-15.

The difference between missing the postseason this past season and 2013-14’s triumphant run may have just been some combination of Semyon Varlamov being less superhuman and Colorado experiencing bad luck.

To the stat-leaning public, this was an example of a team playing over its head one year and then crashing to reality last season.

To Roy, it was a rare failure, as he explained to NHL.com.

“I’m here to win the Stanley Cup,” Roy said. “I’m not in Denver to see us missing the playoffs, I’m here to see us winning. I really want to make sure that’s the last time we’re missing the playoffs. It makes you very humble. First time I missed the playoffs as a coach in junior and the NHL.”

The Avalanche might be humbled, yet they’re also sticking to their guns by defying conventional wisdom as far as strategies and team-building go.

Off-season recap

A year after respectable possession player and scorer Paul Stastny left town, the Avalanche traded away their other forward best known for being a rare beacon of light on a team that’s a fancy stats nightmare: Ryan O’Reilly.

One cannot totally blame the Avs for parting ways with a player who seemed out the door for some time, yet it perpetuates the theme that the Avalanche are bucking growing trends around the league.

That said, Carl Soderberg isn’t chopped liver, although he – like O’Reilly – will fetch quite a bounty for his work next season.

Actually, the haul for O’Reilly is quite intriguing: could Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko pay immediate dividends for the Avs? Considering how often this franchise invests in fading veterans, nabbing a couple potential blue chips could be crucial.

Francois Beauchemin is a fine defenseman, yet at 35, many wonder if he’ll be a letdown along the lines of Brad Stuart. Again, many of these moves ultimately fit into Colorado’s M.O.

***

The Avalanche seem content to do things their way, which makes them polarizing for some. However you feel about management’s broader moves, it’s foolish to count out a team that still boasts fascinating prime-age talent in Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and more.

Stastny ready to take on leadership role in St. Louis

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With T.J. Oshie dealt to the Washington Capitals in the offseason, Paul Stastny is ready to embrace more of a leadership role in second season with the St. Louis Blues.

“By the end of the year I started speaking up. The first year with a new team, you kind of fly under the radar and be quiet,” Stastny told The Denver Post. “As you get older you have to speak up. You want to win. If you see something go wrong, you’re not going to sit there and not say anything.”

The 29-year-old scored 16 goals and 30 assists in 74 games last season. He added one goal in six playoff games.

Following the Blues’ first round loss to the Minnesota Wild, GM Doug Armstrong said he needed more from Stastny moving forward.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” Armstrong said. “He’s our highest-paid player, we need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Heading into the second year of his four-year $28 million deal, Stastny feels better settled in his new surroundings.

“This summer and going into next season, we’re a lot more comfortable,” he said. “You see that in all sports. You move forward. You still have three or four of your best friends on your old team, but for us going forward we’re just a lot more comfortable. Last summer was just hectic with bachelor parties, weddings, and July 1 (free agency). There was a lot of traveling and this summer is a lot more low-key.”

Blues announce that Lehtera had ankle surgery last week

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The St. Louis Blues announced today that forward Jori Lehtera underwent successful surgery on his right ankle on Aug. 4.

According to the Blues, Lehtera “suffered the injury at the end of last season and is expected to be available to skate in six to eight weeks.”

More from Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch, with a quote from GM Doug Armstrong:

The Blues open the regular season on Oct. 8, slightly less than two months from today.

Related: Blues re-sign Lehtera: three years, $14.1 million

Maple Leafs’ biggest question: Who will follow Kessel out the door?

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When Phil Kessel was traded, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan called it a “recognition” that “what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

But for all that Kessel was criticized during his time in Toronto, he was only one piece of the core that “wasn’t good enough.” Hence, the trade speculation that continues to surround Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and many others.

Basically, if you played for the Leafs last year and your name isn’t Morgan Rielly, if you’re still on the roster, you may not be for long.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, it’s not a great time to be dumping salaries. They had to eat part of Kessel’s contract to move him to Pittsburgh. They’d likely be asked to do the same in any swap involving Phaneuf, Bozak, or Lupul, the latter of whom may be untradeable, period.

And remember that a team can only retain the salaries of three players. Kessel is on the books through 2022. Carl Gunnarsson is on there (for a paltry $200,000) through next season.

In addition to the veterans, there’s the younger guys like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Jonathan Bernier. They still have to show management that they can be part of the long-term solution.

To illustrate, here’s what Mike Babcock said when Kadri re-signed for one year: “I expect him to be an elite player. He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us.”

Gauntlet: thrown down.

A youngish player like James van Riemsdyk isn’t safe either, even after leading the Leafs with 27 goals last season. The 26-year-old has three years left before he can become an unrestricted free agent. So, do the Leafs envision him re-signing? Because the way they’re talking, he’ll be closing on 30 when the team is ready to start contending.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that,” said Shanahan.

“We’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

In the meantime, expect the Leafs to be active on the trade front, as it’s out with old core and in with the new.

Related: Wings reportedly no longer interested in Phaneuf