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2016 Season Preview: The Magnum Edition

The premium season preview for the discerning fan

NHL: Preseason-St. Louis Blues at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

What should we expect from the St.Louis Blues this season? One step forward, two steps back?

Teams can regress after lengthy playoff runs. The Calgary Flames, for example, followed up their first-round victory over the Canucks in 2014-2015 with a 35-40-7 season that saw them miss the post season altogether. San Jose ran to a Western Conference final in 2013, and then promptly lost in the first round the following season. Are the Blues about to lose their powerhouse status? For those who think so, the personnel losses during the off-season are incontrovertible proof that St.Louis won’t be able to hang in the rough and tumble Central Division anymore.

Listen, I want to believe the Blues have retooled this team with speed and offense in mind. When the NHL is littered with pint-sized forwards that constantly find the back of the net like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane, you have to admit the game itself is beginning to pivot away from size over skill. I don’t really believe the Blues did this intentionally - I think Backes leaving forced their hand, and now they’re trying to look progressive in the face of uncertainty. Armstrong using the press to try and soften the potential blow did not instill me with confidence.

Jaden Schwartz, Robbie Fabbri, and Vladimir Tarasenko might be incredible examples of players who would thrive in the new NHL, but Ken Hitchcock is not a pond-hockey coach. He knows how to win with a suffocating defensive system (one that allowed the second-fewest goals against in the entire league last season), and I remain skeptical that Hitch will be able to open his game up and let go of the style that’s carried him to well over seven hundred wins.

There is no one on the planet who hated the 1A/1B goaltending regime more than me, and I’m happy to see it finally go. We’ve dealt with the flip-flopping for years, and it was irritatingly indecisive. All that being said, one problem is now gone, but if Allen can’t produce consistent wins for this club, we could find ourselves with another issue in the crease. Carter Hutton is a fine backup, and Pheonix Copley looked pretty solid during a handful of preseason games, but the safety net is gone and the Blues have often needed one. Not to mention, of course, that Elliot was arguably the MVP during St. Louis’ longest post-season run in fifteen years. No pressure, Jake.

The most pressing issue for this club isn’t the loss of a trio of veteran players, no matter what that annoying guy at the water cooler at work tells you. The Blues have no secondary scoring, and when Tarasenko gets contained, the rest of the club has struggled to produce offense. The Blues were 15th in goals scored in 2015-2016 (Pittsburgh was 4th, for the sake of comparison), and the picture looks even worse when you subtract the points Backes and Brouwer chipped in during last season. It wasn’t adequate last year (St.Louis was shut out twice in the Western Conference Final), and this problem hasn’t been addressed with the addition of Perron. The top six has long needed more pop, and the front office hasn’t dealt with the issue that was most responsible for ending their playoff run.

Last Season by the Numbers:


Goaltending

Jake Allen - 16th in wins (26), 13th in Save Percentage (.920)

Brian Elliot - 20th in wins (23), 1st in Save Percentage (.930)


Defense

Goal differential: 10th (219 GF, 197 GA)

Shots against per game: 16th (29.7)

Opponent shooting percentage: 1st (8.08%)


Offense

Goals for: 15th (219)

Goals for per game: 15th (2.67)

Shooting percentage: 19th (8.85%)

Average shots per game: 13th (30.2)

Goals/Points Leader: Vladimir Tarasenko (40G, 34A, 74PTS)


Special Teams

Power Play Percentage: 6th overall (21.5%)

Penalty Kill Percentage: 3rd overall (85.1%)


Advanced Statistics (Even Strength)

PDO: 12th (100.24) (PDO = Shooting Percentage + Save Percentage while on the ice)

Corsi For%: 7th (51.95) (Corsi For% = Corsi For / (Corsi For + Corsi Against)


Individual Leaders:

Faceoff win percentage: Paul Stastny (56.07%)

Shots/Shooting percentage: Vladimir Tarasenko (292 shots), Robbie Fabbri (15.8 S%)

Penalty Minutes: Ryan Reaves (68 PIM)

Game Winning Goals: Vladimir Tarasenko (7 GWG)

