While everyone else is busy being disappointed by the St. Louis Blues early playoff ouster at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks or celebrating the incredible comeback that the St. Louis Blues were able to make to even get into the post-season for 4 meaningful contests, John Davidson, Larry Pleau, Al MacInnis, Doug Armstrong, Andy Murray, et al will be figuring out (starting today) how to make this team better for next year. They'll be figuring out how to get the St. Louis Blues to play like they did for the last 38 games of hockey instead of the first 44 games of hockey. I figured that I would take a stab at what the team could look like, barring freak injuries, come October.
First off, let's look at who is leaving. According to this site, as of right now, Keith Tkachuk is no longer a Blue. He does not have a contract going into next season. Manny Legace will, most likely, be joining the scrap heap. Dan Hinote and Brad Winchester are the other two UFA's on the roster at the moment. On another site, it is stated that Mike Weaver and Trent Whitfield are free agents as well. Those two sites only show UNrestricted free agents (UFAs).
For the Blues, there are several restricted free agents, as well. This means the Blues have the option of matching any offers made to these players. I'll list players that I think could make an impact on the 2009-2010 roster only: BJ Crombeen, Chris Holt, Jay McClement, Roman Polak, Chris Porter, Steve Regier, Marek Shwarz, Steve Wagner, and Jeff Woywitka.
At goaltender, Chris Mason has earned everything he's ever wanted: A starting goaltender's job in the National Hockey League. 57 games with a .916 save percentage, plus 21 out of the last 25 games (not including the playoffs) giving up 3 or less goals, will give you a good chance to play every day the following season. Ben Bishop, I believe should and will be backing up Mason. I could see Chris Holt giving Bishop a run for his money, but I'd rather see Holt in a full season starting in Peoria, personally.
On defense, the Blues have a lot of talent. There are 5 guys who, in my mind, are sure bets to make the team on defense. Erik Johnson should be back in form by the time October rolls around. If that is the case, he very well could be the top d-man. Alex Pietrangelo, especially for a 19 year old, played well in his "cup o' joe," to steal a term from baseball players getting a quick look at what the big leagues are like. He should be a top 4 defenseman. Barret Jackman has had a rough couple of years, compared to the beginning of his career. I think that with two other really good defensemen (and a good surrounding cast back there), he will step up his play in a reduced minute role. He will be in his age 28 season and should be rounding into his prime for the next 3-5 years. I hope that the toll of 18-23 minutes per night for the past 3 years playing on a bad team (minus the tail end of this season) won't scar his future seasons. Carlo Colaiacovo led all Blues defensemen with 29 points this season. He had a rough playoff run, but most of the Blues players did. Eric Brewer is still the Captain of this team for the moment, so there is no way to keep him off the ice either. The rest of the defensemen are battling for one spot every night.
Jay McKee was the top d-man in +/- this year, with Tyson Strachan finishing 2nd in only 30 games played. Jeff Woywitka was third in +/- and 3rd in points (for Blues d-men). Other than them, Roman Polak played some good minutes (and some bad) in the playoffs, and Steve Wagner and Mike Weaver played a bit in the regular season, with Weaver seeing time int he playoffs, too.
At forward, Brad Boyes led the team in goals, assists, and points. David Backes was second on the team in goals and points. David Perron was second on the team in assists and third in points. Add in a healthy Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald and you have a pretty decent top 5. Either Patrik Berglund or TJ Oshie round out a good top two lines, while the other will start at center on the 3rd line (unless Andy Murray decides to split up this top 7 talent and go with a 3-line rotation to keep players more fresh.)
Jay McClement, BJ Crombeen, and Alex Steen make another pretty good line, but that only gives you a top 10 and, of course, 12 forwards are needed.
Unless FA acquisitions are made, I could see DJ King and St. Louisan Cam Janssen battling out for a regular lineup spot on the fourth line, especially in the grind of a long season and someone taking a cheap shot at a top 7 player from above.
Someone else who knows the minor league talent better than I could help me out here. Going off of who played in St. Louis this year, one spot will be left wide open to be won by one of the following: David Koci, Steve Regier, Cam Paddock, Chris Porter, and Yan Stastny. I can't say that I'm thrilled with any of those options.
Onto the Free Agents. This site shows one version of the Top 30 free agents in the summer of 2009 and this site I believe could list everyone. Dominic Moore looks like a St. Louis Blue. He is a checking liner in effort. Enough said. Alex Burrows, with whom Blues fans are now familiar, could be a force on offense, especially with Oshie, Perron, Backes, etc clearing the boards and crease for him. I don't think the Blues will go after the Sedins because they'll cost too much money. Steve Bernier is a restricted free agent, meaning Vancouver could match an offer. For some reason, I thought they re-signed him last year to a 2 or 3 year deal.
The biggest impact on the defensive end could be Jay Bouwmeester. I would love to see him round out our top 6 defensemen. That would be an incredible defensive corps.
If anyone knows anything different than I, or if you agree or disagree, I would love to see comments and have a chance to forsee next year's roster. Thanks!