Heading into the new season, Blues fans have questions, from the long-term (how far will the team progress in the playoffs?) to the short term (will Carl Gunnarsson's injury leave room for a training camp surprise on defense?). It's difficult to answer these without any sort of inside knowledge regarding the workings of the room, or getting inside of Ken Hitchcock's head. Let's face it. We're fans and bloggers. Speculation is the best we can do until the season starts.
There were three questions that I saw pop up on social media this off-season with regularity, and we're going to take a crack at answering them here.
1. Will Troy Brouwer make people forget the T.J. Oshie trade?
Probably not, because Oshie was such a popular player on and off of the ice. Blues fans will miss the Mayor, but chances are good that they will miss Oshie for reasons of the heart rather than the head. Did Oshie bust his ass? Yes. Did he have issues staying on his skates because of this? Yes. Was he a reliable guy, a first line player? Debatable, though with his current positioning on a line with Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Capitals coach Barry Trotz seems to think so.
Troy Brouwer excelled with Ovechkin, too. Will he excel without him? He's a big body, rougher around the edges than Oshie. Brouwer was a 21 goal scorer last season - will that keep up sans Ovechkin?
Brouwer is a different type of player than Oshie, and he provides a different dynamic. It's not a matter of forgetting Oshie, it's a matter of Brouwer completely fulfilling the team's expectations of him - will he be another 20 goal scorer, and will he be tough on the puck?
2. Will Ken Hitchcock and his coaching staff make it through the season?
They more than likely will, despite multiple appearances on hot seat lists. There is no reason to expect the Blues to not have another solid regular season - that has never been the problem under the current coaching staff, and this roster did not have a massive amount of turnover from last season to this one.
Will Ken Hitchcock and his coaching staff make it through the postseason? That's a different story.
3. What is "reckless?"
Hitch, in an interview with Jeremy Rutherford, was kind enough to explain what in the world he meant by the term that spawned one of the best all-purpose Blues fan hashtags in history. It's good that Hitch has finally explained it, especially to his team, because as Kevin Shattenkirk told Rutherford:
“I think everyone at first is going to interpret it differently, especially as players,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk admitted. “I think (enforcer) Ryan Reaves’ idea of reckless is probably a little different than mine.”
So, what is Hitch's real definition of this "reckless" business?
“It’s a matter of just playing a little bit more aggressive in our game and not sitting back those moments where pucks turn over and you just allow them to gain control and set up there,” Shattenkirk said. “We have to anticipate early and try to read plays, and when we see it, have everyone moving as a group of five and being aggressive on the puck.”
“You can see an Edmundson, or you can see a Parayko, or you can see a Lindbohm, they can do it,” Hitchcock said. “I think we’ve got a group back there that can augment us offensively, and I want to be able to play a little bit reckless back there, have them come a little bit faster and harder and closer to the action.
“Asking a defenseman to not rest at all is hard mentally. But I think if we keep doing it, keep doing it and keep doing it, it’s going to pop up in the games. I just think with the players that we’ve got here, especially these younger guys, I think they’ve shown the ability to do that. But we’ve got to practice it. We can’t just talk about it. You’ve got to do it every day. I think it’s really going to help us.”
Be fast as a group, the defense doesn't sit on its laurels, and the offense is expected to join the defense if needed. The defense hopping into the offense may cause some issues for the goaltenders until the team gets used to the process, but "reckless" turns out to be best practices. This should let you know how conservative Hitch's style could be in the past. Will it last? If the Blues don't get burned, probably. This preseason, when they have iced a team closer to their "A squad" than their B, it seems to have worked well.