Plus/Minus Leader: Colton Parayko (+28)

Time on Ice Per Game: Alex Pietrangelo (26:18, 6th in NHL)


ESPN Prediction: 4th in Central Division

THN Prediction: 3rd in Central Division

Puck Daddy Prediction: 2nd in Central Division

USA Today Prediction: 5th in Central Division


GIF THAT BEST DESCRIBES OUR FEELINGS GOING INTO THE SEASON:

This year can really break either way. Seems totally reasonable that the Blues will be primed for another 40-45 win season. If there’s one thing St.Louis does well, it’s the regular season. If Fabbri and Parayko manage to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, the Blues might shrug off the losses of their cornerstone players and move on nicely, and all of this pre-season paranoia will seem silly.

Seems equally reasonable that the Blues could take a big step back without Ol’ Dirty Backes clogging up the front of the net. I can also see the wheels coming off in a majestic, tire-fire fashion. Maybe Allen looks shaky early in the season and never finds a groove. Maybe the Blues get hit with another nasty rash of injuries before the all-star break and they get stuck competing for a Wild Card spot all year. Maybe the Blues get pushed around in a physical conference. Maybe the Predators, Hawks, and Stars get a solid grip on the first three spots in the Central, and the Wild and Jets squeeze the Blues out of contention. Maybe we’ll all start drinking heavily and maybe I’ve already started.

GIF THAT BEST DESCRIBES OUR THOUGHTS ON THE REST OF THE CENTRAL DIVISION:

To be fair, I do know a handful of fans who are panicking about Nashville adding Subban, or the Jets getting their grubby hands on coveted Finnish prospect Patrik Laine, but I think the Thunderdome Division is not much different from prior seasons.

Chicago and Dallas may have actually regressed. The Stars have lost Jason Demers, Kris Russell, Valeri Nichushkin, and Alex Gologoski. The Blackhawks weren’t able to keep shifty forward Teuvo Teravainen, opting to trade him in order to burn Bryan Bickell’s contract. Colorado will almost certainly be more competitive without anti-analytics-ball-of-pure-anger-coach Patrick Roy, and Juicey Brucey (or BBQ Bruce, choose your favorite nickname) Boudreau has taken over the head coaching duties in Minnesota. He’s no slouch and he’ll have the Wild competing in no time. Nashville might make our lives a little more difficult, but the livin’ has never been easy in this death-match division and we’re used to it at this point.

IMAGE THAT BEST DESCRIBES OUR FEELINGS ON THE SHATTENKIRK SITUATION:

REACTION IMAGE MOST LIKELY TO BE USED AGAINST YOU DURING ONLINE BANTER WITH CHICAGO FANS:

Kudos to Channel 4, well memed, guys.

REACTION IMAGE YOU SHOULD CONSISTENTLY USE AGAINST CHICAGO FANS:

This was taken at just the right moment by my podcast buddies at BlueHeartSTL. There’s so much to enjoy, everyone really ought to have this framed.

RIVALRY WE SHOULD START GIVING MORE OF A SHIT ABOUT: SAN JOSE

It’s easy to get lost in our burning and boiling hatred of the Blackhawks or the Kings, but San Jose has been pissing in our Cheerios for many years now, and we’ve all been too distracted to take them seriously. TRIGGER WARNING FOR ANY BLUES FANS OVER THE AGE OF 25:

I don’t completely disagree with the opinion that the Blues largely beat themselves last season. Their speed and stamina were totally gone by the WCF, and the Sharks had legs for days. Had the Blues managed to tie off the Hawks in five games, or the Stars in six, maybe they would have had something left in the tank.

The Blues don’t have the nagging headache of an awful first-round exit going into this season, but serious questions remain over their finishing ability. Can they continue to contend in a division that has persistently gotten better? Can the Blues actually end a playoff series without dragging the goddamned thing out to seven games? Can Mike Yeo replace the coaching skill St.Louis lost when Kirk Mueller and Brad Shaw moved on? Does Jake Allen have what it takes to become an elite goaltender in the NHL?