The first preseason game is tonight, and it feels so grand, doesn't it? In baseball, they talk about hope springing eternal every Spring Training for every team, as they all wipe the slate clean in preparation for a new season. The same thing happens prior to every season for hockey teams, even though such hope does not spring until the fall . . . if that makes any sense.
And as such, hope springs eternal inside many ardent St. Louis Blues fans this time of year, and seriously, as Blues fans we've needed our reasons to get our hopes up pretty much every season since the lockout (our boys haven't won a playoff game since George W. Bush's FIRST TERM as POTUS . . . that, my friends, is a fucking LONG time ago). And this year, it seems the Blues are headed toward a promising campaign.
In general, I am an optimist. I may sound the opposite at times, but I truly do look for the best result possible and hope that it happens every time. But I've been optimistic leading up to the last two Blues campaigns and, well, where did THAT get us?
So while in all reality I AM hopeful for what this Blues team can deliver this season, I decided to go a different route with this piece . . . what if, indeed, the shit hits the fan and everything went wrong again? JUMP, TOWEL BOY! JUMP!
We already know David Perron is expected to miss the start of the season with severe Post Concussion Syndrome symptoms (not to be confused with severe Poor College Student symptoms). To alleviate his absence, the team signed veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, which is nice, but . . . what if Arnie and Langs ARE really past their prime? What if Langs ends up being a grumpy jackass veteran, like those in New Jersey say he was before he was traded to Dallas last season?
Rightfully taking his place as Captain for this season and for seasons going forward is David Backes. Most of us are aware of Backes and his penchant to start slowly out of the gate (hey, the reign of blood has to last all season, right?). As much as some fans don't think it's possible for the team not to respond to his captaincy, what if they do not because of, say, another slow start, and team play suffers because of it? Will Alex Steen serve some type of leadership role to the team and help the big Minnesotan out, both on and off the ice? What if THAT fails?
One of the best moves made down the stretch last season was the acquisition of Chris "Goddamn" Stewart. He thrived almost instantaneously after pulling on that Blue Note sweater, and carried that hot stretch all the way to the conclusion of the season. Will Chris Stewart continue playing up to his potential? What if he does not? Will his teammates chip in?
Is Andy McDonald finally beyond all of his injury problems over the last couple seasons? When healthy, he is one of the fastest, more skilled players in the National Hockey League, but broken bones and concussions tend to slow a man down, even when he's that damn good, and this may be a concern.
For all intents and purposes, the likes of Matt D'Agostini and Vladimir "SobeSobe" Sobotka had career seasons with the Blues in 2010-11. While they are both still young, we cannot possibly expect one or both of them to exceed those numbers (remember in 2009-10, when we all thought Brad "Fuckin'" Winchester could score double-digit goals EVERY season? Yeah, good times). But can we reasonably expect them to contribute this supplemental scoring as third- and fourth-liners? What if they regress?
TJ Oshie, by all accounts and reasons, had a season below his expectations in 2010-11. It wasn't all of his own doing (Samuel Pahlsson is still a careless prick), but this is the second long-term injury Teej has suffered in three seasons with the Blues. You can hardly blame the club for not wanting to extend his contract past one year. Will he earn his contract and earn a pay raise and a longer term next season? Or will he "regress" once again due to injury, perceived laziness or otherwise?
What about the other forwards? Will Scott Nichol continue to be a wizard in the face-off dot in a new uniform? Will Ryan Reaves become the enforcer we all think he can be, while still being able to contribute while the clock is running? Will Patrik Berglund continue his long arc of improvement since coming aboard from overseas? Will BJ Crombeen still be a grinder and fighter with the ability to score, say, once every ten games or so? Can Chris Porter truly contribute to the cause?
Apart from Kent Huskins (and while we know that "Kent Huskins Cares", he just doesn't excite me, and probably doesn't excite you either) and some AHL veterans, not much was done to bolster the blue line this offseason. Are we quite sure the likes of young Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are ready to quarterback the blue line? Can Barret "SIR JAXX" Jackman continue to be a veteran leader on that blue line? Can Carlo Colaiacovo provide solid second-pairing minutes on a nightly basis? Will Nikita Nikitin continue to improve? Ian Cole?
Jaroslav "JARO WATER" Halak had a bit of a rough go of things last season, his first as a full-time starter. We all are hopeful that Jaro has learned something from experience, but what if he falters again? Also, who will be Jaro's backup? Will Brian Elliott fit the bill, or will it be Ben Bishop? Will either of these fine gentlemen be able to hold the team together in times of trouble, when called upon?
What if the injury bug strikes again? Is there enough depth at the AHL level to cover the losses of those fallen? For once, maybe, but what if it's not enough to keep the team afloat? And if AHL players such as Jonathan Cheechoo, TJ Hensick, Evgeny Grachev, Stefan Della Rovere, Kyle Hagel, Danny Syvret and others have to contribute an inordinate amount of ice time, how far will this bring the team toward a season like 2010-2011?
They say "If If's and Buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas", but for a team so wretchedly stepped over as our Blues have been over the years, these questions are not asked without reason. And I ask all these questions, and I never once brought up the ownership situation, which as of now is STILL unsettled. Thankfully for you, this reporter will stick to on-ice matters. (On a side note: HEY, REMEMBER THE AUGUST 22nd DEADLINE? YEAH, ME NEITHER! OH WAIT . . . seriously, fuck you, Mr. Checketts. *end brief Drew Magary-style rant*)
So we're pretty sure all the pieces are in place for a successful Blues season. But a lot of us were of the same thought to begin the 2010-11 season (believe me, I was), and that was one of the more disappointing seasons I have witnessed as a Blues fan. What if all that shit happens again? And if it does, what happens next?
I fully expect this hockey club to make the playoffs. Most of you fully expect the same. But don't say you weren't prepared if shit hits the fan. You went through this drill last year, so it should not be as if you haven't seen this movie before.
All that being said, this is a playoff-caliber team - even in a loaded Western Conference - and I fully expect our beloved team to get there this year.
LET'S GO BLUES!